Kettle Produce masters complex manufacturing

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Kettle Produce is one of Britain's biggest suppliers of fresh vegetables to major supermarkets and multiple retailers. Created by two Scottish farming families in the 1970s as a producer of raw vegetables, the company has adapted its business in the past ten years to meet the growing demand from time-constrained consumers for prepared, ready-to-cook vegetable packs.

Its broad range of freshly-cut vegetable packs is helping the company achieve exponential growth in recent years and a 70m turnover in 2005. Still privately owned, Kettle Produce is one of Fife's largest employers, with around 800 people working in two centres at Balmalcolm and Orkie.

The move from supplying raw vegetables to value added vegetable packs has meant a more complex manufacturing process for Kettle Produce. As well as its traditional washing and trimming processes there is high care preparation, cutting and combining products, and packing them ready for despatch.

This new focus on manufacturing, combined with the highly competitive 24/7 demands of its supermarket customers, led Kettle Produce to review its internal infrastructure and information technology support in 2003. The management team recognised that in order to expand the business efficiently, they would require state of the art computer systems to help them manage the fast-moving business processes.

Having carried out an extensive selection and proving process, Kettle Produce is now rolling out the full TROPOS ERP suite including the integrated CODA Financials. Management will be equipped with accurate and fast information to ensure high quality customer service, greater efficiency and minimised stock losses as the company grasps new growth opportunities.

Providing the best customer service in a fast moving business
Kettle Produce previously operated a sales and financial system, supplemented with stand-alone spreadsheets and manual paper systems to support the production process. Stock and order information was collected and held by a number of staff, according to requirements. As there was no systems integration or a single data repository, access to information was slow. Lack of automation also meant there was no guarantee that the data was consistent.

One of the major reasons for a systems review was that stock was not being effectively tracked and controlled. Potential stock losses can affect profitability.

"Everything is fast-moving in this business and it's very easy to have a breakdown in communication when using manual processes," says Liz Waugh, Financial Director of Kettle Produce: "We needed to streamline our systems, make our processes more efficient and get a quicker turnaround of accurate information to help management decision making.

Kettle Produce sent an Invitation to Tender for a comprehensive ERP system to 12 suppliers. Following a detailed assessment, the company selected TROPOS and CODA from SSI.

"There were a number of reasons why we chose this solution," says Liz Waugh. "Most importantly, we recognised that TROPOS was very flexible and that as our business grew, TROPOS could grow with us. We believed our business was more akin to food processing than an agricultural packhouse and TROPOS reflected that specialist approach in its capabilities. We also liked the fact that the tools within TROPOS gave us the ability to be autonomous in future. "

"We certainly felt we could work with the SSI team. All the SSI people we have been in contact with have been extremely professional, forward thinking and proactive."

The TROPOS solution uses a Windows 2000 platform on TROPOS application and web servers, with a standby server for disaster recovery. Key hardware features are a Radio Frequency (RF) network for despatch and stock control, and handheld devices, touch screen PCs, bar code scanners and label printers to record picking and pallet movements to the point of despatch. The latest version of TROPOS is being used to take advantage of the TROPOS Browser and Firewing capability. This means that Kettle Produce's third party suppliers can view customer orders and record pallet information, despatch documents and advanced shipping notifications.

Meeting the new requirements of the retail supply chain
The company planned a two level approach to implementation. Phase one focused on the core sales functions of the business - sales order processing, distribution, picking and despatch, Proof of Delivery and invoicing, and finance. This phase of implementation was completed in 4th Quarter 2004. Liz Waugh is in no doubt that it is delivering the benefits that she expected.

"For years we've operated an EDI system, which means that the customer order hits the sales desk first thing in the morning, and our product has to be turned round in the factory and out that day. We needed to improve that process flow and enhance communication between departments. The customer requires 100% service, and we must have the facilities to ensure this happens."

As a consolidator, Kettle Produce need to ensure their sub-contractors deliver quality products on time as an integral part of the Kettle supply chain process. The power of the internet has been harnessed to enable Kettles sub-contractors to work online with Kettle, obtaining updates on demand and processing despatches as they occur. The sub-contractors are now working as a natural and integral extension of the Kettle supply chain without the complexity of system interfaces, transcription or exchange of data. Each key sub-contractor has a web 'portal' through which progress is managed and recorded as if they were onsite at Kettle, providing a unified response to the demands of the major retailers.

The key benefit of Phase 1, says Liz Waugh, is providing traceability of products despatched. Using RF technology, and handheld devices, despatch of all customer deliveries is now accurately recorded in detail, down to the pallets used for delivery. The system enables Proof of Delivery to be validated with confidence.

Optimizing efficiencies with a paperless factory
Phase two, which is being implemented module by module throughout 2005, will support the core manufacturing process with extensive use of RF technology and an easy-to-use shop floor data capture facility. The major objective in this phase will be improved stock control and a significant improvement in productivity.

"Our goal is to have a paperless factory," says Liz Waugh. We can improve communication by automating the whole process. This will mean everyone working from the same accurate information. We can reduce the risk of error and get a much better handle on stock yield and losses. Improving our systems will enable us to react to any problems and be much more responsive to changes."

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