WMS supports business innovation at Winterbotham Darby

Winterbotham Darby, the award-winning supplier of high quality continental foods to the retail and foodservice sectors, has continued to innovate and enhance its supply chain operations using the Empirica warehouse management system from Chess Logistics Technology.

Recent innovations include pick-for-store order processing for major multiple retailers with integration of advance shipping notices to simplify fulfilment processes and shorten lead times, logging food safety compliance processes, and refinement of voice-enabled picking to improve productivity to even higher levels.

"Many of our processes are based around the warehouse and the WMS is pivotal because it gives us the ability to control stock on a real time basis," says Ian Render, operations manager at Winterbotham Darby. "Working with our demand and supply planning system it helps us ensure the availability of product to maximise service to our customers. We integrated Empirica to ensure those processes are supported by a robust structure that works well."

The company originally implemented Empirica in 2008 to RF-enable stock management processes at its main warehouse in Redhill. Voice-enabled order picking, added in 2012, led to an increase in productivity. This utilises verbal instructions issued by Empirica and responses made by warehouse operatives wearing headsets. There is no need for RF scanners during picking and this "hands-free" aspect of the operation is one of the key reasons why productivity is enhanced. Although the underlying processes are standardised, each operative interacts with the system using a unique profile that can be tailored to their language, vocabulary and speed of working.

Over time the company recognised that it could shorten many of the standard phrases used by the system to minimise the time needed to receive instructions and confirm actions. It also identified that numeric check digits were more efficient than alphabetic. These changes led to incremental improvements in picking rates with no impact on accuracy. The latest wireless headsets have highly efficient noise-reduction capabilities that eliminate many misunderstood instructions, again leading to small gains in performance.

"Voice picking has been hugely beneficial," says David Bettison, group WMS manager at Winterbotham Darby. "Our labour resource has remained static for the last 18months, during which time we have seen volume growth which has been achievable due to the voice picking solution which has continued to provided productivity improvements and operational efficiencies. We are however constantly reviewing the existing RF and voice solutions to ensure we are utilising all elements to maximise the benefits to the operation."

Information drawn from business applications including Empirica has helped Winterbotham Darby reconfigure the warehouse layout so that frequently-picked lines are closer to the marshalling area. Pick-paths are optimised so that, on average, operatives walk shorter distances between each pick. This reduces the time required to pick a full order, further increasing productivity.

In recent years Winterbotham Darby has implemented Empirica at its Deli Solutions and Alatoni businesses. This presented a number of challenges because each operation has a unique set of requirements that place different demands on the WMS. Nevertheless, the company is keen to keep its processes as simple as possible by using a common platform at all sites. One of the key benefits of Empirica is its ability to provide greater stock visibility which, combined with the company's Lake View ERP and FuturMaster Supply Chain Management applications, supports improved stock availability for customers. As retail lead times continue to shorten, the ability to fulfil orders consistently, quickly and predictably becomes a critical business objective.

"Empirica provides a number of reports, including full allocations and short orders, and supports back picking which makes our operation more versatile," explains David Bettison. "Picking later in the day is possible which enhances our ability to fulfil orders quickly. Empirica also reports on labour and productivity so we can identify who does what, when and where. With these tools we can manage expectations."

Winterbotham Darby has also been using Empirica to support innovations focused on enhanced customer service. With one of its major multiple customers, for example, it now picks orders directly into roll cages destined for each store in the retailer's network. These cages are despatched to the customer's regional distribution centres where they are cross-docked into delivery vehicles. This simplifies the operation by removing the need for the distribution centres to process orders and double-handle items, thereby reducing potential receipting errors and product damage.

To support this, Winterbotham Darby needs an efficient way to receive and process orders and submit confirmations back to the customer. Orders received and processed by Lake View are automatically forwarded to Empirica which schedules and allocates tasks to ensure items are picked in time for despatch, sometimes at very short notice during peak periods. Once an order is completed the WMS generates an ASN (Advance Shipping Notice) that is automatically sent to the customer. The system is so accurate that the customer has no need for further checks as the cages arrive at its RDC.

"We did a lot of work with Chess to understand how information is captured, the format in which it is transmitted and then interpreted by our customer," says David Bettison. "With this particular customer we know a cage is correct and we only need to do one scan. The customer receives the ASN and can quickly see if any data is wrong. We told Chess what we wanted and they set up the interfaces."

Winterbotham Darby also plans to use Empirica to track and monitor IBCs at its Deli Solutions business. The IBCs will be given RFID barcodes which will work with Empirica to record when containers arrive or leave, are diverted to maintenance, and how many times they have been used. This will provide the company with a complete utilisation audit, know where the IBC's are at any given time and allow it to introduce efficiencies that reduce overall costs.

Looking to the future, Winterbotham Darby is investigating new ways of using its WMS to support business innovation. These include, for example, voice-enabling more processes, picking at separate sites from a common dataset, and new fulfilment services for retailers to support smaller, complementary suppliers.

"We are always looking for the WMS to support our requirements whatever they may be," says Ian Render. "Chess can accommodate our ways of working. They offered us the flexibility and adaptability to meet our customers' requirements."

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