The last two years have been a time of investment and growth for pgb-Europe. Deputy Editor Claire Aldridge went to visit the full service supplier of fasteners, fixings, components, and hand tools, to see how a new automatic pallet warehouse, WMS system, and webshop, are helping it develop new opportunities to compete within the European market.
Founded in 1956 by Marcel Pennoit and Henriette Grootaert as an end user seller, Pennoit‑Grootaert Bolts (pgb) has always been a family owned business. In 1983, their two sons Marc and Luc Pennoit joined the company, which resulted in the launch of the now well known pgb yellow box packaging, an in-house IT department, and the start of relationships with suppliers in the Far East. Then, in 1997 the company moved to its current European headquarters in Melle, near Ghent, where it has become a fast growing logistic centre for the storage and supply of fasteners.
With the third generation of the family now active in the company – Frederik Pennoit, his brother in law Johannes Heye and Vincent Pennoit – it is important to pgb-Europe to compete at a European level with market trend setters. “Despite being a Belgian company at our core, we are constantly looking for new opportunities to help us grow within Europe, such as the acquisition of Polish nylon anchor manufacturer Esmark in 2002 – known now as pgb-Polska. These opportunities include continuing the modernisation, digitalisation, and product innovation that the pgb name has become known for,” proudly states Frederik Pennoit, member of the board at pgb-Europe NV.
During the past decades pgb has invested in automation, starting in 2007 when it was one of the first companies of its size to build a robot picking warehouse (miniload). “This was a very important step to improve our picking and thus delivery speed. This system allowed us to pick up to 7,500 order lines per day,” comments Frederik.
Ten years later and another big step has been taken by the company – the pinnacle of this period of investment. The construction of an additional 5,000m2 robot controlled pallet warehouse at its European headquarters in Melle, was fully operational in October 2018 and offers space for an extra 13,000 euro pallets. In total pgb-Europe now has 28,000 pallet places and 60,000 bin locations.
“The new robot controlled pallet warehouse is fully automated – we receive goods, and the system will control the complete flow of materials and determine where stock needs to be immediately, so no human interference is needed,” comments Frederik. This is made possible by three Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) from Dematic, which are fully autonomous robots that move and transport stock whilst following configurable paths to optimise storage, picking and transport functions where space is at a premium.
“The AGVs are reducing our labour requirements and improving shipping speed and accuracy, with automated product movement from shelf to shipping for full pallets. It’s clear the AGVs will enhance our warehouse,” explains Frederik.
To help optimise the new warehouse, a new ERP system (SAP) and WMS (DYNAMAN) were installed to enhance the service to customers. “You could say we were mad to install them both at the same time, but ‘Smart Industry’ is important to pgb – and you couldn’t have one without the other,” comments Frederik. “The new warehouse was being built so we threw ourselves into the deep end.”
The new system offers more lot traceability with batch numbers, order references, connected article numbers, as well as internal and picking information – all stored on the delivery note. This enables pgb to quickly release certification and quality information, which previously was a manual time-consuming job.
The new SAP system has also enabled pgb to launch an updated webshop where customers can find products and documentation – via PC, tablet or smartphone – easily and quickly. Customers are also now not only able to track their deliveries, but also track whether the order has been picked or shipped for their convenience.
The investment in the new robot controlled warehouse follows a period of investment for pgb-Europe, including the significant investment of a 10,000m2 facility for pgb-Polska in Zabrze in 2017. Here, 3,000m2 was dedicated to production to enable it to expand its product range even further and increase domestic sales. pgb-Polska offers a very wide range of metal and plastic elements for fixing technologies – supplying high-quality, certified products, straight from stock. A key part of this product range is its own SMART® brand providing fastening solutions for every branch of the construction industry.
2017 also saw the finalisation of a screw production factory, PHC Fasteners, in Ho‐Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This helped consolidate the Group’s position in the product chain and offer more possibilities for its customers. This also enabled pgb-Europe to evolve into a manufacturer and wholesaler of anchors and fasteners. Everything in Vietnam is controlled internally from the raw material to the finished product.
“pgb-Europe is committed to quality. In Belgium we have our own QC room where we can measure a variety of parameters, including zinc layer thickness, hardness, depth control or the recess in-house. As a result, we have an extensive range with no less than 1,500 references that are CE certified and in conformity with the CPR standard. We also have 15 ETA approvals for our SMART anchors. These high‑quality assurances are what we also require from the Vietnam factory. Our product quality, lead times, and the expertise we can offer, ensures we are a high-end company within the European market. The Vietnam factory follows this philosophy and my father, Luc Pennoit, and I visit the factory every couple of months and continue to do the sourcing ourselves,” says Frederik. “We have relationships that span back decades, which are very important to us to help ensure our products are the high-quality we present to our customers.”
At the end of 2018 the Vietnam factory was producing more than 500 tonnes per month, and an in-house heat treatment and coating line was set-up after receiving a permit from the Vietnamese government. This has allowed pgb to provide high-quality solutions to the European market for invisible and visible fasteners for wooden decks, under its brand – HAPAX®.
“Innovation is a buzz word, but we are constantly trying to stay one step ahead. The goal for the next five years is to focus on steel construction (EN 14399 and EN 15048 screws), construction sites (Smart® anchors) and highlight the HAPAX brand in the European market. We’re doing this by presenting a new high-end product at Fastener Fair Stuttgart, which we’re very excited about.”
The most recent addition to the Group was pgb-France, which was set-up in May 2017. “The decision to start pgb-France was a no brainer for us,” states Frederik. “We speak the French language and we’re neighbours, so a sales office seemed the next logical step. We have no intention to open a second warehouse in France – we’ve made heavy investments in the Belgian warehouse so to keep stock in France would be a step back, not forward. Just as in the Netherlands and Poland, local employees are based in France – something that we believe will be pivotal in becoming more active in this growth market.”
Frederik adds: “With all these recent investments, it’s absolutely paramount that we follow European guidelines. We’re therefore a proud member of ECAP and MEFDA. These two organisations help ensure we get market information as quickly as possible and allow us to react accordingly to guarantee quality and continue to be a leader in our region.”
These last two years have certainly been a period of heavy investment for pgb-Europe, and with the focus on the HAPAX brand; the opening of pgb-France; and investments in its manufacturing capabilities; it’s clear this family-owned company is showing no signs of slowing down. “pgb-Europe wants to distinguish itself through know-how, excellent product quality, a high delivery rate, a client-oriented service and sound advice. With our modern logistics we are heading towards a ‘Smart Industry’ – which is one of the strengths making us a 100% fully reliable partner for all fastener and fixing needs.”
Find pgb at Fastener Fair Stuttgart on Stand 1.836
Having joined the magazine in 2012, Claire developed her knowledge of the industry through the numerous company visits, exhibitions and conferences she attended both in the UK and abroad.
Claire prides herself on keeping readers well informed and up to date with the latest industry news.