Thinking Inside the Box – The Future of Parcel Delivery.
Rarely has there been a more aptly described “hidden champion” than Erwin Renz Metallwarenfabrik GmbH & Co KG. Both the main office and largest factory of Europe’s leading letter- and parcelbox manufacturer are located on the edge of the placid town of Kirchberg an der Murr in south-western Germany. Visitors entering the foyer, which doubles as a showroom, are greeted with an extraordinary range of products, award-winning designs and meticulous details such as noise-dampened letterbox flaps. It’s a display of consummate specialisation deep in the heart of the Schwabenland, as this region of Germany is affectionately known. The latest development in particular is something to write home about: a digitally controlled parcelbox cluster, complete with an app that provides residents of multi-flat houses with a simple way to receive and send parcels—regardless of which parcel service is used. And that’s not all.
Manufacturing metal products remains one of Renz’s core businesses to this day. The bustling factory adjoining its main office uses cutting-edge machinery and skills honed over decades to punch, bend and emboss materials. Smart equipment set up alongside production stations lets workers switch from one tool to another in no time. Every 12 seconds, a specialised machine rolls out an unfinished letterbox enclosure. Taking photos is banned in many areas of the factory. Indeed, Renz is keen to guard its highly efficient, lean processes from prying eyes, nor does it wish to divulge the extent to which it manufactures in-house—as both of these aspects are what differentiate it from the competition. In addition to the main factory in Kirchberg, further production sites in Germany (Döbeln), France, Poland and Great Britain churn out high-quality, bespoke products. The company delivers over 100,000 letter- and parcelboxes each year, many of them produced to match exact specifications, with custom materials and features.
The Internet of Postal Delivery.
Some may recognise the term “letterbox company” as a synonym for shell companies devoid of any true substance. In the case of Renz, the term denotes the opposite entirely, namely the image of a rock-solid, third-generation family business. Nearly half of the letterbox clusters in Germany are made by this home-grown market leader. A house without a letterbox is unthinkable.
But even this basic mainstay has not gone untouched by digitisation. “The online sales boom has made it more and more important to be able to send and receive packages easily. We’ve responded to this need by offering practical solutions for varied user groups,” explains sales manager Ralf Benzler. Since 2007, Renz has been producing and selling mechanical parcelboxes designed primarily for single-family homes. These boxes allow families to receive packages even when they’re out and about, without having to rely on a neighbour.
The goal is to leverage state-of-the-art technology in order to take full advantage of shared parcelbox clusters and enable a broad range of delivery and pick-up options.
Then, three years ago, Renz began developing electronic parcelboxes and combination letter/parcelbox systems for multi-flat houses and larger residential complexes. The goal is to leverage state-of-the-art technology in order to take full advantage of shared parcelbox clusters and enable a broad range of delivery and pick-up options.
The first web-managed, touch-enabled pilot system was taken live in Stuttgart in autumn 2015. Shortly thereafter, in March of this year, Renz presented an even more sophisticated version—featuring advanced onboard technology and an app—at the Light + Building trade fair in Frankfurt.
Renz, a family-owned business, is one of Europe’s leading producer of letter- and parcelbox clusters. Founded in 1925 by Erwin Renz in Kirchberg an der Murr, the third-generation, owner-managed company has over 90 years of experience and a rich tradition. Its main office has remained at the company’s original location in south-western Germany. Five subsidiaries have joined it in Germany, France, Great Britain, Denmark and Poland, together forming the Renz Group, which currently employs 700 staff throughout Europe.
The Internet of Simple Things.
Renz parcelbox clusters rely on a web portal for all of the system’s back-end processes, such as new-resident registration and data exchanges with parcel services. Property managers can also use the portal for insight into the use and status of one or more clusters. “This lets them see how often parcelboxes are being used and if the number of available boxes is sufficient,” says Mr Benzler. “User feedback for our initial installations shows that residents are quite pleased with the product, and the number of deliveries has increased in just a few short months.”
To pick up or leave a parcel in one of the boxes, users identify themselves using an RFID chip, app or code. Recipients are informed by e-mail, text message or push notification that a package is waiting for them. This singular solution can be used by any parcel service to pick up and deliver packages.
“What’s more, anyone—pharmacies and local delivery services, for example—can take advantage of our parcelboxes to provide services for registered residents. Users themselves and other individuals can also store and retrieve objects securely. In future, it may even be possible to use them to deliver fresh food,” claims Mr Benzler.
One Cluster, Many Uses. No longer limited to conventional letter and parcel delivery, Renz’s innovative clusters offer a host of other uses, both for private and business purposes.
Drop box for delivery services such as pharmacies
Secure storage or delivery of objects such as keys
Delivery of meals or fresh food
Pick-up option outside business hours for goods ordered online (click & collect)
Delivery and drop-off site for private orders at work
The Versatility of a Genuine Letterbox Company.
Clusters with the latest Renz-Steuereinheit Plus technology can accommodate up to 500 letter- or parcelboxes. Through these clusters, Renz is targeting an as-yet untapped market, expanding beyond its core activity of equipping new and renovated buildings. Indeed, more and more opportunities are presenting themselves to upgrade existing letterbox clusters and branch out into entirely new usage scenarios.
As Mr Benzler explains, “Rental companies can increase the appeal of their properties through the added value these installations offer. Also, the ability to make ordered goods available for pick-up outside of business hours—known as click and collect—is an alluring advantage for wholesale, retail and specialist shops.” This would make it even easier to closely interweave online with local services.
Businesses who would like to allow employees to have private orders delivered to the office can also benefit from such a solution. The first business installations are slated to go into operation this summer, on Renz premises in Kirchberg and at the head office of Bechtle in Neckarsulm.
“In addition to offering the fantastic opportunity to send and receive private orders, we also intend to use it to further streamline in-house processes, such as providing company car keys,” says Lukas Kirchner, an account manager at the Bechtle IT System House Neckarsulm.
A Partnership with a Solid Future.
It is no coincidence that Renz selected Bechtle’s main office as its pilot site. The Group’s Neckarsulm system house, located in the same building, has supported Renz from the very beginning of its latest parcelbox project all the way to its pilot debut. Renz made it a priority to develop the entire installation itself, including the IT involved.
For the first time, its 11-person IT department in Kirchberg—which had previously handled mainly the strategic and operational aspects of office IT, ERP, data centre and website services—was incorporated directly into the business’s value chain. “We developed the web portal, now hosted for customers in the Renz data centre, entirely by ourselves. We also handle the assembly, software pre-loading and installation of all IT components right here in Kirchberg,” explains Stefan Würtemberger, head of IT for the Renz Group.
The parcelbox cluster’s control unit is based on a touch-panel PC running Windows 10 IoT. Bechtle’s role was to advise Renz on the selection and procurement of IT components. Mr Würtemberger states, “We benefited greatly from Bechtle’s experience and their exceptional supplier connections.” The Business Collaboration Competence Centre run by the Bechtle system house also developed the accompanying Renz app, which delivers an ultra-modern, convenient user experience on smartphones and other mobile devices.
The Bechtle Internet Security & Services (BISS) Competence Centre also contributed by implementing a comprehensive security strategy, including an audit.
Bechtle supplied us with invaluable support for key components of our project, both as a procurement partner and as a skills provider. Our previously rewarding partnership in the traditional area of IT infrastructure paved the way for us to tackle this innovation with success.