Spares logistics in Switzerland: Saving the day if your skis are okay but your car’s camshaft isn’t

You’re hurtling down a slope and the sun is shining. Both you and your equipment make it to the bottom without a scratch. But then disaster strikes: Your car breaks down on your way back to the hotel. Your skis might be fine, but your car’s camshaft has broken. And you were planning to start out for home the next day. What are you going to do?

Delivering goods with the fast overnight service

“Looked at from a logistical point of view, these kinds of mishaps are nothing serious for people on vacation in Switzerland,” says Mirco Schären. He is head of Schenker Schweiz AG automotive’s unit and is also in charge of logistics at the company’s base in Eiken. Schären has seen enough cases where a problem reported one afternoon has been fixed with by the following morning. “It takes less time to repair minor damage to a car than it takes for a bruise to disappear after a fall,” he jokes. If anyone knows what Schenker’s spares logistics can do, then it’s him. When a workshop orders a windscreen, hood, or a camshaft by 4pm one day, it can have the item delivered by 6am the following morning. The mechanics just need replace the part, and then the whole thing is over.

Workshop supplies for several auto brands

When it comes to supplying replacement parts, every carmaker has its own logistics system. However, they all have one thing in common: Their goal is to get cars back on the road again. Whenever spare parts are needed, they have to reach the workshop as quickly as possible. Who takes care of this? It’s a business opportunity for DB Schenker. The Swiss subsidiary has been very active in the auto parts business for some 10 years. Its customers are the major car brands, known as OEMs, or Original Equipment Manufacturers, in the sector.

Employee warehouse

Tobias Eberhardt (left, head of the logistics base at Effretikon) with Stefan Rüttimann (contact logistics project manager, Schenker Schweiz AG) © Schenker Schweiz AG

The logistics company operates a separate warehouse for one of them in Effretikon, located in the canton of Zürich. Located right beside the A1 freeway, it opened in mid-2017 and stocks about 14,500 different parts, ranging from tiny sealing rings to bulky bumpers. “If a company puts in an order for something by 11:30am, the item will be at the workshop by 3pm on the same day at the latest, no matter where the workshop is in Switzerland,” says site manager Tobias Eberhardt. If a workshop contacts Effretikon after midday, the DB Schenker base at Eigen takes the matter up.

Customs clearance during transportation

Eiken serves several auto makers and collects spare parts straight from these companies’ distribution centers in various countries such as Belgium and Germany. The base’s central delivery system is then used to deliver them to workshops overnight. What about customs clearance at the Swiss border? “We take care of that with the authorities after the parts have been loaded onto our vehicles,” says Schären.

Three deliveries a day

Using this approach, DB Schenker ensures that it can get supplies to some 250 workshops within 24 hours of ordering up to three times a day. Most of the parts are transported in reusable packaging that drivers take with them either immediately after delivery or the next time they call to a workshop. This also applies to returns, for example if the manufacturer needs to take a closer look at an item returned under warranty, or in the case of damaged fenders, windscreens, and other parts earmarked for recycling.

“ #Spares logistics for cars: #Schenker Schweiz delivers supplies to 250 #workshops up to 3 times a day.“

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Delivery to undisclosed locations

Some workshops are in the middle of a residential area, so how do they get their deliveries? Auto shop owners have a host of solutions up their sleeves. One of them doesn’t want on-site delivery due to noise considerations, but he still needs replacement parts by the early morning. The way around the problem: The DB Schenker employee transporting an item puts it into the trunk of a car parked at a confidential location. This driver always has access to the car keys for the job.

Windscreen Truck

Loading and securing a windscreen © Schenker Schweiz AG

Snowchains and mountain passes

Every night, the delivery trucks cross the Julier Pass into the Engadin region of eastern Switzerland. The highest point of this route is 2,284 meters above sea level, which has obvious consequences in winter. DB Schenker’s trucks face an additional difficulty as they cross the pass before snowplows get to work each night. The spare parts have to get to their destination in time, so four-wheel drives and snowchains are often essential.

First the camshaft, then the piste

So just what happens if your car’s camshaft breaks the day before you want to start the drive home? Say the accident happens at about 3:30pm. The workshop reacts fast and orders the spare part that afternoon. It arrives early the next morning. The mechanic gets to work at 7:30am and starts the job straight away. You can turn up just after 10am to collect your car. About 90 minutes later, you head back to your favorite mogul piste one last time. Afterwards, you start out for home. While this particular scenario might just be fictional for the sake of illustration, the logistics processes in the background most certainly are not.

International boom in the auto spare parts market


A McKinsey study shows that the auto sector’s replacement parts market will grow by about 3% per annum between now and 2030. Asia is forecast to see the fastest expansion, with the consultants putting the figure here at 6.5% a year, rising to no less than 8.1% in China.