Business is in full swing early in the morning in Hall J 10 at the Merck site in Darmstadt. Packages are moving as though guided by invisible hands on conveyor belts kilometers long, turning automatically, and finally ending up at the packing stations of the big hall. The seeming ease of this package shipping is made possible by highly complex material flow technology — the heart of the Distribution Center that keeps the conveyor belts running with their loads of packages, cartons, and pallets to be shipped around the world. The logistics for the flow of goods from the issuing warehouses and production units is optimally coordinated with this technology.
“Thanks to our sophisticated strategy for order picking and packing, route and transport times are optimized, so customer orders can be filled even faster, more efficiently, and more flexibly. The goods that are needed are moved via the automated conveyor to the different stations in the order picking, packing, and loading areas and no longer have to be fetched,” says Markus Klippel, Head of the Distribution Center.
When they arrive, all shipments that have been conveyed to J 10 for loading already bear a label with the destination and a barcode. On the conveyor belts they pass through big scanner units that record all the data and send it to a central computer, which in turn issues a command for the cartons and pallets to be sent via the many different pathways of the new conveyor system to the planned loading sites. That’s how the shipments make it to the north or south vehicle ramps or to the rail station. Automatic sorting systems then separate the goods according to their destinations all over the world.
Delivery within 24 hours
Whether by air, sea or land, Merck uses every form of transport to reach its customers anywhere in the world
“If a customer orders from us within a specified cut-off time, we guarantee delivery within 24 hours in Germany and neighboring countries in central and western Europe,” says Klippel as he makes his way through the over 20,000-square-meter building. The 43-year-old and his workforce of over 100 employees send thousands of packages and pallets to destinations around the world every day. The location’s advantages include its exceptionally good connections to a worldwide transport network. Darmstadt and the surrounding region offer an excellent infrastructure in terms of highways, rail connections, air freight services, and marine shipping — the best conditions for reaching customers, by every means of transport, at any destination in the world. Distribution in Europe is via trucks or rail. “We deliver goods to customers overseas in containers by ship, and for urgent shipments we rely on air freight,” Klippel says. The Distribution Center is also well equipped to handle unexpected situations. An emergency plan ensures uninterrupted operations — and on-time delivery of the customers’ goods.
As forklifts move through the wide gate areas, smoothly shoving pallets into containers and trailers, two overhead display boards in the hall are blinking, one in red and the other in green. The number in green indicates how many shipments have been processed, and the total in red is the number of orders received. Orders for the national market received by 3:30 p.m. appear at the loading ramps two hours later, and orders that come in later than that will be there the next day — up to 50,000 tons a year.
Why does Merck operate its own Distribution Center? “Having our own logistics operation gives us a competitive advantage,” answers Klippel. “High-quality logistics services with activity-based cost allocation and constant quality control result in a world-class delivery service that our customers value highly.” It enables employees to detect internal order-picking errors before the order leaves the Distribution Center. But such mistakes almost never happen. The percentage of internal errors is far below the industry average. In addition to supplying its main customers, the Merck companies, the Distribution Center also delivers to the chemicals specialist trade, research labs, and large and small buyers in industry.
At the so-called train station, the parcels are sorted according to destination