Sunday 23rd Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Adapting to evolving situations

Mitsubishi Air Conditioners Europe’s Livingston distribution facility handles manufactured product. It sits between two autonomous parts of the organisation – UK and overseas production and sales distribution – and interfaces with both MAPICS (in production) and SAP R3 (in sales and accounts).

Four years ago, the challenge was to find a system capable of translating stock codes as internal ownership changed while tracking serial numbers for warranty purposes. At the time inter-departmental charges were made for the warehousing and distribution services so any system had to be able to make the appropriate calculations.

In addition a system was needed for all the usual warehouse management functions with easy visibility of information to be available as and when needed at the sharp end. There was also a requirement to produce regular and ad-hoc reports with transactions and balances to other departments. It was also understood that the future would involve change so flexibility to respond in an evolving situation was necessary.

Today’s solution may need to change shape to suit tomorrow’s demands but ideally this would be possible without expensive add-ons.

Last but not least; this IT support was for the warehousing and inventory management facility and had to be suitable for use and management day-to-day by existing staff.

As a global organisation, one option was to roll-out the warehousing modules of the existing SAP R3 installation to the Livingston facility. This way forward was rejected because the cost to configure SAP to meet Livingston’s needs was seen as prohibitive and it would not necessarily satisfy its needs. As a service within Mitsubishi, this facility is more akin to a third-party warehouse which is not SAP’s natural environment.

Having decided to look outside, we searched for a product both functionally rich to support the range of requirements and flexible enough to adapt to evolving situations; backed by a company who understands the type of environment and is alive to the issues of integrating new systems into existing working practices.

After looking at many offerings LocateIT from Clandestine Software was selected as the preferred solution.

Staff training

The system was installed and three years later when the Livingston facility was reorganised, RF/barcoding was added to the system successfully. Indeed it is now being considered as a basis for elsewhere within the business.

It is felt that one key to success four years ago was to directly involve the warehouse staff in partnership with logistics people from the software house. While the physical software installation took no more than a morning; ‘working the system tools to suit us’ occurred during ‘on the job’ staff training over the next fortnight. This included electronic transfer of all suitable existing data and stock checking.

The project to add RF/barcoding technologies was also conducted to ensure ownership at the sharp end as well as dealing with the hidden infrastructure details that are needed to hook RF up to a network.

Time was spent with the warehouse staff looking at the activities being done and the data needs to support them, also looked at any data to be gathered such as serial number on despatch. The result were remote processes that suited Mitsubishi, which meant training was straightforward on the floor and staff took to using the ‘guns’, and now cannot do without.

Among the administrative activities was a site survey to sort out how many base stations were needed to ensure full wireless coverage of the facility and where they were to be sited. This took into account availability of electricity to those locations and how to extend the CAT5e network cabling into the warehouse.

In an industry sector where so many projects of this sort fail either in part or in full, Mitsubishi made the difference through active support from forward thinking management whose primary concern was for the good of the business. From this approach management was able to correctly understand what type of system would be successful. Active support was shown by encouraging the operational staff that would actually use the system to do their jobs and meet the service level requirements from their customers.

Looking back on the past four years, the direct sharp end involvement and how LocateIT was implemented were the most important factors to the success of the result. We also dealt with a company that knew what it was doing; that helped too.