Project Description

“One of the best aspects of the service offered by Chess was that it gave in-depth consideration to the needs of everybody at Knowles who was likely to come into contact with the Empirica solution – from the key management team right through to operators using it to input data into the system.”

Knowles Transport has 130 staff and 1½ million square feet of storage space, transporting and delivering food to all parts of the UK.

Recommendations from fellow Transport Association members led Knowles to investigate purchasing the Empirica Warehouse Management System from Chess Logistics Technology.

After seeing a demonstration of the system from Chess, Knowles was also confident that the Empirica solution would improve workforce productivity and minimise picking time (which has now been quantified to provide productivity gains in excess of 20%), by ensuring that the same product types were kept together within stacks and different product types were stored separately.

One of Knowles’ largest customers is Liverpool-based Princes Foods, a leading supplier to the UK grocery and foodservice trade. The solution interfaces effectively with Princes SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

In 1932, 17-year old Gerald Knowles established Knowles Transport Ltd in the peaceful Cambridgeshire village of Wimblington, to carry agricultural produce to the wholesale London markets and sugar beet from nearby fields into local refineries.

Today, Knowles Transport is based in the same village and is still owned by a member of the same family.  Gerald’s son, Tony is the present managing director.  Yet over the last seventy years it has grown into one of the largest privately owned companies in the Eastern Counties.

Knowles Transport now has 130 staff and 1 million square feet of storage space, transporting and delivering food to all parts of the UK.  Its recent rapid growth rate, however, has brought challenges as well as benefits.

By early 2002, the company was increasingly aware that its existing in-house warehouse management system was under intense strain and struggling to cope.  Escalating inventory levels were making it more difficult to track goods, failure rates were high and pickers were frustrated by stock not always being stored correctly.

Consequently, Knowles began to look for a replacement system.  Recommendations from fellow Transport Association members led it to investigate and ultimately purchase the Empirica Warehouse Management System from Chess Logistics Technology.

A broad range of factors contributed to this decision.  Perhaps the most critical was that Empirica was able to track products effectively from the moment they arrive at the warehouse to the moment they left.

After seeing a demonstration of the technology from Chess, Knowles was also confident that the Empirica solution would improve workforce productivity and minimise ‘picking time’ (which has now been quantified to provide productivity gains in excess of 20%), by ensuring that the same product types were kept together within stacks and different product types were stored separately.

Value-for-money was another important issue.  In this respect, the fact that Empirica is based on the InterSytems CACHÉ database was a clear benefit for Knowles.  CACHÉ’S rapid processing speed enables it to use less memory and support more users on the same hardware platform that the majority of databases.  As a result, Chess was able to offer Empirica to Knowles Transport at a highly competitive cost-per-seat.

Related to this is scalability:  CACHÉ’S multi dimensional engine with its compact data structure enables it to use disk space efficiently and so free up room for growth.  This gives Knowles Transport confidence that the Empirica system will be able to keep pace with its own development rates.

Complementary business approached
Yet Knowles Transport’s decision was about more than just the functionality of the solution.  The approach adopted by the system vendor was equally important.  Knowles was not interested in doing business with a ‘box-shifter’ that merely wanted promote the features of the system.  It was looking for a business partnership, rather than a simple supplier-customer relationship.

From Knowles’ perspective, it was important that the chosen company was responsive, flexible and prepared to make time to customise the solution to meet its requirements.  Chess was able to provide this level of service, training key Knowles staff on all aspects of the system and trialling it comprehensively.

According to Mr. Knowles, “one of the best aspects of the service offered by Chess was that it gave in-depth consideration to the needs of everybody at Knowles who was likely to come into contact with the Empirica solution – from the key management team right through to operators using it to input data into the system.”

The Princes food dimension
Another vital element to the decision was that Knowles met the needs of those companies that rely on it to provide warehousing, transportation and logistics.  One of Knowles’ largest logistics partners is Liverpool-based Princes Foods, a leading supplier to the UK grocery and foodservice trade.  For Princes Foods to be satisfied with Knowles Transport’s selection, it needed to be confident that the chosen solution could interface effectively with its SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

Once Knowles had shown, with the help of Chess, how effectively the two systems could communicate with each other through the Empirica interface and, in particular, the amount of unnecessary manual inputting that could be eliminated as a result, Princes Foods was happy to endorse Knowles Transport’s choice.

The Spring of 2002 was occupied with this process, together with a comprehensive trialling and training procedure designed to iron out any glitches with the system and to ensure that key staff at Knowles were aware of the full range of its capabilities before the solution ultimately went live in July 2002.

Reaping the rewards
Since then, Empirica has dramatically improved the efficiency of Knowles Transport’s warehouse operations.  Back in May 2002 – two months before it switched to Empirica – the company’s failure rate stood at 2% of all deliveries.  By April 2003, it was down to around 0.2% and Knowles is confident that it can cut this even further over time.

Not all the benefits are quantifiable, however.  Some manifest themselves more in a greater sense of company well-being.  Generally, Knowles Transport feels much more in control of the whole warehousing process than it did previously.
Most system users have found Empirica straightforward to learn and, consequently, little training has been required.  The morale of the warehouse team has risen appreciably as a result.

Knowles Transport has also been able to use Empirica and, more specifically, CACHÉ’s high-performance SQL access to create timely, detailed management reports.  Using CACHÉ’s support for open database connectivity (ODBC), users are able to augment Empirica’s reporting with a wide range of third party query and reporting tools to generate information reports to further aid effective decision making.

“We believe we have got great value for money from implementing Empirica,” said Mr. Knowles.  “And much of this is down to having immediate access to information which gives a much clearer picture of how the business is performing – from the latest stock figures to data about productivity levels.  This information has enabled us to keep a lid on our budgets, allowing us to achieve a significant return on our investment of less than 12 months.”

“Other key benefits of Empirica include its reliability, which is due in part to the robustness of the CACHÉ database and the fact that it is easy to manage,” continues Mr. Knowles.  “We had no use for a system which was overly complicated or sophisticated.  Instead, in Empirica we have found a solution which is straightforward to operate and which is carefully tailored to our precise requirements.”

The Empirica solution is being further developed all the time.  Going forward, together with Chess, Knowles Transport is now looking at the possibility of extending the range of available interfaces and also considering the potential benefits of employing it in other parts of the business, such as transportation and delivery.

“With Empirica, we feel confident we have made the right choice of Warehouse Management System and that the decision will make a significant contribution to our future success,” Mr. Knowles concludes.