Nestled in the hills surrounding Le Locle, in the very heart of the Swiss watchmaking country, Tissot, which has been in business since 1858, just inaugurated perhaps the most technologically-advanced storage and retrieval system in the entire watch industry.
It’s not something you’d expect from a watch brand rich in tradition, but given Tissot’s commitment to technology in its timepieces (think of the amazing T-Touch, Sea-Touch and others), it certainly makes sense.
The need for space
Several years ago, Tissot was one of the few companies in the watch industry still growing and the brand’s management knew that when the economy recovered, double-digit growth would return. As it was, Tissot had already maxed out its existing system, so they needed to find another way.
Last year, Tissot shipped more than three million watches, and at peak times, products and parts backed up tremendously. This year, Tissot plans to ship almost four million watches, so the need was clear – more space and a more efficient way of handling incoming and outgoing stock.
“We receive the components here, we do quality control, we send all the parts to the assembly plant, we get the finished watches back here, then we ship out, so we handle everything four separate times, so having something that makes that easier for us was a priority,” says François Thiébaud, Tissot’s worldwide president. “This kind of logistics centre exists in other industries, like in pharmaceuticals, but such a big facility never existed before in the watch industry. There might be similar concepts, but nothing as big as this.
“We have five robots that can act at the same time, and it’s a huge space,” he continues. “It is 20 metres wide, 20 metres long and 16 metres high. We can have 35,000 storage boxes, and the robots go quite fast, about five metres per second.”
So far, the Cube, as it is called at Tissot, is having a positive impact on Tissot’s operations. “The new centre gives us a lot more space, it is much more organised, it is very secure, and it helps the people working with the stock. Last year, during the peak times, we had watches everywhere, ready to ship, taking up needed space. This month, for example, we had a good increase over last year, and the entire process was much smoother this year than last year. We expect to have big increases going forward, but we can handle it with the new system. Now, we get a bit of a back-up at the load-in dock, but we are looking to expand that area to alleviate the input backlog.”
And the system is adapting to how Tissot uses it. “When we store our products, either components or watches, the robots initially stored wherever they found space,” Thiébaud explains. “Now, the system prioritises the things we use more. It is integrated with our SAP system, with two levels of access to store the products. When the components arrive, we place them in the stock and we do quality control, we validate, then the stock enters the system.”
Construction started on the Cube, the exterior of which uses Tissot’s brand colours, on August 2, 2010, and the new logistics centre was operational less than a year later. The planned capacity is a delivery volume of between five and six million assembled watches per year, doubling Tissot’s previous capacity. The Cube has a volume of 7,500 cubic metres, and the facility uses five robots that can store up to 12 million components and watches simultaneously.
This project allows a smoother flow between all stages of watchmaking, and enables better cost and quality control of the components and assembled watches. The location of any item within the Cube and its 540 metres of conveying system can be pinpointed by the special software in a blink of an eye, and retrieval occurs within five to ten minutes, depending on the position of the part or finished watch required.
How it works
Everything begins with the unpacking and registration into the system of incoming components and finished watches (from Tissot’s assembly facilities in the Italian part of Switzerland), followed by storage in the Cube. Any order can then simply be entered by the HQ Sales department and transmitted to the system. The box with the requested material will be ready to collect almost instantly at the picking station. The conveying system also runs through the Quality Control department, which enables Tissot to ensure that everything conforms to the brand’s quality standards.
The Cube is state of the art when it comes to security and fire protection. Given the value of the finished watches and components stored inside, the security is top notch and easier to manage, with everything in one place. In case of fire, detectors trigger a discharge of inert gas, which lowers the level of oxygen in the air, effectively putting the fire out, while at the same time ensuring that both workers and equipment are safe.
The Cube is the future for high volume watch brands, with Tissot leading the way. The lesson, according to Thiébaud? “We can adapt to modern technology without losing the heritage and tradition that we have,” he says. “We can still be innovative and implement the latest technology. I learned this and many things from Mr. Hayek. It is possible to make very innovative products in quantity, as long as you invest in the newest technology.”
Source: Europa Star December - January 2012 Magazine Issue