Manufacturing & Logistics IT takes a look at Loch Lomond Group's IT estate and the business and operational benefits these systems bring to the company.
Loch Lomond Group is a company behind some of Scotland's most highly regarded artisan whisky brands. Founded in 1814, Loch Lomond Whiskies can trace its roots back to the Littlemill distillery, which was established in 1772 and is thought to be one of the oldest in the world. Its current malt and grain distilleries, in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire on the banks of Loch Lomond, were built in the 1960s and are among only a few in the industry to maintain an onsite cooperage. The malt distillery at Alexandria also features a unique combination of traditional swan neck and distinctive straight-necked pot stills, enabling it to produce a diverse range of flavour profiles.
The backbone behind the company's production, warehousing and delivery efficiency is its IT estate, something that has recently been substantially overhauled. The latest system to go live is Indigo Software's warehouse management system (WMS); including put away, picking and sales order processing within five of Loch Lomond Group's bonded warehouses. Indigo commenced the project to transform Loch Lomond's paper-based warehouse processes with real-time warehouse management during May this year.
After experiencing a phase of sustained business growth and investment following the company's acquisition in 2014 by private equity group Exponent, Loch Lomond Group has transformed the scale of its business. The recent partnership with The Open Golf Championship means the distiller's exciting range of single malts will become 'The Spirit of The Open' raising the profile of this innovative business on the international stage.
Product range expansion
Over the past few years the product range has quadrupled in size and the company now stocks over 850 different SKUs of product varieties, which are shipped globally. This represents a substantial shift from its commercial position just a few years earlier. Export markets have now grown tenfold and over 250 pallets of finished goods leave the Ayrshire site each day, for onwards distribution to customers.
Loch Lomond Group's investment in Indigo WMS is seen by the company as an essential part of its transition to become a leading global whisky producer. Implementing the new WMS was seen as an important move in order to allow the company to automate the management of incoming raw materials and finished goods, as well as improve sales order processing.
Greater brand visibility and volume
Tony Brewerton, plant director at Loch Lomond Group, said: "Our growth means we have effectively outgrown the original processes that served us so well for many years. It's a good problem to have because it demonstrates how we have progressed our brand visibility and volume. Implementing Indigo WMS will allow us to make finished goods put away much more efficient and ensure we are achieving a higher proportion of 'on time in full' (OTIF) shipped pallets, which is critical for customer satisfaction."
Traceability is another important consideration for Loch Lomond, to maintain accurate product records and guard against counterfeited goods. Each bottle produced has a unique lot code identifier denoting the line, date and time of production. Indigo WMS is supporting this process by capturing lot code information at the goods inwards stage and tracing it right through to the end customer. This enables Loch Lomond to verify product authenticity and demonstrate that the duty has been paid.
Due to the distribution of Loch Lomond Group's warehousing facilities across multiple warehouses, implementing a wi-fi network to support real-time warehouse management was deemed to be cost prohibitive. Instead, Indigo has specified mobile devices capable of using the GSM cellular network to enable the company to gain all the benefits of mobile working, at a reduced cost. Once implemented Indigo WMS will also be integrated with Loch Lomond's Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP solution.
"We frequently encounter situations where an artisan food and drinks manufacturer is migrating from paper based systems and introducing a WMS as their first level of automation. In these cases, adding wi-fi into a legacy site can be very expensive and it's not always a necessity as this project demonstrates," said Eric Carter, solutions architect at Indigo Software.
Harford is a paperless management system used by shop floor personnel. The system allows production processes to be executed and managed without the need to use any paper. "It handles everything from data capture, downtime, quality management and AQLs to legal compliance matters," explained David McCallum, production support team leader at Loch Lomond Group. "All the data from Harford is visible on 50" TV screens once it is captured using ruggedised Samsung touchscreen tablets, which are located on each production line."
McCallum pointed out that another key aspect of the Harford solution is a traffic lights system that allows Loch Lomond Group's front-line leaders to see real-time information as it's happening on the line. "If everything is running smoothly a happy face graphic can be seen on the TV screens," he said. "If there is an issue a sad face can be seen, with information regarding any issue that needs to be resolved. Harford is a very effective system and has definitely proven to be a major benefit for us in terms of improved production efficiency."
The initial implementation of the Harford software at Loch Lomond Group took place during March 2017. The company then went live on 1 June last year on a single line. "This was primarily in order to allow the operators to get used to how the system runs," said McCallum. Then, by September 2017 the site went live on all three of Loch Lomond Group's automated lines – which is mainly handling high-volume products – and on both our manual lines – which are primarily used for the company's lower-volume, higher-value goods.
The Samsung tablet PCs are specifically designed for use within the shop floor factory environment. Operating in conjunction with the Harford system, the tablets are used for various production tasks such as conducting half-hourly or random checks on cases and bottles. The tablet PCs went live at the same time as the Harford system.
Printing and labelling
Loch Lomond Group relies on a number of Domino printers for its printing needs, together with Videojet industrial printers that are mainly used for case printing. The company uses a laser coding system, also by Domino, to put lot codes on the bottles. This process is mainly undertaken by operators manually, although Loch Lomond Group plans to automate this process in line with its overall commitment to greater levels of automation going forward. "The lot coding process will eventually be taken over by the Harford system," said McCallum. "In this way, there won't be any human interaction and therefore little or no chance of errors occurring. If an error on a lot code occurs, the production line has to stop, and this can affect productivity rates. So, in the future the lot codes will be assigned automatically to the Videojet and Domino printers."
McCallum concluded: "Over the past year or so, we have invested in new IT systems that will reap major business and operational benefits for us over the coming years. With demand for our products expanding at such a huge rate, we are glad we did."