Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
While the wider SSI Schaefer Group celebrates its milestone 80-year anniversary in the global consciousness, the Asian - or APAC - strand of the family-owned storage solutions specialist continues to thrive in its third decade of operations via a host of new products, market-leading innovations, and unrivalled scope.
The organisation’s reach in general is almost unparalleled in the domain, catering for every continent with a presence in more than 70 countries. For the more significant regions, hubs have been set up to help meet this growing demand from an equally expanding clientele, and for Asia, this journey began in Singapore, in 1984.
“It started as a distributorship for SSI Schaefer, but they soon recognised the potential of the region and eventually took over the Company in 1995,” introduces Regional Director for APAC, the Middle East and Africa, Brian Miles. “Our office here in Singapore is now a SSI Schaefer hub - one of 12 globally - covering everywhere from India to South Korea with the exception of China which has its own; while we have also opened up offices across these other countries as well as long as they have sufficient volume to justify it.”
Across this expanding footprint, and indeed the rest of the world, SSI Schaefer sticks to what it has always done best, while evolving into areas that best meet its customers’ requirements. Initiating as a specialist in the design, manufacture and distribution of industrial storage systems - from pallet racking systems to ASRS (automated storage and retrieval systems) - recent developments have also seen the successful integration of automation works.
“The SSI Schaefer world changed in 2000 and 2001 with the acquisition of two companies to form SSI Schaefer Competent Centre Giebelstadt and SSI Schaefer Competent Centre Graz, respectively,” Miles explains. “Through the Competent Centre in Giebelstadt, SSI Schaefer inherited general contractors in handling palletised systems who supplied ASRS, pallet conveyors and a host of equipment. Meanwhile, the Competent Centre in Graz specialised in small part picking systems and with a range of case conveyors.
“The two companies interfaced very nicely with all the industrial storage systems that SSI Schaefer had already been manufacturing for the previous 60 years, turning us from a service provider to a full systems integrator at the turn of the decade.”
With this new business line in tow, and with the continued backing of colleagues in America and in Europe, SSI Schaefer in APAC has gone from strength to strength ever since, signifying even more concerted growth for the future, but also emphasising the kind of sustainable ethos the business is driven by in achieving such flexible acquisitions in the first place.
Miles continues: “As part of our new branding image, we’ve begun to highlight the motto: ‘committed continuity’. And this comes from a Schaefer family shareholding that remains committed to keeping the business the same quick reacting and quick moving business it has always been.”
Such flexibility and entrepreneurial flair not only lends itself to international growth and acquisitional prowess, but also to product innovation, research & development, and to solution modification.
Resultantly, a whole host of new products and projects have been unveiled, even over the past couple of years, as an indictment of this agility.
“At the CeMAT exhibition in Hannover in 2016, we introduced our WEASEL®, a small automated guided vehicle (AGV) which can handle loads of up to 35 kilograms to move around the workplace or warehouse,” Miles offers as an example. “It won the IFOY award for new developments in the “Intralogistics Solutions” category and the simple, low cost alternative to conveyance systems has already taken off.
“Another technology introduced a couple of years ago was a vertical high density storage lift which is controlled by our very own warehouse management system – WAMAS® software. The system resembles an oversized drawer cabinet, saving up to 90 percent of the floor space, can be built as high as 24 metres. Both of these originated in Europe and were brought over to Asia where they have been well received by the market place.”
From an automation perspective, which is not as mature in APAC as it is in Europe and the US yet, SSI Schaefer is getting itself ahead of the industry curve in its implementation and market saturation. One example being seen in Australia at present includes a palletised multi-deep channel system comprising three cranes on top of each other to triple throughput to this end; with similar products expected to reach Asian customers soon.
Once they do reach the jurisdiction, manufacturing usually then transfers away from its European hubs to be managed in Singapore, and manufactured at its main Asian factory in Malaysia. The same has recently applied to its shuttle system, Cuby which has already begun to make waves in the retail market as a high-speed shuttle improving activity and throughput once again.
Business strands and innovations
The full strength and might of SSI Schaefer’s global marketing and branding programme inevitably aids the take-off of all new products in Asia, with most having been adopted in either the US or Europe already. And the same advantage in scope is apparent when it comes to the professional talent helping to manufacture and distribute the Company’s products as well.
“We actually introduced a new branding programme this year, with some of our marketing people going over to take a course in Germany recently before bringing back and rolling out some of the ideas in Asia,” Miles notes. “Being part of a large group, we have an extensive training programme called SSI Schaefer Campus where hundreds of educational modules for all the SSI Schaefer products are carried out for the benefit of all engineers, product development staff, technicians and project managers.”
The large home-grown workforce in Asia convenes to benefit from this international sharing of expertise on an ongoing basis, ensuring that each individual is keeping up not only with the Company’s new products and solutions, but with wider industry trends as a whole.
This is proving especially significant throughout the ongoing optimisation of automation services within the Company, as Miles details: “Automation is becoming increasingly important to the Company’s turnover - representing around 50 percent of it - and it was because of new business strands and innovations such as this that we introduced the Malaysia factory to begin with.
“Back then, in the ‘80s and ‘90s it didn’t make sense to ship materials half way around the world, especially when competing with local manufacturers and the same applies now as we introduce new products to the APAC market. The facility has therefore been expanded over the years to around 40,000 square metres with a capacity of 50,000 metric tonnes per annum.”
The result is a local presence point that not only aids efficiencies, speed to market and lower costs, but also an established hub ready to help its clients make the same seamless transfer to the APAC region too; examples of note including BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Nestle and Unilever, to name a few.
“It’s not a God-given gift to SSI Schaefer that we receive and retain these contracts though, and we have to work very hard to stay competitive on both a local and global level,” Miles emphasises.
And to this end, the Company has spent somewhere in the region of €8 million on the Malaysian factory, to facilitate its own growth and to improve upon the equipment and machines that help in producing such state-of-the-art products.
“We’re getting to the point where we don’t need assistance from our colleagues in Europe on the manufacturing side, and we’ve also addressed the cost side of this through the implementation of lean manufacturing processes,” Miles adds. “Similarly, we’re also moving into robotics, particularly when it comes to welding, to improve areas of quality and efficiency.”
These facets combine to bring SSI Schaefer an overwhelming competitive advantage in the form of its product range, with even the larger multinational operators struggling to match the Company’s scope. SSI Schaefer is one of the only entities able to supply customers with the promise of a fully-automated warehouse where it can design and supply the racking system, the cranes, the conveying systems and even the IT; and this is proving to be a huge differentiator in the APAC region.
“The other key advantage we have is our presence in the market place,” Miles picks up. “Across two factories - one in Malaysia and a smaller one in China - we now employ close to 630 people, with a further 400 working out of our offices in 12 APAC countries including our Singapore hub.
“This means we are able to give our customers the luxury of speaking to a SSI Schaefer representative directly rather than via a third-party distributor, and this is the kind of strong service and support that we look to build up via our hubs in each region.”
From this position of strength, SSI Schaefer is now able to look towards even more extensive growth in the years to come, a notion which Miles believes will be driven by an enhanced footprint and presence in China as well as further upgrades to its Malaysian factory.
He concludes: “We’re looking today at our own Vision 2025 which we’ve been asked to prepare by the SSI Schaefer board to give us an overview of the market and where we plan to be for the next three-10 years. And certainly, larger manufacturing facilities are incorporated within that.
“The factory can cater for 50,000 tonnes at present but with operations rising at an average rate of 10-15 percent per annum for the next five years, we now need to look at how to manage that exciting level of growth.”