State-of-the-art warehousing

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Since installing a new warehouse management system (WMS) in its Athens distribution centre, 3M Greece, a subsidiary of diversified technology company 3M, has benefited from innovative new processes such as immediate inventory cycle counts, optimised batch order waves, reduced manual workload, increased inventory control and improved lot traceability.

In 2006, the 3M Greece distribution centre (DC) was prompted to search for a new WMS. Not only was the existing system becoming obsolete, but the building lease was coming up for renewal and, as a lean organisation with a warehouse team of 18, the 6000 sqm of warehouse space was simply too big for them to manage alone. In addition to evaluating the various WMS offerings available, the 3M warehouse team considered third-party logistics (3PL) providers and the option of outsourcing to a local company.

However, the HighJump Warehouse Advantage solution from 3Ms Supply Chain Solutions division, the international operating arm of HighJump Software, was a convincing solution. The WMS would enable 3M Greece to maintain its own warehouse as well as allow it to modernise operations for the subsidiary, utilise the extra space and apply its experience in logistics services to launch its own 3PL business for companies throughout Greece and Cyprus.

Problem-free

The entire project from conception to board approval, design and installation took eight months. However the go live was completed in early 2007 in a single day, with few resources and minimal disruption or problems encountered. Although we moved from a completely manual system, when we went live with the HighJump WMS, the users did not have any problems whatsoever, confirmed Christos Baracos, HR, logistics & IT manager for 3M Greece. We didnt stop operations, not even for a day, he added.

This smooth transition was largely due to the expertise of the on-site IT resource who conducted the core HighJump system training with help from two others and outside support from HighJump Software in the US. 3M Greece reports that this super user was able to resolve issues as they arose. Cultural differences, for example, made it difficult for the warehouse staff to understand certain new processes, and changes needed to be made to the interfaces of 3Ms other business applications, including the local ERP software.

New era

The 3M Greece DC has now entered a new era and the WMS has received highly positive feedback from both warehouse staff and customers. New processes for picking, packing, inventory counts, labelling and so on, have resulted in great improvements in terms of productivity, speed, and reduced inventory discrepancies and customer delivery errors. Staff now benefit from increased warehouse visibility with sections of the warehouse allocated to specific people with specific tasks. Since installing HighJump Warehouse Advantage we havent had to increase staff even though we have gone from 400 order lines per day two years ago to an average of 650 per day, with peaks of 900 to 1000 order lines per day, said Baracos, adding: We could not have done this without the HighJump system.

The inventory location capability of the WMS has optimised cycle counting in the warehouse; this was previously done manually. Before we had the HighJump system, we had to shut the whole warehouse down for two days and bring in extra staff to do a stock count manually it was a huge task, explained Baracos. Now we just scan with the radio frequency (RF) guns on the spot and conduct reconciliation of discrepancies on a daily basis without any interruption to the operation.

Furthermore, the new system has enabled smaller batch order waves that staff can prepare during the course of the day in a more efficient timeframe. According to Baracos, all these benefits have also boosted warehouse morale: Our staff have been very frank in saying 'we don't understand how we were able to operate before'. This is a huge step change in the way we do business. During a recent ISO investigation even the auditors were impressed by the changes in the warehouse since their last visit. They expressed their surprise that they had come to Greece to offer guidance on contemporary warehouse processes but what they saw in our DC far exceeded what they have experienced in larger warehouses.

Setting the foundations

The HighJump WMS has not only enabled the DC to launch its new 3PL business which is already up and running and highly successful it has also allowed the DC to remain lean and more streamlined in its operations while setting the foundations for optimising further warehouse processes in the future.

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