The logistics heart of PF Concept beats at PF Logo Express. The warehouse and embellishing centre located in Robakowo, Poland that spans around 42,000 m² individualises and delivers haptic promotional products to customers all over Europe. The expansion work carried out in 2014 enables an even faster turnaround and new, innovative printing techniques.
In 2013, PF Concept presented a service, which caused quite a stir on the market: Since then, thanks to SureShipTM the company guarantees the delivery of products from its Bullet collection with a one-coloured print within 24 hours. But also beyond the express printing technique, the promotional products giant also convinces with very fast production and delivery times: “Our standard production time for individualised products is two days. Non-customised products that are ordered before 6 p.m. leave the warehouse the same day,” explained Marek Flaszak, Factory Director at PF Logo Express – the company that makes such logistical top performances possible. The 41,800 m² building complex in Robakowo close to the industry and trading centre Poznan impresses alone through its sheer figures: Around 35 million items are stored on floor space spanning around 30,000 m². The customising department that extends over 11,800 m² offers space for over 100 machines, with the aid of which hundreds of different logos find their way onto haptic advertising items every day. 540 permanent staff members are employed in Robakowo, in peak periods the number of employees increases up to around 800. Although several European importers have outsourced their embellishing and logistics tasks to Eastern European countries in the past, PF Logo Express is in a class of its own, due to its sheer size alone. It all started in the year 2007: “PF Concept was originally looking for a print service provider for PF Concept Poland,“ explained Flaszak.
“It found a small company close-by in Srem-Psarskie, which took up production in 2008 as PF Logo Express, a 100% subsidiary of PF Concept. It began with pad and screen printing techniques as well as laser engraving, further printing technologies followed later. In the course of the decision to relocate PF Concept’s entire customising to Poland, PF Logo Express moved into a new building in Robakowo in August 2011.” A constant expansion of the capacities, machines and periphery for more and more customising technologies followed. Whereas at the beginning only part of PF’s line-up was stocked in Poland, the decision was taken in 2013 to relocate the entire warehouse stock from Roelofarendsveen in the Netherlands to Robakowo. For this purpose, the existing plant in Poland was extended by around 10,000 m². “We are now much faster than before because the logistics and customising are bundled in one location,” said Peter Stelter, Country Manager D-A-CH at PF Concept. “Poznan is a very favourable location in terms of transport connections enabling products to be delivered fast to customers throughout Europe. Furthermore, since all of the customising techniques are applied to all of our products under one roof, we can achieve constantly good results. Combined with our own back office system and our website this creates an unbeatable turnaround.“ The move from Holland to Poland was already completed by the end of March 2014. “We relocated the entire warehouse volume within a few months and integrated it into the existing system. That was a huge feat, but it was successful,” recalls Flaszak. “The merging of the warehouse stocks meant we needed 100 new employees on-site.“
Since then all items of PF Concept’s line-up – that is around 10,000 at the moment – are available from stock at PF Logo Express. If one takes the various colour options into account, that makes around 650,000 palettes and around 30,000 storage places. Every day four or five containers arrive and the same amount leaves the warehouse every day too heading for the customers. Around 1,500 orders are processed daily in Robakowo – a logistical challenge. The packing team that comprises of several hundreds of workers is supported by the internal IT system, as Flaszak pointed out: “Our software system automatically prioritises the individual orders, divides them up into groups and subsequently puts together the routes based on the individual contact points and collection times in the highbay warehouse. Orders are continually presented on the packer’s displays on the fork-lift trucks, which they pick up according to the route plan. Which goods are placed down in which packing zone is also laid down precisely. In the case of a storage area as big as ours the routes taken by the packers has a considerable influence on the processing time, this is why fast-moving products are placed closer to the customising department. More than 150 employees ensure that the products that have got to be individualised are unpacked and subsequently repacked.
