Can you afford not to consider automation?

With the introduction of the national living wage and the auto-enrolment into employer pension schemes under the NEST initiative, some businesses have raised concerns that this will impact their ability to trade profitably. Given that many manual warehouses have a large employee base, particularly with the huge increase in order picking required by the rise of eCommerce, employment costs are going to significantly increase over the next few years.

In light of what to many is likely to be a surprisingly large increase in the employee cost base, the case for automation within the warehouse may have a more rapid and consequently more attractive return on investment.

When considering the introduction of any level of mechanisation or indeed automation of warehouse processes it’s important that the solution proposed integrates holistically with the whole of the operation. It might be enough to just add a bagging machine to the despatch process to cut down on manpower requirements, but in all likelihood significantly greater savings can be made if the entire operation is reviewed. Bearing in mind the budget available an experienced solutions integrator should be able propose a solution which meets the needs of a business both now and in the future.

Read the whitepaper to crunch the numbers and find out more.

Top Tips for Choosing a WMS

James Wilmer, Business Development Manager – Reflex, at Logistex, highlights the main points to consider when choosing a WMS provider.

1: Long term planning.

A WMS is a long-term commitment; as operationally it will fit you and ideally you should fit it, make sure that from the outset you consider your long-term plan. If you are turning over less than a £million and only picking 100 orders per day then you can get away with something pretty basic. If however that is your position but you expect/hope to grow to £10 million and pick 1000 orders per day then your needs for a WMS should reflect that figure.

In simple terms if your future may benefit from automation then it’s probably best to buy a WMS capable of simply linking to that (the best option for this would be a WMS that has an inbuilt WCS which can control and take information from automated components like auto-picking and conveyors). As your daily picks grow the complexity of space and pick routes will grow and some of the lower end systems will not be capable of this.

Always plan for your vision of the future in the WMS you choose.

2: Cost to benefit.

Make sure you understand the real cost to benefit of a system. Ask your chosen WMS providers to illustrate real suggested gains from the system – both current and in your predicted future. All figures you receive from them should be honest and give you insight which will help immensely in your selection.

3: What pedigree does the WMS provider have?

As there are so many WMS providers out there now it’s clear that not all are fit for purpose (I have seen and been told examples of amazing looking systems that have never been implemented in real life before being presented. This used to be called vapourware, however people still do it).

Make sure you get a list of some real businesses that use the WMS and where possible visit at least one of them, although I would suggest a couple. While doing the reference visits make sure you ask the site what they honestly think of the system, including the users. Try not to let the WMS provider direct your questions or the answers, look for an honest answer and integrity.

Case studies are good but remember the business will only ever provide a case study of their successes. Read the news and doing searches to find out as much as you can.

Always do your research.

4: Platform and how does this fit with your IT strategy?

There are advocates of both cloud based or sited WMS systems.

Advocates of sited will tell you cloud based is only as good as your connectivity and that if your external pipe goes down you will be left without operational usage. They will also point to security and the ability for VPN access which will allow users from anywhere to use without having to be hosted externally. You can manage it internally with your own staff and policies.

Advocates of cloud based will tell you it’s cheaper as the storage space can be shared reducing costs, available more easily when out of the office, as well as leaving the responsibility to load patches etc. to someone external to the organisation. They will also point to the speeds available as standard for internet connectivity in many parts of the UK Now.

Both versions are perfectly plausible and I would personally consider your strategy and which would suit you better. I would look at providers from both sides of this if you are unsure and ask for their honest conversation on what the benefits might be for you.

5: What can you afford?

Some providers will have different versions of the software that you can turn on functionality or bespoke elements easily as you grow. This allows the start-up cost to be lower but as soon as you start to have higher needs means it becomes a more expensive system. Ask about upgrade costs, bespoke elements that you may need in the future upfront so you understand the true/ full potential costs. I come across many businesses that buy a very cheap system yet as their needs have slightly changed the system has become the most expensive on the market.

Cheap systems are cheap for a reason. Expensive systems should only be expensive if you are getting value for money. Ask for a full breakdown of why the cost is what it is; for example if you pay £5k for a system and implementation and they say it’s going to take them 100 days to configure implement, train and have go live support then that would mean they are costing their staff at £50 per day and making zero money on the software or anything else, they won’t be in business long. If you pay £100k for a system and they say it’s 200 days it’s much more likely I would believe that or that the company is being honest. Costs will vary whoever you go with depending on your needs but look in to the detail and the man days/ effort they are putting in to it to see if what you are getting is value for money.

If you can only afford a fixed budget be honest with providers from the outset, however make sure you have looked at budget/ reality/ benefit before this stage.

Sometimes if you have no money or a very small amount it would be worth doing a full business/ case review before investigating WMS any further with any provider.

6: Your current systems and interfacing.

It’s very rare that you won’t run multiple other systems throughout your business; for example ERP, Traffic Management, IM, MIS, simple finance, spreadsheets, basic databases, links to shippers etc. They will all manage their part, however some may benefit from linking to the WMS (usually your order system/ finance)

7: What support costs, infrastructure, training and implementation are the WMS provider offering?

Do you own the system after buying it or will it be software as a service? This is your decision and every business has different drivers that you will need to consider carefully. With SAAS you spread the cost over the full life of the product, with up front you will own the software so will only pay ongoing support costs (usually you have the choice on this but is recommended).

Training is key to getting it right. You wouldn’t expect somebody to drive a forklift without the right training, the WMS you go for is the same. Make sure your provider isn’t suggesting only online training or something that you are not happy with. All training should be full and fairly costed.

