Maintaining a continuous logistics infastructure

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Since its management buy out in 1999, Adams Childrenswear has been experiencing dynamic growth and success. Yet the main distribution centre is 14 years old and had previously been a labour intensive operation that would not meet future plans.

Keith Pound, director of logistics at Adams, explains: “Our main peak is August to November so we needed phases to be complete to cater for this. Part way through this major investment to meet our ambitious growth plans, we are still able to operate a full capacity.”

Pound adds: “It’s all well and good saying we’re number one in designing and sourcing been experiencing dynamic growth and success. Yet the main distribution centre is 14 years old and had previously been a labour intensive operation that would not meet future plans.

The decision to remain with the current distribution centre, rather then develop a new site in a different location, was taken so that Adams could retain the existing staff and its all-important skills experience. FKI Logistex was able to offer a solution which enabled the existing building to meet future throughput and capacity. Having a strong UK base, FKI Logistex could provide hands on implementation throughout the project, which Adams saw as a significant benefit.

Analysing the existing operation, it quickly became apparent that sortation and despatch were the major constraints. Yet the new solution encompasses everything from goods in to storage and picking. Pound adds: “We quickly realised that we had to deal not just with one issue, but the entire distribution process. One of the reasons we chose FKI Logistex is that they realised the importance of the transition. We knew we could work with them to ensure smooth running while the implementation was taking place,” he comments.

Despite the importance of a new sortation and despatch operation, the initial phases of the implementation started at the other end of the warehouse. Stockholding was not making the most of the existing cube, so was tackled early with the installation of a new automated storage operation.

Half of the bulk storage area was cleared of pallet racking, allowing FKI Logistex to install a fully automated storage solution with considerably greater density. Using six Cleco double deep mini-load cranes, the new automated store handles 62,000 cartons directly at a rate of up to 500 per hour, rather then handling palletised cartons as used with the old pallet racking and manual trucks operation.

Goods-in has also changed, with boom conveyors and a conveyor system which also checks that cartons are within tolerance to enter the automated store and automatically labels them. Adams is also working with its Far Eastern suppliers to improve the quality and consistency of cartons and have a target of under 1% rejects.

Order picking operations have also been revised, with picking from cartons on shelving, placed adjacent to and fed by the new automated carton storage system. The partial system seamlessly integrates with existing despatch conveyor links. Equally important, the new warehouse control system from FKI Logistex successfully links with existing merchandising and control systems.

The automated storage system has freed up valuable space to allow other phases of the warehouse upgrade to be carried out, including removal of the remainder of the old pallet racking and installation of another six automated cranes. A new high-speed sortation system, capable of sorting 25,000 items per hour, will be installed by FKI Logistex. The sorter is by Crisplant, which is part of FKI.

Significant improvements in the despatch operation are also being added in the near future. Pound says seven despatch commissioner units have been installed and will go live in March 2004.

Meanwhile, the current despatch operation works through its last peak season.

On the IT front, Adams has extended its outsourcing contract with IT services provider Retail Assist for a further five years. Phil Davies, IT director at Adams, comments: “We took the step of extending the contract for such a long period due to the confidence we have in Retail Assist. The team’s work over the past three years has been exemplary.”

The new contract covers managed IT services, including:

  • Facilities Management.
  • Application level support in merchandising, warehousing and finance.
  • Helpdesk.
  • EpoS Support.
  • PC and network support.

The contract has also been extended to include recent developments, as well as scope for the contract and services to grow and evolve in line with Adam’s business objectives to be a multi-brand, multi-channel retailer.

Adams produces and distributes children’s apparel for ages up to eight years old. During the past three years, Retail Assist has integrated all Adams’ IT support and development requirements and delivered measurable business efficiencies including:

  • A 35% reduction in like-for-like annual IT operating costs, achieved in the first year of the agreement.
  • A 40% increase in warehouse throughput through systems re-engineering.
  • An average increase to 99% of stores polling successfully each night.
  • Warehousing uptime is maximised.
  • Greater management control aided by improved information flow.
  • The integration of a completely new automated warehouse system.

In addition, the three-year relationship has been marked by a number of flagship projects and achievements, which have furthered Adams’ business aims. These include:

  • IT support for the launch of the mini-mode clothing range launch with Boots.
  • IT implementation of the ‘Nectar’ loyalty management scheme.
  • System support for a new approach to gift voucher management.
  • Retail solutions Awards 2001 – Winner of the best Retailer/Supplier Partnership.

This five-year contract extension maintains Retail Assist in the premier league of outsourcing providers and consolidates its position as a leading provider of IT support and development services to the retail industry.

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