Rapid Electronics boosts productivity by 14% with Körber WMS.

Case Study - Rapid

Since its inception in 1979, Rapid Electronics has carved a niche for itself as a premier distributor of electronic components, consumables and industrial equipment. It supplies these to three main business sectors: manufacturing, education and direct to consumers.

In 2019, the company added to its offerings by launching a new business, Replenishh, which provides a range of electric vehicle (EV) chargers, bespoke project design and specialised training services for EV installers.

Products for both companies are stored in the company’s 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Colchester, Essex. The facility holds around 30,000 units of stock from 100,000 different SKUs and fulfils around 1,000 orders a day.

Paper-based warehousing was impeding growth, visibility and accuracy.

Rapid Electronics was looking for new software to support its future aims. Ed Parry, Operations Director for Rapid Electronics, and the project sponsor, explains, “We have an aggressive five-year growth plan to take the business from £24m to £40m.”

The company had been relying on a paper-based system to manage its warehousing. But this had a number of critical shortcomings. Ed says, “Because it was all paper based, once an order was released to picking we didn’t know its status until it was despatched.”

Overcoming this lack of information was a key driver in looking to implement a new warehouse management system. Operations Manager, Mathew Pomroy, says, “We wanted to achieve more visibility of order status, better collation of our data and more accurate picking and putaway.”

Implementing a WMS was an opportunity for the company to improve pick accuracy. While it was only seen in a small fraction of the operational tasks, it was costly to the business. Ed estimates that each error was costing the business £200, so being able to improve this by using a WMS would bring additional savings.

The final challenge was to do with resource management. Ed explains, “We wanted to have insight into who was doing what and when – which we didn’t have.” He continues, “With the paper-based system, we weren’t able to consistently measure performance.”

Choosing Körber WMS for comprehensive warehouse automation.

Initially, the team at Rapid Electronics was only looking for a system that would automate and improve the warehouse picking. But after researching the options, Ed says they became persuaded of the need for a holistic warehouse management system.

One of the reasons that Körber WMS was chosen was because it fit with the company’s technology stack. Additionally, Ed says: “There are also a number of features that we are looking to implement in the future – like pick by pack size and batch traceability – and Körber WMS offers these extra functionalities straight out the box.”

Visits to Balloon reference sites gave the Rapid Electronics project team the assurance that Körber WMS was the right system to help meet its ambitious growth targets.

The Balloon team implemented and configured Körber WMS, as well as a seamless integration between the WMS and Rapid Electronics’ selected carrier service.

A custom, front-end picking interface was also created, which allowed the marketing department to temporarily take products from stock for photography. The new process enabled this without anyone having to manually create sales or purchase orders.

Streamlined success elevates productivity, efficiency and precision.

The new system went live in May 2023 and has since helped Rapid Electronics to improve operational efficiency.

By streamlining and automating processes, the WMS has improved the company’s on time in full (OTIF) metrics for products in stock. This has improved to 99.6% for the first quarter of 2024, which represents an increase of 1.07% over the same period the previous year when the company was running without a WMS. Mathew makes it clear that this may not sound a lot when expressed as a percentage, but that, “When you break it down, we’re shipping an extra 1,200 orders a quarter compared to before.”

This improvement in OTIF raises levels of customer satisfaction. As Ed confirms, “If a customer orders something and we have it in stock, they will get it.”

With its prior paper system, orders made up of smaller items were picked and sent to the packing department in the same way as any other order. But by implementing Körber WMS, Rapid Electronics has been able to streamline these small orders. The system can identify which orders contain smaller items, flagging them to be picked and packed at the same time.

Mathew explains how this has improved efficiency: “It is quicker to finish that order’s cycle. So, if a customer was to ask about the progress of their order, beforehand it would have been a much longer timeframe from being picked to being shipped. Whereas now, small orders are picked and shipped almost within the same couple of touches.”

