Fri 20 May 16

Andrew Page features in CAT Magazine

Andrew Page features in CAT Magazine
The following article was featured in the May 2016 issue of CAT Magazine on page 48 and is reproduced with kind permission of the Editor:

We meet Mark Saunders for a look around Andrew Page's distribution centre

VITAL STATS                           
CHIEF EXEC Mark Saunders
SKUS 28,000
SIZE 140,000 sq. ft. (approx)

We on CAT lose count of the number of factor's stockrooms that we see each year, but almost none compete with the sheer scale of the one that I'm looking over today. Standing on the third level of the mezzanine, the sight of Andrew Page's Markham Vale depot is one to behold.

Built on a site that was apparently a former colliery, the building is handy for the M1 corridor and is a short drive from the firm's Leeds Head Office. We've met up with Chief Exec Mark Saunders who is only too happy to show us around.

One of the first things that we notice is that for such a physically large warehouse, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of automation. Logistics operations on a large scale, such as those used by supermarkets, often have conveyors or even autonomous trucks taking picked stock to the packers.

"A lot of people comment on the lack of automation- it's all manual" Saunders replies when we remark on it. "This is entirely intentional. One of the dangers of having a 'toy train track' is that it breaks down. It's always a problem with highly automated systems, but here there is very little to go wrong. Don't get me wrong, they are brilliant if you are moving vast amounts of stock in one of the grocery warehouses or wherever, but doing this type of operation I'd always rather have a manual setup".

While physical movement is manual, the stock pick and control is run by a computer system. This warehouse runs the Chess Empirica system designed for locations with 2,000 pallets or more. Saunders says that the system is good, though not entirely without problems. "Although generally these come because someone is trying to circumnavigate the system" he says.

Pick accuracy has to be good as a new system has been implemented at the branches. "One of the efficiencies that we made last year was that the branches would spend a lot of time checking stock in - it was like they were marking their own homework" Saunders explains. "Now we can just say 'accept the delivery, it'll be right' and we have an audit team who do spot checks. The accuracy rate is so good it isn't worth the manager's time to check it - but that does depend on this place getting the order right" says Saunders.

Overnight distribution from the plant is a classic hub and spoke model, which almost by definition means that drivers arrive at the branches through all hours of the night. Obviously, there is no-one working in the branches at two in the morning and this is a problem. "One of the things we were very conscious of was sending drivers alone into industrial estates in the early morning has clear health and safety challenges" he said. "There's no-one to help and they could get attacked, so we gave them communication devices that resemble mobile phones, but if they move suddenly or activate a panic button an operator will check if they are OK". This along with some other improvements, such as better PPE, earned the company the Safer Workplace Award from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust earlier in the year.

Officialy the floor space of the plant is given simply as 'over 140,000 sq. ft' Actually the exact size of the building depends on whom we ask. This is because it is hard to agree on one figure when there are multiple mezzanine levels and capacity that is currently unused. Indeed, Saunders says that the building in its current configuration is running at around 60 percent capacity and that in it's current configuration it could service up to 200 branches (the firm currently has 108). There's scope for further expansion as well.

We notice a truck unloading with what looks like rubbish. This is because it is just that - trucks apparently return from dropping stock at the branches loaded with card and plastic wrapping etc. The garbage is separated and bailed at Markham Vale before being sold to a recycler. This process was apparently part of the ISO requirements, but Saunders says that they actually make some money from the recycling - which is a result.

While the warehouse is running well, Saunders is looking for further efficiencies. "We're always looking at ways to nibble costs out, but fundamentally we are happy" he says. When asked where improvements could be made, he adds, "I think improvements can be made in communication between and [the head office] in Leeds so that we can align labour costs. Clearly if the comms are less than perfect, we can end up with too much resource throughout various times of the day".

Article by Greg Whitaker (Editor, CAT Magazine)