Printer improves process with Empirica
Leading contract printer Polestar has improved the management and traceability of production items and standardised stock handling procedures at its state-of-the-art plant in Sheffield following the introduction of the Empirica warehouse management system and radio frequency data terminals from Chess Logistics Technology. Polestar Sheffield now has real time control and visibility of items used to prepare magazine and promotional packs for its clients and can generate reports with greater detail to deliver an enhanced service.
“We need to provide a product history from storage through to the completed magazine and Empirica does this perfectly for us,” says Mike Brook, Site Production Improvement Manager at Polestar Sheffield. “We are a printer, not a warehouse, but Empirica has forced us to be more standardised in how we pass and track items.”
Polestar Sheffield is a high volume contract printer that produces colour supplement magazines for national weekly and Sunday newspapers. In addition to printing the magazines the company prepares, collates and packs related inserts and “onserts” such as direct mail catalogues and reader offers. Much of the information is only available close to publication date so the company has to maintain just-in-time operations round the clock at its plant in Sheffield to meet demanding deadlines. It aims to produce about 11 million magazines and up to 33 million inserts each week.
The company wanted to enhance its ability to monitor production performance and provide publishers and advertisers with increasingly detailed information about the number of magazines and inserts/onserts prepared so that they can verify campaign effectiveness and response levels. The current paper system used by the company, although effective, did not have the benefit of real time information flow and traceability. Tracking the receipt and movement of stock items in the production plant using a warehouse management system and radio frequency (RF) terminals offered an ideal solution and after evaluating products from a number of suppliers, Polestar selected Empirica from Chess Logistics Technology.
“Chess was not the cheapest, but competitive, and what we liked most was the ease of use for operatives who have a range of expertise with computers,” says Mike Brook. “The hand held terminals were very intuitive and had a straightforward interface. It can be quite frightening for people who are bit nervous around computers but the whole process has gone pretty smoothly.”
The production plant operates 24/7 to meet the tremendous workload undertaken by Polestar each week. The warehouse section incorporates high bay and very narrow aisle storage for up to 1800 pallets and block storage areas for bulk items. The combination of Empirica and RF hand held bar code scanning terminals enables Polestar to log and verify stock movements in real time with total accuracy. Polestar can access updated information at any time and produce reports for internal use and to provide an audit for its customers.
“Empirica’s ability to provide a stock movement history was a big selling point,” says Mike Brook. “Our procedures are already more transparent and we will be more efficient and professional in the future and especially during the busiest periods.”
Although the configuration is relatively standard in warehouse management terms, Polestar asked Chess to modify some of the reporting functions to provide specific information, introduce additional receipting features to accommodate the unique nature of certain onsert items and configure the task management routines to ensure that the contents of a complete pack could be prioritised as a group rather than singly to ensure production machinery could be utilised at optimum performance. The inherent adaptability of the Empirica system allowed these changes to be introduced without affecting the core application which speeded up overall implementation time and ensured costs were controlled.
“The reporting side is very good and useful for proving a product has moved from A to B,” says Mike Brook. “Empirica has also helped to make stock checks much easier. We used to do a full check every month but now we have perpetually live stock visibility.”
Polestar and Chess agreed a four phase implementation plan starting in November 2007. The first covers the receipt and storage of production stock items, including consumables such as polythene film for encapsulating magazine pack, strapping for bundles and cardboard packaging. The second phase covers the delivery of these items from storage areas to the machinery that compiles the packs while the third and fourth will involve the movement of printed products to finishing machines and the despatch of completed loads.
Chess Logistics Technology Limited has provided software for logistics and distribution applications for more than twenty years and is recognised as a specialist in its field. The company has an extensive client list of national and international companies.