Mathew confirms that the WMS has driven productivity improvements. He says: “It has enabled us to streamline a lot of processes. We’re getting things done quicker, done better and done right the first time. And that’s resulted in a huge 14% boost in productivity.”

Ed explains that the improvements are also partly down to the picking process for smaller items. He says, “If staff are just touching products once – rather than picking and then packing – that helps with productivity.”

The WMS has made it easier for Rapid Electronics to train new staff and to deploy them across functions. Ed explains that with Körber WMS, staff aren’t required to have a detailed understanding of the task. Instead, it’s sufficient that they just understand and follow the instructions. He says: “Cross-skilling people from various parts of the warehouse has been easy. Pre-WMS, we had people who picked, people who packed and people who did goods in. Now, everyone does everything and we can send people to where the work is.”

The use of paper has been dramatically cut in the warehouse. Mathew says: “When we were paper based, we had just a single solution for everything – and it may not have been the best. Now with the WMS, we can choose the best solution according to the order.” Ed explains that by picking the smaller products straight to postal boxes, they have also streamlined their use of paper by creating smaller despatch notes for these smaller orders.

The WMS has also completely eliminated the need for paper pick notes, meaning that the company’s environmental impact has been reduced even more. Ed sums it up, saying, “We’ve significantly improved control over how consumables are used in our operation now.”

The WMS has addressed the accuracy issues that were inherent in the paper-based operation. Mathew says: “We’re scanning products now, rather than having to eyeball them off the shelf. And it’s much more difficult to get something wrong with a handheld gun, so we’ve seen a 21% reduction in our in-house errors.”

Another benefit of the WMS is that it has ensured that the work will be completed on schedule. Ed says, “This has freed up management and the continuous improvement team to look at areas that we can be better at in the future.” He cites the example of goods in. “Before the implementation of the WMS, the volume of inbound products was almost overwhelming,” he says, “But now, they have time to better manage the relationship with suppliers to ensure that goods are easily scannable – and that’s a valuable improvement.”

In terms of return on investment, Rapid Electronics had projected to be making a positive return by 18 months. The system has been in place for about half of that time and Ed confirms that with efficiency improvements and error rates down, they are on course to achieve that.

He adds that the company is very much at the beginning of its improvement phase. “We’ve already had one follow-up session with Balloon, which has resulted in a number of improvements, such as changes to our labelling, which has been a great help to our customers as well as internally,” he says. There’s also an upcoming review where they will more thoroughly consider batch traceability and expiry dates.

Ed expresses his praise for Balloon’s implementation. He says: “The implementation team was incredibly flexible and responsive. The go-live bugs were not a major issue at all. I’ve done so many implementations where I’ve waited weeks for bug fixes to be resolved. But the Balloon team was just cracking on through them straight away. That was really refreshing.”

Driving future success through system enhancements and innovations.

For the future, there are plans to enhance the system and to introduce new functionality. Ed says: “Thus far, we’ve largely implemented the system in a vanilla way, to allow everyone to get used to the automation and the handhelds. But we’re ready now to push forward in a plan of continuous improvement to support our business growth needs.”

He confirms that they will be looking at a number of options, including pick to carton, and will be researching the introduction of automated packing machines and pick by voice.

Rapid Electronics will also examine the use of directed putaway based on volumetrics, allowing them to choose the right carton for packing based on the WMS’s calculations of the overall volume size of the order.

Another improvement they are considering is having the WMS manage the storage of different pack sizes of the same item in different bin locations. Ed explains how this would make it easier to pick odd numbers of items. He says: “Take the example of a product that we sell in singles, where they come in trays of 75 and the outer boxes are 300. If someone orders 376, it would be easier to pick a box, a tray and a single rather than having to individually capture the 76 additional singles. And that’s something the WMS can handle easily for us.”

With the foresight to invest in Körber WMS, Rapid Electronics has underscored its commitment to operational excellence and customer service. As the company explores new technologies, additional functionality and ongoing improvements, the journey ahead promises even greater efficiency, productivity and growth.