Challenges in finding available labour, combined with rising costs, prompted logistics service provider, iForce, and their client, The Works, to re-think their approach to achieving peak for the leading toys and stationery retailer. Ensuring reliable fulfilment would require a commitment to advanced automation including state-of-the-art, right-size packaging technology from Sparck.
Established in 1981, The Works has grown to become the go-to multi-channel value retailer for reading, learning, creativity and play, with 525 shops in the UK & Ireland and an online store visited by over 41.5 million customers a year.
Customer service is of prime importance to the business – efficient fulfilment of online orders, along with prompt delivery of well packaged items is essential for winning repeat sales. However, with the industry wide scarcity of suitable labour, and the inevitable rises in labour costs, delivering increasing peak volumes was becoming ever more challenging.
To address these issues, in 2020 iForce embarked on a business-wide initiative to develop a strategy for investment into advanced warehouse automation, and as a key client The Works was fully involved and supportive of the move.
De-risking ability to deliver
Neil Lavercombe, Business Planning Manager at iForce, responsible for ecommerce development, explains: “Like every business in the industry labour was becoming increasingly difficult to find and more expensive, and that put at risk our ability to deliver peak for our clients. So, we decided to develop a strategy around automation, based on lowering our dependency on labour, particularly at peak, therefore de-risking our ability to deliver.”
There were three elements to the strategy: robotic goods-to-person order picking, robot assisted picking and automated packaging systems. However, it was absolutely critical that all three should work in perfect synchronisation with each other.
The Works was a prime candidate for robot-assisted picking linked to an automated packing machine. Lavercombe points out: “When it came to evaluating the different packing solutions on the market, we quickly determined that the principle of auto fit-to-size packaging had big advantages over the traditional box-closer systems, and the supplier that really stood out was Sparck Technologies with their CVP Impack machine.”
Changeable order profiles
Sparck Technologies’ latest CVP machines now offer the possibility to select up to three input feeds, each with a different width of cardboard, which allows the machine to automatically select the most appropriate board size – saving on material waste.
There are important benefits for the customer too. By creating custom-sized packaging for each order, the customer receives a compact, right-sized box, which is more convenient to carry, eliminates ‘consumer distress’ over wasteful packaging and delivers a positive environmental message.
Keeping things simple
“We wanted to keep things very simple,” says Lavercombe. “The packaging machine had to integrate with both our existing manual processes and our new robotic systems – once again the simple approach of the Sparck machine worked for us. It seemed designed from the bottom up to do the job, rather than an adapted system.
“If we have issues with the machine at any time, Sparck engineers can remotely access cameras mounted on the machine and give us guidance. These are advantages well in advance of the market,” he says.
Summing up Neil Lavercombe says: “Sparck is supporting us all the way. It truly feels like a partnership rather than a customer – supplier relationship.”
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International Trade Magazine
Editor, International Trade Magazine
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