Logistics consultancy The Polygon Partnership designed and implemented a warehouse consolidation and reorganisation programme for Newell Rubbermaid in the UK.
The 350,000 sq ft facility in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was originally designed to handle products for window furniture company Swish, a wholly owned Newell Rubbermaid subsidiary, in 2003.
However, when the company withdrew from the Swish business, it was left with a warehouse designed for products including curtain poles, roller blinds and other window and door furniture – a design poorly suited to Newell’s types of products. This included a bespoke, 72- chute automated sortation system designed for Swish products.
As the warehouse was held on a long-term lease, Newell decided to consolidate storage for its other UK activities – which at the time occupied 18 facilities across the country – into Lichfield.
The fact that the company supplies a wide range of multi-branded products from office equipment, to construction tools, and children’s toys, which have different storage and dispatch demands, threw up a number of challenges.
Mixed orders need to be picked and dispatched, usually as single items for the growing e-commerce market or in bulk to companies such as Argos, major retailers, wholesale and commercial distributors and out-of-town sheds such as B&Q.
Once all the different brands had moved over to the site, the warehouse was soon bursting with new products, but lack of stock visibility meant that items were stored wherever there was room.
The Polygon Partnership was brought in to help improve space utilisation and design a picking procedure to cope with the volume and diversity of the company’s different brands.
While the ground floor was heavily congested, the pallet storage zone, built around a high bay VNA system, was under-used as it was no longer suitable for the range of products to be stored. The process was made worse by the fact that poor stock location meant picking staff had to walk excessive distances, which wasted time and made the process less efficient.
Picking, storage and replenishment requirements varied significantly across the brands: on one hand pens require a high number of SKUs of small items, with a large number of lines per order. In contrast, many commercial products, such as waste bins and floor cleaning equipment, are large in size and have low numbers of lines per SKU. As a result the system did not have enough locations to have all SKUs available for picking while the typical stock per SKU was too high.
Polygon developed a detailed operational strategy to provide a revised layout and new picking procedures. It identified fast-moving stock, prioritised procedures and provided full visibility of SKUs, volumes and demand to help understand and manage each aspect of the business.
To ensure that the business continued without disruption during the changes Polygon’s proposals included a plan for the smooth transition and implementation of all the new equipment and procedures.
Two key product family groups – pens and tools – were identified as requiring a fundamental change to the way they were processed. The pens and tools pick faces needed to be redesigned and the pick process changed to batch picking. To keep costs down the existing picking stations were adapted from pick to belt to mezzanine pick floors.
The first major improvement was the removal of the now obsolete sortation system, which released around 43,000 sq ft; adding 12 per cent more usable space. This allowed the company to move the consolidation zone into the area formerly occupied by the sorter and to extend the VNA pallet storage installation, adding the equivalent of 8,400 one-metre-high pallet spaces. Expanding pallet storage capacity also helped to accommodate different pallet heights to reflect the diversity of products now in store.
Polygon advised on re-slotting the pick face to suit pick walk, product popularity and consumption. While its proposals did not reduce the number of SKUs, they did result in around 11,000 SKUs being relocated or storage positions resized, helping to make the process more productive.
The floor locations of the pick engines were switched around to bring high volume, fast-moving products stored on pallets down from the upper levels, and lower volume, slow- moving products stored in cartons and totes were relocated on the upper floors. The existing conveyor configuration on the three upper pick levels was adapted to bring picked goods down to the ground level consolidation zone.
With so many changes Newell Rubbermaid’s WMS needed updating to match the physical improvements. The company carried out a series of modifications to its in-house WMS which now provides real-time, accurate stock management data to ensure that the Newell Rubbermaid pick engines remain optimised.
The operation needed to be cost-neutral as Newell Rubbermaid recharges user companies for their share of the warehouse costs. With improved labour productivity and capital expenditure kept to a minimum, the company reckons it is on track to achieving its corporate two-year payback target.
As a result of the improvements to the facility, two more Newell Rubbermaid brands – Rolladex and Mimio, who supply office products and white board technology respectively – have started to use the Lichfield warehouse for distribution.
Dave Bright, vice president of distribution and transport for Newell Rubbermaid, says: “Bringing in Polygon enabled us to concentrate on our ongoing business as they produced an excellent design and transition strategy for our UK facility. They were instrumental in our reaching the targets set regarding cost saving and efficiency improvements.”