Universal Flexible Packaging (UFP), the UK’s leading contract food and packaging supplier, introduced the Empirica warehouse management system from Chess to improve its stock handling processes and support sustained growth.
“We’ve been using Empirica at our main production site for three years and at the head office site for a year,” says Dipisha Chapaneri, Client Relations at UFP. “It’s providing us with more accurate information about our stock and greater control and efficiency over our handling, storage and picking processes.”
Founded in the mid-1990s to supply a range of flexible food packaging products, UFP has grown steadily over the past two decades. Its services now include contract packing for food and confectionery producers, enabling the business to provide a one-stop solution for customers in demanding and fast-moving markets.
The company implemented Empirica at its main production site in Leicester during 2015. Prior to this it had employed a combination of paper-based and spreadsheet systems but recognised that a more sophisticated solution was required to support growth. Empirica was selected because it offered a complete solution which was configurable to meet the evolving demands of the business.
“Before we started using Empirica we relied on paper and spreadsheets, but this involved a lot of manual input,” says Dipisha Chapaneri. “We always wanted a WMS because of the greater accuracy and efficiency it would give but we needed to justify the time and effort involved.”
Empirica is used to manage storage, production and despatch processes at the site. This includes managing the movements of ingredients required to prepare mixes of nuts and fruit for customers. When stock arrives, the system issues an automated goods inwards receipt. Additional details about the customer and product are entered into the system which then prints labels with product information and barcodes and allocates the stock to a storage location. All subsequent movements are managed using hand-held scanners which interface with Empirica to confirm actions and ensure accurate information.
Once in storage, items become available for picking or transfer to production or packing operations at either of the company’s two sites. Information about finished products, including individual pack weight, is entered on to the system before they are transferred back through goods inwards into the warehouse ready for picking to customer orders. Despatch notes are produced automatically by Empirica to accompany each order.
“The site is very busy and Empirica makes it really easy to find everything,” says Jade Hewitt, Customer Relations Associate at UFP. “We can track items down to the individual pack level if we have to, which is good for product traceability.”
The success of the original implementation led UFP to introduce Empirica into its head office site during 2017. At this site, for the time being, Empirica is used simply to manage the handling, storage and despatch of finished goods. Empirica produces two despatch labels, one for the pallet and one for documentation, allowing the company to rationalise orders against stock held.
UFP now has accurate and real-time control over all key stock handling processes and there is a reduced reliance on paper. This has delivered several benefits to the company, including improved customer service. The company can give customers a precise stock update on request while the system makes it easy to generate and share daily updates and reports.
“It’s easy to make mistakes with a manual system but with Empirica we can keep everything up to date,” says Jade Hewitt. “It’s become our main source of information and we rely on it.”
Orders are generally planned and placed well in advance. Empirica streamlines this process and, by analysing the stock held, ensures materials are transferred from the production to head office site to ensure orders are prepared and fulfilled in a timely and efficient way. Any authorised staff member can process orders which has added a new level of flexibility to the business.
Despatch times are reduced because the system knows what is on each pallet, which reduces the need for checks and paperwork during loading. Order documents can be prepared in advance and transferred automatically. The result is less waiting time for transport vehicles which reduces congestion on the site and improves throughput to meet increased order levels.
From the company’s perspective, the ability to manage stock accurately and generate month-end inventory reports including values is extremely useful for the finance team. Because the system keeps track of all handling operations the company can identify good performers or the source of mistakes more easily. This allows the company to focus training on individuals and areas to improve overall performance.
The transformation of the processes supported by Empirica took time, but the company recognises that the effort was worth it. Now the people using the system are familiar with it, and understand how it helps, they have warmed to it. The company has made great progress and is confident that it will use Empirica more widely in the future, particularly to support additional operations at its head office site.
“We know we are using it at a basic level and know we can do a lot more with it,” says Dipisha Chapaneri.