Reed Boardall is a leading independent third party chilled and frozen consolidator. They operate the UK’s largest single site cold store with an 112,000 pallet storage facility, and a distribution fleet of 160 tractors and 240 trailers.
The Reed Boardall operation has grown from around 6000 to112,000 pallets in under fifteen years, with the Chess system being continually developed to meet additional business requirements. From an initial standard WMS, the solution now includes extensive EDI, real time movement control with truck mounted radio terminals and an integrated transport planning system.
More recently, voice activated picking and on board telematics for load tracking have been integrated with the Chess system. The entire solution is supported by fail-safe fault tolerant software and hardware systems, reflecting the criticality of the system to the business.
Leading cold store operator Reed Boardall has used warehouse management systems from Chess Logistics Technology for over ten years. In that time the WMS has evolved from simple but effective stock control to lay at the heart of a sophisticated supply chain management system that incorporates the latest pick-to-voice technology and extends beyond well beyond the boundaries of the cold store with electronic links with customers and suppliers and advanced techniques to monitor and manage transport and deliveries.
The company has built its success on the back of shrewd business sense and investment in the facilities and technology required to deliver services that exceed customer expectation and enable and support sustainable and profitable growth. The most recent phase in the company’s development was an additional cold store on the site that brought capacity to 92000 pallets when it opened at the end of 2002. Reed Boardall carries over 5000 different product lines and volumes currently average 8500 pallets a day. Its fleet of 160 temperature-controlled vehicles delivers millions of cases a year to hundreds of destination nationwide, fulfilling more than half a million orders.
This is a large operation by any standard and Reed Boardall has always invested in IT systems to support its business. The company has used warehouse management systems from Chess Logistics Technology for more than ten years. The original system was implemented to provide stock location and control to support the third party shared user operations that are at the heart of Reed Boardall’s business. Truck mounted and hand held RF terminals were introduced later to support increased productivity, high accuracy and real time operations as volumes increased.
The careful planning in the warehouse is exemplified by the way pallet locations are numbered. Odds are on one side of each aisle and evens the other, much like house numbers, to avoid confusions such as “six on the left or six on the right”. This makes it easier to find items but also means that aisles can be extended much more simply without disrupting existing numbers.
“We often have as few as 400 free spaces in the warehouse so it’s vital to know where they are,” says Keith Boardall. “It’s only possible with the sophisticated warehouse management systems that we have put in place.”
Over the years, Reed Boardall and Chess has worked together to develop the WMS and the communication links to integrate additional functions such as transport planning and consolidation operations. In an early project, Chess developed a traffic office system that integrates with the cold store control system and transfers transport requested orders into warehouse picking instructions for a faster turnaround. Chess has also implemented backup solutions to cope in the event of system failure.
“The reliability of the base systems is good and the support we have received is exemplary,” says Keith Boardall.
In 2001, Reed Boardall became one of the first companies in the UK to adopt voice control of its warehouse operations. Chess worked with the technology supplier to integrate the voice control with its warehouse management system, initially to manage pallet picking and placement. This “pick to voice” application has since been broadened to include other operations in the warehouse.
Warehouse staff wear a simple headset and receive spoken instructions generated in real time by the voice control technology using information from the warehouse management system. During picking, for example, reach truck drivers read aloud a three digit code on the load they are about to handle and the pick to voice system immediately tells them which loading bay to take it to. Information is exchanged with the WMS in real time and picking is quicker and more accurate because staff no longer have to carry a hand held terminal or concern themselves with reading from a screen. Nor is there any need for barcodes. Pick to voice has taken the place of paper.
Reed Boardall encourages customers and their suppliers to use electronic interfaces with its enterprise systems. All incoming items are preadvised electronically and many customers now place orders electronically. Customers can also check stock levels and generate reports using a variety of remote links. Connectivity is enabled by ISDN, electronic data interchange (EDI) or the Tradanet network.
“Everything operates in real time and we always aim for one touch or no touch data,” says Keith Boardall. “For many customers, information comes in electronically and orders are placed electronically, so we don’t need to touch the data.”
One of the next developments will be automatic production of loading plans in conjunction with voice control. This will enable Reed Boardall to print out loading plans so that delivery drivers know where each pallet is on a trailer, making it much easier to find the right items when dropping off at the customer’s site. This should enable the adoption of random loading for faster turn round at the dock.
“We have gone from a 6000 to a 92000 pallet cold store in ten years,” says Keith Boardall. “There have been lots of challenges in this time but we have been able to achieve everything we ever needed to satisfy customers. Chess has been robust and agile enough to cope easily with more pallets and more loading and we have benefited from its design flexibility. Nor have we had to throw away the systems and start again.”
Reed Boardall is currently adapting its operations in response to the trend towards factory gate pricing by major supermarkets. It is also working on further integration of its system, for example by linking the Chess WMS to traffic management and load tracking systems. This will enable the company to track loads to the point of delivery. By comparing the destination booking in time with information provided by systems on board trailers and the Chess WMS, the company will be in a position to calculate estimated times of arrival during transit and confirm automatically and in real time whether a delivery slot has been met or if there is a late tipping.
“This exception reporting is based on monitoring the trailer not the tractor,” says Keith Boardall. “It will tell us when we are not performing to requirement.”
“Our ethos is to work continually to meet the needs of our customers, and their customers, better than anyone else,” says Keith Boardall. “We set out to create the best shared-user operation in the UK. This is our USP – We have a system which is second to none.”