Self-proclaimed revolutionist of automated warehouse solutions KNAPP AG expanded its global operations with the establishment of KNAPP Russia two months ago, in line with the goal of doubling its turnover by the year 2020.
In 2010 the company, founded in Austria in 1952 by one Günter Knapp, acquired leading global supplier of hanging garment solutions Dürkopp Fördertechnik before quickly growing that company and combining its warehouse machine systems with KNAPP’s own.
Just a year and a half ago it opened a new production facility in Brazil, from where it will be able to offer an improved distribution of its unique and innovative warehouse technology expertise and long-term complete warehouse solution partnerships to South American clients, with more planned to follow.
Add to this to the current moves to introduce SAP business management software across the company, the acquisition of the land and buildings of its furniture manufacturing former neighbour at KNAPP headquarters in Hart bei Graz, Austria, in order to increase the flagship facility’s size and the launch of a complete range of augmented reality KiSoft Vision technology for warehouse floor workers coupled with the expansion of its groundbreaking robotic carrier shuttles range, it is clear to see this is a company that is not hanging around.
Heimo Robosch, KNAPP’s Executive Vice President Sales, said: “We are always a very active company, very dynamic and it is never boring here, but currently it is a significantly interesting time.
“On the one hand we are undergoing enormous growth, which we have been for almost 20 years, and we are committed to being the industry leader, not a follower but developing new products that drives the rest of the market.
“Several times we have really strongly influenced, if not revolutionised the intralogistics world, and our OSR shuttle system has completely changed the way warehouse solutions work.”
KNAPP’s unique Open Shuttles are small, automated, robotic shuttles that glide around the warehouse floors carrying products on and off conveyor belts (think Star Wars but less beeping). They are free moving and do not need lines or tracks to guide them. They can even react to suddenly appearing obstacles, effectively dodging them and finding an alternate route.
This is a key driver of KNAPP’s success. The group, comprising 20 subsidiaries, 13 representations and operations around the world that serve the industries of pharmacy, fashion, retail, food, tobacco, tools, ecommerce and more, continually invests around six percent of its turnover in research and development.
Partnerships with universities in Graz and Vienna contribute to these developments (which, incidentally, has also lead to the introduction of a systemwhere KNAPP can track environmental key performance indicators (KPIs) in the same way as financial KPIs, an improvement to its sustainability programme borne out of one of these research partnerships.
A latest development is the KiSoft Vision recognition technology, an example of augmented reality (made famous by Google Glasses). KNAPP’s own patented specialist intralogistics KiSoft Vision technology is unique and specially designed for warehousing, and Robosch hopes the “revolutionary” kit will help realise the company’s aim of introducing a zero-defect strategy into customer’s warehouses.
A vision guided picking system, where all the information a picking device operator needs is displayed on the spectacles in front of his eyes, helps reduce errors as an integrated camera system surveys what he is doing and can spot mistakes, as well as catch any additional information about the products that are required.
KNAPP also developed and rolled out its own Warehouse Management System, KiSoft.
A strong foundation
KNAPP began primarily serving the Pharmaceutical market and were pioneers in such things as autopickers, OSR Shuttle systems, lately picking technology and KiSoft Vision technology. This foundation lead to them becoming experts in single item picking and very fast order turnarounds, which has since leant itself well to one of the developments that is driving major change in the intralogistics world, that of e-commerce, internet shopping, for example.
Robosch explained: “What happens with ecommerce is logistics leaves the backroom and enters the customer’s living room, everything that was in the background and not visible is now part of the shopping experience.
“The customer sees if the delivery is on time, the accuracy of delivery, how the products are consolidated – if you order a couple of items from the same company you don’t want to get two different cartons, and the customer even sees how the carton is packed.
“We always have been experts in single item picking and very fast order turnarounds because the pharmaceutical wholesaling always required very fast deliveries to their pharmacies, therefore when ecommerce started we were perfectly suited. Because when it is about a wide range of products, picking of small order quantities and processing very fast and accurately, towards the customers, that always has been our core competence.
“The days when it was good enough to just supply a piece of kit, or even a system, are long gone, now you have to go much further and combine our superior technology with this industry knowhow to form a complete package for our customers.”
Knowhow and the holistic trend
The €380 million turnover company’s mainstay, pharmaceuticals, is an area that is also changing, said Robosch, with a move towards more delivery direct to patients due to the cost pressure on health systems worldwide. This is an example of the “deep business knowledge about the business of the customers” that has made KNAPP so successful.
The company focuses on understanding a customer’s detailed challenges and requirements and constructing a complete solution. This is where 65 to 70 percent of KNAPP’s income comes from, repeat business from existing customers, installing new systems or expanding those already in place and all the support service that goes with it.
Robosch said: “The latest trend is taking the holistic view of our customers’ business and what they require; the days are gone when you provide a piece of kit or even a complete solution, they want a partner and we provide partnerships by becoming a part of their business.
“The customer is the strongest friend in the future.”
The company strengthens these ties in a number of ways, most notably with their “360°+ service approach” and an annual, month-long initiative called Month of Visitors.
KNAPP provides the 24-hours support hotline in German, English, Spanish, Italian, French – working in shifts to ensure there is always an operator on hand to pass on a query to a technical expert. A hotline ran out of a KNAPP US base ensures that time zone differences cause no issue.
This is vital for the changing face of the industry, with more and more retailers operating 24/7, with short order turnarounds where any break in warehouse operations would be critical to business.
“We do have of course online connections to all our customers’ systems,” added Robosch, “so whenever a customer calls us we can log on directly to his systems and see what support they need and our skilled hotline staff have access to several further levels of technicians on standby and able to support if the fist level cannot solve the problem.”
The Month of Visitors is one way the company attracts new business. Potential international customers are invited to either KNAPP’s headquarters or to a recent customer’s, there they can really get a sense of what KNAPP and their partners achieve together. This year this took place in four separate KNAPP locations across the globe.