May 15, 2015

ModusLink expands end-to-end e-fulfillment site; names former Amazon executive to run project

European model is most comprehensive suite of e-fulfillment solutions in world, company says.

By Ben Ames

Global supply chain management provider ModusLink Global Solutions Inc. has expanded what it touts as the most comprehensive suite of e-fulfillment solutions ever offered by one provider, and it's hired a top logistics executive from the world's largest e-tailer to head up the program.

Waltham, Mass.-based ModusLink said it had enhanced the "end-to-end" business support it offers to e-commerce users. This includes establishing and hosting an online site; managing customer product catalogs; pricing; global payment processing; and order fulfillment from warehousing and distribution to "last-mile" deliveries and product returns. The company unveiled the program worldwide in about 2010, and plans to enhance the model by automating its existing warehouses in North America and China by the end of 2015, it said.

In April, ModusLink named Nick Foy as its director of operations process strategy and implementation. Foy had previously served as senior manager of Amazon Logistics, a division of Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. In that position, Foy helped implement "Amazon Prime Now," the e-tailer's new one- and two-hour delivery service.

In an interview from the company's offices in Venray, Netherlands, Foy described the company's new automated fulfillment technology. It includes a pick tower containing three floors of flow racking surrounded by six pick streets, Foy said. Goods are replenished from back to front, with operators using a pick-to-light system to load boxes that travel on a spiral conveyor and then along a powered conveyor for sealing, labeling, quality checks, and finally to the dock.

The entire system can be slowed or accelerated to match the volume of goods moving through the fulfillment center, according to Foy. For further flexibility, users can adjust the size of the mezzanine shelving in the modular pick tower to hold a range of goods as small as a box of earrings or screws or as large as a baby carriage or barbecue grill, he said.

From its location about two hours south of Amsterdam, the new fulfillment center is situated to allow next-day delivery to any location in the major trade zones of Europe, Foy said. Known to European logistics workers as the "blue banana," the region is a fruit-shaped area stretching from Denmark to Northern Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Spain.

"The time between an order hitting our fulfillment center to the item being picked, packed, and sitting on the dock waiting for the courier is less than 10 minutes," Foy said. "Customer expectations are getting so fast. The customer today wants instant gratification. Ten years ago, if you got a shipment to the customer within 14 days that was acceptable. Eight years ago, it was eight days. Five years ago, it was five days, and two years ago, it was two days."

ModusLink invested in the new automation system in an effort to accelerate the fulfillment process and to win prized accounts such as Mondelez International Inc., the international food conglomerate and a recent customer, Foy said.

Foy declined to specify the cost of building the automated fulfillment center, but said it represented "a significant investment."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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