VITAL Srl has moved to a new warehouse that will see it increase its capacity from 7,300 pallets up to 14,000 pallets. Editor Will Lowry visited the new facility in July, as VITAL was on the verge of moving its stock, to speak to Purchasing Manager Luca Bernasconi about the growth of the business and what benefits the new warehouse will bring.
Founded in 1975, a key factor in VITAL’s initial success was the close relationship with its suppliers within Asia. “As a fastener company we were one of the first from Europe to go to Taiwan and China to build the relationship with manufacturers in the 1980s,” explains Luca Bernasconi. “We were a pioneer, and this gave us a great advantage ahead of other companies. We visited the factories and built relationships with them. At the time, you would place an order and then wait to see what arrived when you opened the container. That is why having face-to-face contact was crucial, so you could ensure you would get the products and the quality you needed.”
By 2007 VITAL was at it largest, which is when it first thought about moving premises. “We had some plans on the desk, but then at the end of 2007 we received the notice from the European Commission about the anti-dumping investigation. Since we didn’t know what to expect from this investigation, we stopped all plans and we held the decision to move.”
By the beginning of 2008 the anti-dumping had been introduced, which VITAL took very seriously as it did not want to tranship. “We immediately stopped buying from China and started to work with other Asian, and some European, suppliers,” mentions Luca. “I personally visited every single factory around Asia to check the production capabilities. Where I had doubts about the capacity, we did not purchase from that company. This meant that we did not have any problems with transhipment, but it did mean we were less competitive within the market.”
Even with the introduction of anti-dumping, VITAL still kept a strong relationship with its Chinese suppliers. “We still bought products that were not impacted by the anti-dumping and, due to our long partnership, we kept in touch to understand how their business was developing.”
In 2016, after the recession and the cancellation of anti-dumping, these strong connections enabled VITAL to react quickly and start importing products again. “I know a lot of other companies completely stopped buying from China, which then made it difficult to start that partnership up again as the market had changed,” explains Luca. “We, however, could immediately start importing products as we had nurtured the relationships and we could ensure we would get the same quality and reliability that we had previously experienced prior to the anti-dumping.”
With the cancellation of anti-dumping, and an upturn in the market as a whole, by the end of 2016 VITAL had once again reached its stock capacity and was thinking about moving. “As an importer and distributor of fasteners, fixings systems, and special parts, we have established ourselves as a key supplier for ‘stock out’ items whilst providing a first class turnaround service,” states Luca. “A key factor in our success has been our volume of stock and the availability of the goods. You cannot provide a good service to the customer if you do not have the proper inventory. Our old warehouse was only 7,300 pallets, so we had become very skillful in managing the warehouse with a fast rotation. However, the lack of space became more and more of a limiting factor – that is why we decided to move.”
Situated only 2.8km from the old site, the new warehouse is almost double the size and can hold 14,000 pallets. The warehouse has been split into two areas focusing on full pallets and the picking ofsmaller orders. “It is a big jump in space, but it was necessary,” explains Luca. “We now have even more capacity under one roof, which means we can have a larger stock, but even more importantly we can enlarge our range of products. We have also been able to revolutionise the logistics system – changing from a very old traditional system to a new ultra-modern version.”
Previously when picking, it had been necessary for VITAL to take down every pallet from the racking, pick the order, and then load the pallets back on the racking – which was very time-consuming and not efficient. However, now with the new logistics system, and modern forklift trucks, the operator is able to go to the pallet on top of the racking and pick the goods directly.
For the full pallet section of the warehouse, the logistics system even drives the operator to the relevant spot, they do not need to steer. The operator then just needs to press a button and the forklift truck does everything itself: It will stop in the exact position, the operator then pushes another button and the fork cycle is fully automatic, with the pallet taken off the racking safely. The operator just scans the pallet space and then the pallet to show the right product has been picked.
“With the logistics system, and automated forklifts, the whole process is more efficient and reliable. If it is manually operated the user might go to the wrong space and pick the wrong product, but the system stops this from happening,” points out Luca. “It even decides the locations for incoming goods, once the quality checks have been carried out, so that we can ensure the most efficient picking process.”
All the racking and forklifts have been supplied by Jungheinrich, which means VITAL benefits from the very latest technology, such as an under pallet system. Covering an area of 18 pallet spaces wide and 7 pallet spaces high – with each space 10 pallets deep, the under pallet system means VITAL can manage and store 1,260 pallets in a reduced area, whilst still providing smooth and quick logistics. “In its simplest form it is a block of 1,260 pallets,” states Luca. “It is almost a warehouse within a warehouse and it is a very efficient system. The operator can take a pallet off an incoming truck and load it into the under pallet system. By the time they have gone back to the truck to get the second pallet, the first pallet has been automatically lifted up and moved to the furthest position back within that pallet lane and is ready to accept the next pallet. This means we can either have one location that is 10 pallets deep of the same product or, alternatively, if a customer has an order of up to 10 pallets we can store it all in the same location. When the order is ready to be despatched, the operator loads the first pallet onto the truck, and the next pallet is automatically moved to the front of the lane to be picked. This continues until all the pallets within this location have been loaded. This makes the whole process very efficient and effective. It also means we can store a considerable number of pallets in a very small cubic area.”
Another benefit of the new warehouse is that VITAL will also be able to take full advantage of its purchasing software system, which it introduced two years ago. “We benefited from the system when we introduced it initially, as it helped us improve a lot of the stock analysis and service to the customer, which is our core business,” mentions Luca. “However, now we are moving into the new warehouse it will be another step in our development and we will be able to use the purchasing system further – taking full advantage of its capabilities to improve our service.”
In addition to the new warehouse, VITAL also has new offices and a reception area – which includes the company’s quality department as a central focus. “Whilst we are selling mainly standard items, we are committed to delivering the perfect price/quality ratio, with super good service and fast delivery,” states Luca. “We have placed our QC lab in front of reception, so that customers can see we take quality very seriously.”
Luca concludes: “The new warehouse is a big step, but it is also a great opportunity for us and everyone at the business is excited. Our slogan is that we are the quickest solution to customers’ stock out and thanks to the new warehouse we will be able to continue to keep this promise, whilst also developing our range and service. Our aim is to be flexible, fast and focused – so that we are the perfect partner for distributors everywhere.”
Find VITAL at Fastener Fair Italy on Stand 220.
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 10 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector - interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe.
Will manages the content strategy across all platforms and is the guardian for the high editorial standards that the Magazine is renowned.