Project Description

Leading automotive trade supplier Andrew Page introduced the Empirica warehouse management system from Chess when it opened a new national distribution centre (NDC) in 2012 to support business growth and new ways of working.

Helped by the application, the business successfully made the transition while integrating additional depots into its national network and significantly increasing the number of orders delivered. The NDC project was the winner of the Logistics & Distribution section at the 2013 European Supply Chain Excellence Awards.

“This successful implementation has allowed us to focus on processes, rather than technology, which is key for our business,” says Steve Coleman, IT Director at Andrew Page. “We’ve introduced a new way of working and we’re getting efficiencies and economies of scale. None of this would be feasible without Empirica.”

Leeds-based Andrew Page is one of the UK’s oldest and largest suppliers of spare parts, equipment and tools to the automotive trade. The business has grown organically and through acquisition in recent years to create a national depot network.

During this time the accepted industry model has been changing. Suppliers previously delivered direct to each depot in the network, which meant some would be making multiple visits each week to over 60 locations. As the number of suppliers grew to support a bigger range of items, and more products were sourced in bulk from the Far East, the process was becoming increasingly inefficient.

Andrew Page recognised its processes could be simplified by consolidating consignments from multiple suppliers into single daily orders for each depot but it needed a larger distribution centre with greater capacity. Suppliers agreed that delivering stock through the NDC would remove complexity and cost which would allow them to be more flexible on pricing.

Hatmill, a specialist logistics and supply chain consultancy, was brought in to manage the project. An ideal site for the NDC was found at Markham Vale in Derbyshire. During planning, the business continued to grow by opening 10 depots and acquiring a company which added 27 locations, bringing the total to more than 90.

The project team recognised its existing depot management software was unsuitable for the integrated NDC operation and a more sophisticated WMS was needed. Among the systems evaluated by the team during the tender process was Empirica from Chess. This offers an advanced set of features based on a core product which can be integrated with other business applications and adapted to match customers’ specific operational requirements.

“Chess stood out from our shortlist of three because they took the time to show us they could develop the bespoke functionality we needed,” says Simon Dixon, Founder of Hatmill. “It was clear they also had a good cultural fit with Andrew Page and Hatmill.”

Although Empirica offers broad functionality out of the box, Andrew Page identified some additional process requirements. One of these was the need to determine the correct ‘split’ or allocation by depot for stock received at the NDC. This involved creation of specific interfaces to the Andrew Page systems, as well as a new dedicated physical handling process to be supported by Empirica. Also required was the capability to provide stock visibility and availability to depot and head-office sales teams, for which Chess developed key interfaces with other business applications, including Andrew Page’s new ERP system.

“Empirica didn’t need much additional configuration to deliver exactly what we needed,” says Steve Coleman. “Some alternative systems had a similar price but required more development time and cost. Others had more functions but were twice the cost. None of the ERP systems we looked at did the job as well as a dedicated WMS.”

Chess worked with the project team to finalise specifications, develop an implementation plan and create the interfaces with other systems. It then completed the installation and configured the hand-held RF devices with the communications infrastructure. The company also offered advice on the best way to configure the warehouse for simple and efficient order picking using experience of similar fast-moving operations. A Chess implementation specialist managed the process from beginning to end.

“This was a unique installation because it involved implementing the WMS entirely from scratch rather than adapting an existing operation,” says Simon Dixon. “Normally you would map processes from an existing warehouse but we had to devise new routines and then configure the WMS.”

All stock movements and order picking at Markham Vale are managed by Empirica. Incoming goods are scanned using RF equipment to verify the details and allocate a specific storage location for put away. Full pallets are also made available for immediate delivery to depots. Via an interface, Empirica ensures stock is available for sale by depots or the head-office sales team as soon as it is recorded. This enhances stock visibility and availability for improved customer service.

Orders are picked throughout the day by staff using hand-held RF devices. Empirica manages pick sequences dynamically to ensure efficient order completion. Staff use powered pallet trucks to pick orders for two depots at once in the narrow aisle area. In the small parts section they pick up to six orders into roll cages. Correct sequencing ensures heavy and bulky items such as batteries are picked first for optimum pallet or cage loading and stability during transportation.

Andrew Page operates its own transport fleet to complete early-morning deliveries to depots five days a week. The company aims to fulfil customer orders on-demand from depot stock within an hour. Other items can be delivered overnight to any depot direct from the NDC.

Processes must be robust to maintain high stock availability yet flexible enough to deal with seasonal peaks such as cold spells which lead to increased demand for items like replacement batteries and suspension springs.

The new distribution model simplifies depot operation because more stock is consolidated in a single daily delivery. Depots can view available inventory, place orders and check scheduled deliveries online using information generated by Empirica and other systems. Order accuracy is very high which means less time is needed to check arrivals.

The migration to daily consolidated depot deliveries made considerable progress during the first year of the new operation. Around 60 per cent of stock currently passes through the NDC but this will increase as more suppliers transfer to the new model. This, coupled with business growth and the larger depot network, meant the NDC increased the deliveries by around 80 per cent in its first year. The business is generating more than 35,000 invoices a day.

Information produced by Empirica is available to other business systems via the interfaces configured by Chess. Managers can access data and compile reports whenever they want. These provide snapshots of processes such as picking and receipts which allows colleagues in different parts of the business to discuss and agree priorities.

“The proof of the pudding is what it’s like when you’ve signed and committed to a particular solution and we have continued to be impressed,” says Steve Coleman. “Chess has responded when we needed something, pricing has been fair and any changes are agreed and delivered on time. The entire process has been robust. We use the implementation as an example of good practice and if we were doing it all again I would go straight to Chess.”