During a major carrier strike, the impending emergency was how to ship the thousands of back orders piled in the five, nationally located warehouses. Briggs was able to eliminate this code red situation three days after the strike ended by processing three times the usual amount of orders.
Briggs accomplished this feat with Warehouse Advantage, the flexible, easily configurable warehouse management system (WMS) developed by Data Collection Systems, Inc. (DCSI). Warehouse Advantage gives Briggs control of warehouse management challenges by providing the power to quickly add new capabilities and features.
Since implementing Warehouse Advantage, Briggs has experienced the following results:
Briggs had a manually operated warehouse that was running smoothly and meeting most current objectives. However, Briggs did see a need for greater accountability and accuracy in their warehouse facilities. "By adding a real-time automated system, we hoped to better utilize our employees and have a better measurement tool for Briggs' entire warehouse distribution process," said Steve Heffernen, Sr. Manager, Distribution. Briggs chose Heffernen to manage the WMS project.
Approximately 9,000 different healthcare products to 40,000 clinics, hospitals and home healthcare organizations are offered through the Briggs' mail order catalog. A high volume of orders are consistently received which ship the same day from the five distribution sites.
The company has experienced rapid growth and expects this trend to continue. It was apparent to management that the manual system in place was not equipped to handle the expected future growth. As a mail order supplier, Briggs viewed the addition of a WMS as a competitive business decision to ensure lower costs to customers.
Other issues related to the manual system that encouraged Briggs to pursue the implementation of a WMS included time management. With the manual system, it was time consuming for managers to sort through piles of paper to find the cause of mistakes or to do general performance tracking of employees. There was an overall feeling that more accurate data was necessary to manage each facility and its employees.
The manual system also required extensive training. The picking process alone involved an employee taking a batch, which consisted of a pile of paper, sorting through the stack, performing a pick, then sorting again, and continuing. "The employees were actually good at this, but new employee training took up to two months and even longer to become proficient," Heffernen recalls. These were some of the labor management concerns Briggs had as they started their search for a WMS solution.
Warehouse Advantage: Powerful Flexibility Gives Optimum Results
Briggs implemented Warehouse Advantage in its five sites, including the primary warehouse facility in Des Moines and the branch distribution centers in Atlanta, Dallas, Scranton, PA, and Sparks, NV.
Briggs chose Warehouse Advantage primarily for its flexibility and user configurability, which will easily support future growth and system changes as needed. Warehouse Advantage is based on a Windows NT platform, which was also part of the selection criteria.
Intermec played a significant role in the overall success of the system. After Briggs chose DCSI, Intermec performed a site study of each facility and suggested the number of radio frequency (RF) devices Briggs would need. In Des Moines alone, there are 35 Intermec Janus RF devices and six Intermec label printers. Heffernen says Briggs completely relies on Intermec equipment. "There isn't anything we can do anymore without our readers!"
One unexpected test of the Warehouse Advantage system occurred during the UPS strike. Since 90% of Briggs' orders go out via UPS, the strike had an immediate impact on the business.
"When the strike ended, I was concerned Warehouse Advantage would not be able to handle the additional workload and would cause a general slowdown," Heffernen said. It held up strongly, allowing us to process three times our usual amount of orders in a short amount of time."
Briggs has seen dramatic differences in warehouse systems since implementing Warehouse Advantage. One improvement is that picking and put-away transactions are completed in the optimal sequence.
"Briggs prides itself on customer service," Heffernen says. "Our bottom line is that our employees have to be accurate to achieve optimal customer service goals. Each warehouse overall has a minimum average of 99.9% accuracy. The ideal accuracy we try to achieve is 99.95% or higher. Warehouse Advantage ensures this accuracy. We currently have an average of one error per 1,000 orders."
Briggs now has data to manage people along with the increased security of knowing the information is accurate. This includes more accurate information for employee reviews, which has improved morale.
"Through Warehouse Advantage, I know how long it takes each employee to perform any given transaction. I can find this information out from a daily, monthly, weekly or yearly basis. That alone has made my job easier. Now I have more time to manage big picture warehouse efficiencies," Heffernen said.
Productivity also increased. "Because Briggs' manual system was very good at the time we came in, we didn't expect any productivity gains," said Leo Schmidt, DCSI Warehouse Advantage Product Manager. "The unexpected surprise for both of us was that productivity did improve by about 20 percent."
The learning curve for new employees has also changed dramatically. Under the manual system, new employees would train by shadowing an existing employee for two weeks. With Warehouse Advantage, this training has been reduced to one day. According to Heffernen, within a two-week time frame it is feasible for a new employee to meet production standards. This improved from the previous two-month timeline.
Briggs discovered that people, who were good producers on the manual system, maintained their good performance numbers without significant improvement. The big change occurred with marginal producers. Their performance improved substantially. Heffernen credits this to the ease of use of the automated system.
Advice To Companies Considering A WMS Solution
According to Heffernen, A successful implementation needs dedication from management and especially, employees. "I would tell anyone considering the implementation of a warehouse management system to anticipate problems with employees, who will tend to resist this new idea," Heffernen said. "We found that this problem was based on a fear that the automated system would replace jobs."
Time tracking was also a fear for some employees. Briggs helped relieve this apprehension through additional training. When employees saw that many of their tasks would actually be easier, they felt better about the new performance measurement tool.
Heffernen also suggests to organize the IT staff to be ready to support the system. Many resources are needed during implementation and also for ongoing support.
"We learned a lot during the WMS implementation," Heffernen said. "We are happy the project was a success. We needed a dynamic, flexible solution and we found it with DCSI's Warehouse Advantage. The inherent flexibility continues to give us confidence in our warehouse system today and in the future as we grow and our needs change. With Warehouse Advantage, we are ready for any emergency that comes our way."