Graphic Packaging International (formerly Colorpak Limited) is a leading player in Australia’s $620 million folding carton segment of the paper and board packaging industry. Almost 90 years old, the company has grown substantially in the last 40 years, thanks in part to canny acquisitions. Since 1985 Graphic Packaging has grown from 36 people and revenues of $1.5 million in 1985 to 670 people and revenues in excess of $170 million. The company operates three plants located in Victoria, New South Wales and Auckland.
Despite the rapid growth, Graphic Packaging has managed to retain its commitment to reliable customer service and the manufacture of quality products. Over the past decade, research and forecasting organisation, BIS Shrapnel Global has found Graphic Packaging to be the most consistently rated number one folding carton supplier for reliable delivery and service, with the highest quality standards.
In 2010 Graphic Packaging was about to undertake its largest ever merger with the acquisition of Carter Holt Harvey. The move would effectively quadruple the size of the company and was expected to dramatically increase workloads within the warehouse.
Paul Grobler, CIO of Graphic Packaging explains, “At the time the warehouse was already running pretty much on the memory of the people in the stores. If you wanted to locate a pallet you would rely on someone remembering where it had been put, or you would have to walk around the warehouse to find it. But not everyone has a reliable memory and after acquisitions, staff rotation is inevitable, so these manual methods became too inefficient.”
“We got to the point where it was nearly impossible to keep up with where all the stock was located. Once a job was finished on the production line and went to the warehouse, we lost any ability to electronically track the stock,” he says.
Realising it was time for the company to adopt an automated warehouse management system (WMS), Grobler approached a number of software companies. “We wanted a system that would handle raw materials, inward goods and finished goods. It also had to integrate with our Optimus MIS system. We operate in a niche market and a lot of the software we rely on is niche as well. There’s not a lot of off the shelf software that’s suitable for us and we were very specific about our requirements.”
As a result, many of the companies that Grobler approached declined the opportunity. They weren’t interested in the degree of customisation and integration required by Graphic Packaging. “It got to the stage where I was thinking surely there was someone out there willing to create a WMS for us. Surely there must be other customers that would want the product,” he adds.
Eventually, a chance introduction led Grobler to Australian logistics software specialist, InfoMotion. “They had a solution called ICS which they were willing to integrate to our MIS so that WMS could extract the information we needed. They knew it would require a lot of work to get to the point where their solution met what we were after but they were willing to take it on.”
Having found a vendor to work with, Grobler prepared a detailed brief that included radio frequency capabilities, inventory management, comprehensive reporting and an easy to view user interface. To begin with, Grobler decided to concentrate on Graphic Packaging’s finished goods warehouse, a site that is approximately 60 metres by 100 metres in size. Other warehouses would follow later.
“We gave a few curve balls,” he admits. “The density of our stock interferes with radio frequency, but because of cost we didn’t want to have to wire the entire warehouse with WiFi access points. Therefore we wanted to be able to go out of range and still capture information, then come back into range and upload the information.”
Work on the project began with the integration component in early 2011. Deployment of the WMS continued for around six months.
“It was a rocky road because unfortunately, people tend to change their minds. We tried to give InfoMotion a brief of what we wanted, but then we added and added new requirements. The roll out was delayed because we changed the specifications but they dealt with this quite well. The consultant from InfoMotion was brilliant and by June we were talking about the user manuals,” Grobler says.
When the system was ready to go live, both Grobler and InfoMotion agreed it would be best to run ICS in parallel with the old manual warehouse processes. This would allow any glitches to be identified and resolved quickly, and would give staff time to gain confidence in the system before being asked to give up their spreadsheets, pens and paper.
The final functionality of the WMS included full inventory management, radio frequency and scanning capabilities, receipt and put away, dispatch, stock take, stock movements, pallet management and forklift operations. The system had the desired interface the manufacturing solution and was highly customised to meet Colorpak’s rigorous requirements.
By late 2013 two of Graphic Packaging’s warehouses – inwards goods and finished goods – had moved onto ICS.
“We’ve already seen a return on investment,” Grobler says. “The amount of time people have to drive around with a forklift or walk around and look to find where stock is located has been cut back dramatically. As soon as a pallet arrives on the forklift it is scanned and put in the system. Using the scanners we can know exactly where the bay is and where the pallet is.”
Stock control and management have become tighter and more efficient under ICS. For example, stock takes, which are conducted twice per year, used to take up to two days to complete but are now carried out in half a day. Similarly, impromptu checks for clients who need to know what stock Graphic Packaging has on hand, can be carried out simply, without delay.
“There’s more visibility of what’s in stock and the opportunity to carry out a wider range of reporting. Sales can look at the system and double check stock levels while talking to a client,” Grobler notes. In addition, automation has removed the need for double entry of data and ensures information is captured in real time.
Grobler adds, “We’ve seen a tremendous improvement in pick efficiency and accuracy. Not everyone’s handwriting is good. When we relied on manual methods, there was always the potential for picking the wrong stock. Our guys were very pedantic about what they did so that they could avoid errors, but the cost in time and effort was high. Now we’ve eliminated the potential for incorrect deliveries.”
With work on the final warehouses still some way off, Graphic Packaging continues to work closely with InfoMotion.
“Recently we migrated a server from the old to the new environment. We asked InfoMotion to do this for us because we weren’t willing to take the risk. It worked really well. We trust them enough to give them remote access to our servers and I’d have to say, they are very responsive whenever we talk to them and always professional. On top of all this ,they certainly look after us when it comes to needing bar code scanners and accessories,” Grobler concludes.