One hundred thousand catalogue items and a World-wide inventory of over 100 million Euros. The delivery of furniture hardware is one of Häfele’s biggest strengths. Supplier’s Phil Ashley visited their distribution centre in Nagold to see how they do it.

Häfele is one of the World’s major furniture hardware suppliers and has a responsibility to provide an on-time delivery of its 100,000 furniture hardware items so their customers can meet the deadlines demanded by the end-user. To achieve this Häfele maintain five production sites around Germany and like all other suppliers of furniture hardware, purchase some quality items from specialist manufacturers. Production sites are located in Berlin; Jettingen; Kenzingen and Budapest (with Kesseböhmer). Häfele is not just a distributor but a serious manufacturer. To make sure their products are delivered on time, Häfele needs a perfectly functioning logistics system to make sure the right products get to the right customer at the right time.

The central warehouse and distribution centre is located in an industrial complex in Nagold in Southern Germany. This is Häfele’s international hub and here alone, 50,000 items are kept in stock. Fifty trucks deliver up to 1,000 pallets of stock from their own production sites or suppliers every day. It is estimated this is about 130 tons of hardware and because it’s a ‘just-in-time’ system, a similar amount of components is despatched; again, every day. Hundreds of employees fill over 4,500 orders daily from over 23,000 storage positions and 95% of orders received before 4pm are despatched the same day.

Distribution includes bagged items that come from stock. For any one cabinet there may be dozens of items including hinges; dowels; screws; shelf-supports and other small items. These are entered into a computer that accurately determines the weight of the whole order. A machine selects the correct amount of parts and channels them into a plastic bag designed for that order. The bag is sealed; a label is attached and the bag is weighed to ensure it meets the weight of the order. If the weight is under, the bag is rejected and if five bags are rejected in a row, the machine stops and a technician is called. If the weight in the bag is marginally over, it may be passed but only if the over-weight is such that no part could be missing; it may be that an extra screw has been added. Sixteen of these sorting machines work two shifts every day. Other larger parts may need to be picked by hand and packed in boxes or on pallets.

This distribution centre was commissioned in 1974 and has been expanded eleven times as Häfele continues to grow. It is estimated that within three years another expansion will be required. Their commitment to service has seen in excess of 40 million Euros of investment in the distribution centre that now uses robotics to ensure a consistent movement of parts to the despatch areas. Some of the most significant investments have been in the three high-rise storage units that occupy an area of almost five soccer pitches. A high-rise store has up to eighteen aisles and is twenty metres high and seventy-five metres long. It may contain 22,000 square metres of storage space holding 115,000 separate items, and is accessed by moving picking stations where (mostly) women pick stock to order. I was advised that women generally, concentrate more than men.

The workflow is managed by a two-stage order picking software system developed by Häfele. Hafele is committed to maintaining leading-edge technology not only in their production but also in the distribution centre at Nagold. Their internal motto is “Goods to Man” and every step of their logistics is integrated to maximise efficiency. There are suppliers to Häfele that actually manage their own stock in Häfele’s warehouse; such is the integration and co-operation between Häfele; Häfele’s own production centres and external suppliers. Around 1,500 external suppliers support the massive Häfele catalogue; keeping prices down and ensuring the highest quality parts from specialist manufacturers. With Häfele’s ever changing inventory, up to ten thousand new items are tested and approved for Häfele’s catalogue every year.

Häfele Australia started in 1977 with Konrad Hengstler and Häfele Australia Pty. Ltd. was founded with its headquarters in Mordialloc (Victoria) in 1982. This was later moved to Dandenong (Victoria) and in 2014 a second distribution centre was added to expand their logistical reach. Design centres have been opened around Australia to assist architects; interior designers and manufacturers in finding the right solution for building modern living spaces. Häfele is a company built on service and reliability of product and supply. Häfele is looking to the future and land has already been purchased across the road from their distribution centre in Nagold to service the future demand of their customers.