“The busiest time in the warehouse is late afternoon, because that is when all of the orders that have been received by 6 p.m. are packed, which have to be sent out the same day,” said Flaszak. “We guarantee a processing time of four hours at the most for non-customised orders.“ But customers who want items customised can also rely on a fast service. “Our standard production time is two days,” reported Flaszak. “99.6% of all orders are delivered punctually.” On top of that PF Logo Express offers almost unlimited possibilities and high competence in the field of customising – there is hardly any material that cannot be customised. “In the meantime, our buyers and product managers pay great attention to how and using which different options a product can be customised. This has become a decisive criteria when adding new products to the line-up,” stated Stelter. Every new product that PF Concept introduces is also tested by a team in Robakowo to determine its technical possibilities. It is then recorded in the company’s own “Deco-Database“ on which surfaces the product can be individualised in which colours and sizes. This data is inputted into the system and can be called up at all times by the sales teams in the individual countries and by the incoming orders department in Poland so that the options can be discussed with the customers or on request placed at their disposal.
The plant offers ten individualising technologies: The most popular are screen and pad printing – here PF Logo Express is also able to imprint difficult surfaces, furthermore highly-specialised machines enable a particularly high throughput. The screens and plates are completely produced on-site. Further techniques available include embroidery, embossing, hot-foil embossing, laser engraving – using CO2, YAG and fibre lasers, transfer and sublimation printing, doming and last, but not least digital printing – according to company accounts a technique that has become extremely popular over the past years. In the textile area PF Logo Express has developed a number of particularly innovative techniques: For example, the clients have the opportunity to customise their products with embroidered or lasered patches. “We also offer laser engraving and embossing on textiles,” noted Flaszak. “The result is a discrete and at the same time high-class embellishment that can be combined very well with other techniques, such as an embroidery.“
According to company sources, the inFusion technique presented at the beginning of the year is unique: Here, first of all a sublimation foil is applied, however the print doesn’t stick to the surface, it penetrates the material permanently and is absorbed by the fibres. The finished decoration is no longer tangible, the garment remains lightweight and retains its natural permeability. It is even possible to place a print over seams and a zip using the inFusion technique. A white or coloured blend of fabric comprising of 65% polyester and 35% cotton is used as the base for the imprint. This lies nicely on the skin and has a very pleasant feel to it. “Innovative techniques like inFusion offer us and our customers USPs – however they can only be implemented, because we completely control our decoration processes and can thus further develop them continually,” commented Stelter.
Well thought-out procedure
Regardless of which method is used to individualise a product: In each case, first of all a digital draft is sent to the customer for print approval. The approved e-proof then also appears on the batch card that contains all relevant information at a glance, which accompanies each batch through the production. The DTP centre is the interface and control centre for the decoration department. It is located in the middle of the factory to ensure short routes. 30 graphic designers and technicians work on design proposals, e-proofs, vectorisation and further steps of the pre-press phase here in three shifts. The transfer foils, plates and substrate materials for the doming and sublimation print methods are also produced here. “We send over 90% of the e-proofs back to the client within four hours,” said Flaszak. “Depending on the time of day, we are thus able to dispatch an order the same day.” Because once the e-proof has been approved, everything happens very fast – an efficient, but at the same time highly-complicated process, which requires a well thoughtout plan. “We always have to keep an eye on and regulate the workflow,” explained Flaszak. “That begins with the planning of the necessary manpower. Nothing is improvised, everything is part of a precisely coordinated procedure, where each department knows exactly what they have to do when and who has to cooperate with whom at which point in time.“
The well-organised workflows are only possible because of the short routes and because everything has its own place – through to the central stations for work materials, scales at the customising machines, which means it isn’t necessary to count the finished products and precisely marked storage positions for raw products, screens or plates and dyes as well as the ready decorated goods. The fact that the factory is certified in accordance with the environmental management norm ISO 14001 proves that ecological concerns are also taken very seriously in the overall production process.
Both the workflow and the quality of the goods are constantly and strictly monitored. Quality controls take place at the incoming goods department, after decoration and during the picking and packing process. In addition to the quality management employees, the workers on the machines are urged to constantly check “their” products to make sure they are in line with the approved sample or e-proof. “On average, we receive claims for 1% of the orders – that is a very low quota considering the volume we produce,” assured Flaszak. “We very rarely receive actual complaints: The complaints rate lies constantly under one percent which is low.“
On the other hand, PF Concept’s one-stop model is becoming more and more popular. “The option of ordering ready customised products has been much more popular since 2013 and the absolute figure of individualisations has increased ever since annually in the two-digit million region,” reported Stelter. Good prospects on a market where speed is increasingly becoming one of the decisive competitive factors.
// Till Barth
photos: Till Barth (1), © WA Media; PF Concept (4)