For on-site rental of industrial tools during a project, Arentis deploys mobile dispensing warehouses. For a short while now, since 2021, the Terneuzen-based company has had an unmanned version: a 20-foot container fitted with customized vending machines by Zuply. ‘We see a lot of advantages in this; it costs us a lot fewer man-hours and there is always enough stock,’ says Jean-Paul Heijens. The managing director and owner of the Syndus Group, to which Arentis belongs, plans to significantly expand the number of unmanned vending points in the period lying ahead.
Arentis rents out machinery and tools for industrial contractors and installation companies, among others. From cranes to compressors, generators to hand tools. Besides its four branches in the Netherlands and Belgium, Arentis works with mobile dispensing warehouses, for example, during a maintenance stop or turnaround at a factory site, petrochemical plant or tank terminal. Thanks to this service, customers have the necessary tools on hand at the work site. Those customers include contractors and industrial companies hired on a large scale for the duration of such a project, says Jean-Paul Heijens.
‘Dispensing and intake work fine. There is plenty to do during the day for the colleague who arranges that on the spot. However, these maintenance stops are often 24/7. Then we need someone to be there at night and on Saturdays and Sundays as well. That is fairly expensive, while it is quiet then. That guy is bored and has little else to do most of the time but watching movies.’
So Arentis started looking for a way to organize an unmanned but controlled dispensing process. ‘Our idea was to set up a container in line with the time-honoured Febo concept, from which people could take out the tools themselves. We would then be working more efficiently. This person who was otherwise just sitting around doing nothing can make himself much more useful elsewhere in the labour process.’
Intake as well
‘Unmanned dispensing with vending machines has been around for a long time. Not only at Febo snack bars, but also for soft drinks, bread, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. Except that the equipment returns to us. So we wanted the intake to be arranged as well, including the administrative processing involved.’
Jean-Paul Heijens put the question to Sander Sciarone and his colleagues at Zuply to develop such a concept. Together they set to work. Standard shipping containers were chosen, the small size, 20-foot containers (6 by 3 metres), so there is always room for them on-site. Both long walls are full of vending machines, equipped with variable-sized lockers to fit the diverse range of tools and materials. ‘We can fit a couple of hundred different pieces of equipment in there,’ he says.
The registration and stock management software was also adapted to Arentis’ requirements and systems. ‘As we wanted to do the job right, we took our time. For example, we wanted the scanning system we use at other locations and on deliveries to work here too. Zuply got that done. It is very useful that they develop the software themselves; as a result, it is all coordinated.’
‘They also listened carefully and thought about what we and our customers, the ultimate users, considered important. It had to be very user-friendly. The outcome was so reliable that we were 100 per cent behind going fully operational.’
The field trial , which started in February 2021, is at Dow Benelux in Terneuzen. ‘We have set up two units there. One with tools, gas detection systems and personal protective equipment for its own employees who carry out daily maintenance at the plant and one with tools for mechanical contractor Bilfinger ROB, which is working there.’
The rental from the unmanned dispensing point is connected by Zuply with Arentis’ ERP system, Microsoft Dynamics AX. ‘Our customer’s employee can access the container with a pass. With it, he can open the locker and take the desired tools. In the same way, he can return the rented items. Zuply’s system registers this and then the rental period also stops automatically.’
Via a 4G connection, the vending machines exchange the data with the computers at Arentis headquarters via Zuply’s central database. In this way, stock can also be kept up to date. “The users never miss out.’
If it is up to Jean-Paul Heijens, there will soon be more unmanned dispensing points in cooperation with Zuply. ‘This concept is in line with what we want now: efficient and price-conscious dispensing (not unnecessarily expensive due to crew) and always available: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For maintenance and restocking, we can then do with a limited number of people. Much more efficient than if those locations all had to be manned.’
‘There is an additional advantage because of corona that we could never have foreseen when we started the idea,’ Jean-Paul Heijens concludes. ’Keeping a distance of one and a half metres works perfectly thanks to contactless dispensing. We are very corona-proof with this.’