8: New technologies.

Most systems will work with voice picking, RFI tech etc. However not every business would need or benefit from that technology. Ask the question of your provider if there is potential if you move/ use that technology to integrate now or in the future.

For information on Logistex’s Reflex WMS click here or email enquiries@logistex.com

The Golden Quarter

Logistex’s General Manager – Engineering Support Services discusses the challenges of preparing for peak…

The Golden quarter, also known as ‘Peak’ is for many retailers the most important and most challenging time of the year. Many spend the first 9 months of the year just building up and preparing for this period.

So why is it such a challenge?

Stock holding

The aim of the game is to sell as many items of stock as possible, but of course when you have a sudden spike for demand, you have to ensure you have the right stock with the right sizes and colours available when the demand hits, otherwise you will be letting your customers down at a critical time which they unfortunately do not forget!

What does this actually mean? Well, for example, an average retailer’s distribution centre may hold around 5 million ‘items’ of stock on any normal day. Given that they may roughly require a further 40% stock holding for the peak period alone, they have to find space and process for a further 2 million items!

Resource

Given the above, you then need to be able to increase your staff holding by a similar % in a short space of time. Imagine taking on a few hundred extra staff that all need an induction and training on process, not just for the normal operating way but for peak challenging ways!

Equipment/Automation

To be able to cope with the ever growing demand on retailers, following the expectations of us the consumers wanting their items straight away, Automation is pretty much a necessity. But, if there is ever a time that equipment failure hurts you the most, it has to be peak! Potentially thousands of customer orders, and hundreds of staff stood around waiting for the magic green button to be pushed again to get the system back running following Engineer’s resolution.

It’s so critical that all equipment is in its prime condition ready to cope with the demands put on it through this period. Servicing and repairs, although they may cause inconvenience during other times, it’s certainly the better trade off than unexpected down time during the busiest time of the year!

Engineering

All eyes on you! Imagine the occurrence of a site stood still due to an unexpected breakdown, hundreds of eyes watching and an ever growing number of managers stood over your shoulder asking how long?!

This is a time when all that experience pays off, you have to be calm, be able to communicate under pressure whilst trying to solve the issue at hand.

A lot of the time Engineering is seen as the necessary evil, but they generally can be the unsung heroes!

Operations

If the stock holding is correct, you have the right resource in place and the Automation runs as you would hope, operations still have to conduct small miracles every day throughout and leading up to this quarter to ensure the customers’ needs are met.

I’ve only given rough estimates of figures during this blog down to my own experiences, but to finalise….

We wouldn’t have it any other way! The golden quarter, although the most challenging time for retailers, let’s not forget how magical a time it is!

So my final points would be to stock up, resource up and look after your assets, then enjoy the ride and take satisfaction in knowing you have delivered millions of smiles on Christmas day!!!

Logistex User Group 2018

Users of Logistex’s warehouse management and control software recently gathered at the Kettering Park Hotel for our fifth User Group. Delegates heard about the latest product development, attended workshops on how to make the most of the software, and engaged in lively discussions with their industry peers about how to address business challenges facing them today.

A highlight of the day was guest speaker Brian McBride, Chairman of ASOS and former MD of Amazon UK, who gave our closing speech. Brian spoke about digital disruption, citing the likes of Nokia and Kodak who went from being hugely successful to falling by the wayside as they did not respond to digital advances. He also spoke about the importance of mobile and social media, giving examples from ASOS and Amazon, and ultimately arguing that retailers only have two choices – ‘Evolve or Die.’

“All the speeches, presentations & workshops were highly professional, and the content was all current & relevant to our working world”
(Network Systems Development Manager, Wincanton Logistics).

SHD Logistics Conference

The SHD Logistics Conference, ‘Transforming Logistics Through Technology’, returned this month allowing attendees to discover transformative new technology, network with senior logistics professionals, and debate and discuss the challenges faced in today’s environment.

Among the speakers were Justin Saw, Sales Director at Logistex, and Naila Dad, Head of Operations at Pharmacy2U who discussed the award winning pharmaceutical dispensing facility created by Logistex and Pharmacy2U. The pair also sat on the afternoon conference panel to take questions from the audience.

Read the Pharmacy2U case study and see a video of the facility in action here.

Visit us at eDelivery Expo – 21st-22nd March

There’s no rest for the wicked! One show down and the LWS Reflex team are busy preparing for the next one! After a busy couple of days at IntraLogisteX, Logistex are now getting ready for our next big event – eDelivery Expo, the UK’s largest retail fulfilment and final mile event.

The eDelivery expo will be taking place on Wednesday 21st and Thursday 22nd March at the NEC in Birmingham. Logistex will be on stand F61 showcasing our innovative warehouse management software.

Not sure of your stock levels? Want to improve pick accuracy? Need to manage peaks of activity but don’t want to pay even more when you bring in temporary staff? Then pop along to the Logistex stand for a chat with Mark and James about how you can combat these issues and try a live hands on demo of our WMS. Register free here!

Ansell Lighting improves warehouse efficiency with Reflex!

Logistex has installed its innovative warehouse management system, LWS Reflex, at Ansell Lighting’s warehouse operations in Warrington and Belfast. LWS Reflex controls the receiving and putaway, replenishment, picking, packing and despatch operations. Since Go Live the operation has achieved significant efficiency gains. Check out the video of the facility in action here: https://youtu.be/6BJPlbiA4pA 

LWS Reflex logo