Food firm tightens operations
10 May 2017
Confectionery supplier sees cascade of benefits after switch from paper-based warehouse organisation to WMS.
Lees previously managed some elements of its warehouse operation using a paper-based system. This involved documenting in detail every item coming into the facility, its use within the manufacturing process and concluding with warehouse pallet references for the storage of finished goods and final destination locations, as products left the site for retail.
One area where Lees faced the most administrative challenges was handling and storage of finished goods. This involved warehouse operatives writing down best before date and batch number details of thousands of products coming from production by hand. Apart from being time consuming, the system was highly prone to errors and handwriting could be illegible. This then created problems further down the supply chain, when a team of administrators would input the data onto Lees’ ERP system and the delay resulted in system data that was never completely up to date.
After a review, Lees selected Indigo as its WMS provider. Initially, Indigo’s production booking and intelligent putaway modules were implemented. This gave Lees a standardised process for handling finished goods and ensuring mistakes were not occurring. Plus data was available in real time and stock was being managed efficiently.
Lees supply chain director Steven Purves says: “We saw an immediate improvement in stock management and traceability. Although we always picked in rotation by best before dates, our products lacked a unique label ID.”
This prevented Lees from easily locating individual manufacturing batches at the pallet level and they would primarily identify products by best before dates.
“It was very difficult to isolate products to a set time of manufacture,” adds Steven. “Whereas now using Indigo, we can pull off a set of labels and track goods to a few pallets in the warehouse. It’s had a huge impact on our traceability and control management.”
Using Indigo, putaway is now a seamless process too. “Gone are the days of driving around looking for empty locations,” says Steven. Now, when products come into the warehouse from production, operators scan the barcodes on the works order sheet and specify quantity. The system generates a unique pallet label and at the same time, and suggests a series of suitable putaway locations.
These improvements have led to the elimination of previously prevalent stock picking errors, which has enabled Lees to grow its business over past few years, without the need to increase headcount correspondingly.
Currently, Lees is making further improvements to its warehouse operations, with the addition of Indigo’s purchase goods receiving module to optimise the management of raw materials as they enter the manufacturing facility. This was also previously a manual operation.
Another benefit seen from standardising purchase goods receiving is the improvement made to the stock rotation and management of packaging materials. Previously Lees had no way of identifying how long packaging had been stored before use. This meant some items were not utilised as quickly as others, which could have implications for end product quality. For instance, long storage periods can affect the integrity of cardboard boxes and plastic wrapping can warp.
Traceability is a prerequisite for the food industry and an essential capability for Lees, who supplies major retailers and independent stores across the UK.
Audit requests by retailers could have Lees working right up to the deadline time to compile the reports needed. Now they can respond much more quickly, with automated reports set up to gather the data required. “We now have an improved end to end process to ensure full product traceability right across the supply chain, with optimised stock management at all times, from the point ingredients arrive on site, to their arrival at the retail depot,” says Steven.