The Warehouse Distribution Centre, Setting the Standardby Nigel Lewis on 2010-06-29
I count myself fortunate to have had couple of tours through The Warehouse’s North Island Distribution Centre in Manukau. It is an impressive facility which takes into consideration a smart mix of Technology, Automation, Material Handling and Man Power. Bringing all this together is the responsibility of Steve Aston, NIDC Manager – Operations.
My most recent tour was with Steve, because it was my second tour I was armed with lots of questions, an hour and a half later our tour had finished and I didn’t even get the chance to open my note book. I was so engrossed in our conversation that by just listening to him he answered most of the questions I wanted to ask.
This is a very multicultural working environment with most ethnicities represented. With this come challenges especially around language and cultural diversity. Steve was quick to tell me that they have an effective transition or induction process for new staff and temps, the evidence to support this is minimal staff turn over and a culture that fosters involvement and improvement. Succession planning is also a key component in the development of staff, promoting from within is a strategy that Steve feels very strongly about. The investment of time and resource into people is manifested through internal promotions.
Operating in this fast paced high pressured working environment doesn’t come without its challenges. Steve is the first person to put his hand up and say that they are on a journey, and like all journeys there are challenges, and like all challenges there are opportunities. Opportunities provide the vehicle for people to grow and learn and demonstrate forward thinking which is a key quality that Steve promotes, especially within his management team.
So let’s get onto the Distribution Centre, The Warehouse is 700,000 Sq ft with permanent staff numbers tipping 120, these numbers warrant a full time Recruitment Agency to take up residence on site to support peak operational period demands. The Organizational Structure is typical of most large DC’s with a National Distribution Manager (responsibility for 4 DCs – 3 in Auckland. 1 in Rolleston), an Operation Manager, Department Managers and Supervisors. The DCs are also supported by a centralized non-operational team (Health and Safety, Planning, Security and Facilities). The site Management Team meets twice daily to discuss operational issues and the achievement of team objectives / daily KPIs.
The flow of the Warehouse is very logical, and like most warehouses, they have a large Inward Goods area where they unload trucks and store containers for devaning, with 2 straddles on site they devan around 30 containers per day off peak, up to 60 containers per day during peak. The majority of locally produced goods are cross docked which means the goods come straight in and are dispatched on the same day. These goods are put straight on the conveyor for automated sorting and dispatch.
Pallets are stored 8 – 10 high with picks faces on the bottom level, the pickers utilize Reach Trucks and Stock Pickers, most of the material handling equipment is fitted with monitors for location, product, quantity and a computerized display of the order and like all tasks in the warehouse everything is measured. Pickers can pick up to 1100 products a day.
Let’s get on to the automated Sorting Area. What can I say… it’s very impressive and loud. Once the pickers have picked an order, a team loads the product onto the conveyor at ground level. Smaller cartons are put in Plastic Trays; which allows the products to move through at express pace as well as minimize congestion. All the Conveyers merge to an elevated mezzanine level where a scanner reads the labels and assigns that carton to an off shoot. Each off shoot represents around 5 store locations, the products are then palletized, labeled and stretch wrapped then put in the designated holding bay for loading.
The Merge (Automated Sorting System) scans around 20,000 cartons per day off peak, 40,000 carton per day during peak, these are only the items that can fit onto the conveyor, and the heavier over sized items are handled separately.
With 86 stores nationwide, the outwards area can get very congested; up to 1,100 pallets get dispatched per day which equates to around 40 truck loads. Approximately 20 pallets per hour are loaded onto waiting trucks, so to handle sheer volume, the Warehouse have two shifts that run between the hours of 7.30am to 1am the next day.
Year on year The Warehouse Distribution Centres increases efficiencies and productivity, they do this not only because its good business practice but because their customers demand it. The strength of The Warehouse Distribution Centres is in its core purpose – it’s one team approach, keeping the customer top of mind, ensuring that what they do has a positive effect on the community and environment and that the management team’s philosophy is a non compromising approach to quality, safety, staff development and a willingness to constantly improve.
Steve kept telling me that they were on a journey, a journey of sacrifice, reward, opportunity, excitement and belonging, so the next time you are at a Warehouse Store keep in mind that Steve and his team has something to do with getting the product on that shelf at that time.
CEO - Global Logistics Media Group
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