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Slaw Gliwa creates productivity-enhancing ‘Pick and Stick’ process for Birlea.

Birlea is a furniture wholesaler, supplying a range of sofas, beds and other furniture for the home to UK retailers. It supplies the likes of Wayfair and DFS, as well as hundreds of other outlets. The company also dropships direct to end customers on behalf of its clients.

Balloon was brought in to provide a new warehouse management system (WMS) for Birlea. The company wanted to replace its old system and upgrade the paper picking system.

Birlea had chosen Balloon to implement K.Motion WMS. As part of the scoping, the project team – led by lead consultant Slaw Gliwa – mapped Birlea’s existing warehouse processes. Taking that information, the consultants on the project then began to build a plan that would replicate the processes in the WMS.

Cutting out a needless process.

So that it could create labels for its shipments that were tailored for each of the different carriers it used, Birlea needed carrier integration. This would ensure that the WMS would extract the correct information and output it to a label in the correct format as stipulated by each carrier.

The standard process with carrier integration is that, when the goods are picked, a label is placed on them that shows the goods are assigned to that order. This is known as the WMS label. Then, the goods are taken to a repacking area, to be checked and packaged for despatch. At this stage, the order information is automatically sent from the WMS to the chosen carrier service. In return, the carrier sends back a label – the carrier label – which is printed in the warehouse and affixed to the packed goods. The consignment can then be moved to the despatch location, ready for collection by the carrier.

However, during the mapping of the processes, Slaw discovered that Birlea did not need or want to repack its furniture. It was confident that its operatives were picking the correct items and quantities and that the goods did not require any checking or repacking. So, this part of the process would be superfluous for them.

Redesigning the picking process within the WMS.

Instead of simply removing the repacking part of the process, Slaw determined that there was a better way of doing things, which would streamline and speed up the process, and improve productivity at the same time.

Slaw created a revised process that starts once the order is received in the WMS. After receipt, the order is allocated and waved in the system as usual. But it’s that the process changes. Next, the WMS immediately assigns a carrier label – before the order is even picked. The WMS does this by communicating the full order details to the carrier’s server, notifying them of the necessary information – such as size, weight, destination, customer details and so on. Then, when the operative picks and scans the product, a carrier label is immediately returned – rather than an internal WMS label. The picker can then stick this label on the product straight away.

Normally, the WMS would have assigned a product to an order using a WMS label. But because Birlea has no need for a repacking process, this WMS label and the process that goes with it is redundant. Effectively, with Slaw’s revised process, Balloon has replaced the WMS labels with carrier labels. The client dubbed this simplified process ‘pick and stick’ and the name has since stuck.

To produce the new process, Slaw reprogrammed the SQL, which is the language that the WMS uses to manage its database. His changes swap the information that K.Motion WMS holds. The WMS still “thinks” it is using WMS labels, but by using SQL, the system now intercepts data from the carrier label and places it into the label.

Slaw has been with Balloon for three years, and his experience with other customer projects gave him the insight he needed to be able to recommend the improved process to Birlea. He says, “Without being exposed to different customers, I wouldn’t appreciate the step-by-step processes that go into carrier integration. Added to this is the understanding of what K.Motion WMS is capable of, how it can be customised, and what can be achieved through SQL. It’s this experience and knowledge that has enabled me to suggest doing things a different way.”

Slaw believed he had the answer, and after building and testing a proof of concept, he was able to demonstrate that his idea could be realised.

Improving productivity through a streamlined picking process.

The most tangible result of streamlining the process and implementing ‘pick and stick’ has been an increase in productivity. While Birlea wasn’t measuring KPIs using its old WMS, it’s clear to see that productivity gains have been made, because a whole step in the process has been removed.

The operative does not have to stick a WMS label, then move the goods to a repacking area while they wait for a carrier label to be issued. Instead, as soon as the product is picked, the final carrier label is issued and can be applied and the goods can be transported straight to the door for carrier collection. The picker can then move onto the next pick.

Birlea is delighted with the process. It eliminates an unnecessary wait and the need to signal to the WMS that the product has been repacked. It also halves the number of labels they use.

Accounts Assistant for Birlea, Hannah Braithwaite​, enthuses, “Since go live, our efficiencies have been better than we could ever have expected. The pick and stick process has given us the results we were after from K.Motion WMS to take Birlea to the next level. Without Slaw and the team, we would not be in the position we are today, looking towards the next stages of the WMS.”

Consultants like Slaw are a true reflection of Balloon’s internal slogan: ‘Making IT Happen’. Innovations like his deliver tangible outcomes for customers. With staff successfully ‘making IT happen’ for customers, Balloon delivers value and helps customers improve productivity and increase profit.

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