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Polygon Partnership solves space and mixed product storage conundrum for Newell Rubbermaid

Logistics consultancy The Polygon Partnership has helped Newell Rubbermaid design and implement a UK warehouse consolidation and reorganisation programme to handle products ranging from pens and office equipment to toys and tools.

The Polygon Partnership reviewed processes, identified key issues, proposed solutions and supervised the implementation programme. While Newell Rubbermaid’s management were deeply involved throughout the project, using an outside consultancy enabled them to maintain focus on the ongoing business.

The 350,000ft² (32,500m²) facility in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was originally designed to handle products for window furniture company Swish, a wholly owned Newell Rubbermaid subsidiary, in 2003. However when the company withdrew from the Swish business, it was left with a warehouse with a bespoke, 72 chute automated sortation system developed specifically for Swish products.

As the warehouse was held on a long-term lease, Newell Rubbermaid decided to consolidate storage for its other UK activities – which at the time occupied 18 facilities – into Lichfield.

The diverse products marketed by Newell Rubbermaid’s businesses illustrates the challenge of developing a process to efficiently store and dispatch such a wide range of items of differing dimensions, shapes and sizes, volumes and cost. They include Parker and Paper Mate pens, Graco childrens’ car seats and accessories, Irwin tools and hardware, and Rubbermaid brand domestic and commercial products ranging from office products to waste bins. Mixed orders need to be picked and dispatched, usually as single items for the growing e.commerce market or in bulk to companies such as Argos, major retailers, wholesale and commercial distributors and out-of-town sheds such as B & Q.

Once it was decided that the automated sorter was surplus to requirements, the supplier recommended consulting The Polygon Partnership to evaluate the operation. Their brief was to improve space utilisation and to design a picking procedure to cope with the volume and diversity of Newell Rubbermaid’s brands.

While the ground floor was heavily congested, the pallet store built around a high-bay VNA system was under-used as it was no longer suitable for the range of products to be stored. Picking, storage and replenishment requirements varied across the brands and as a result the system did not have enough locations to have all SKUs available for picking, while the typical stock per SKU was too high.

The Polygon Partnership carried out a thorough review and analysis of all the available data and developed a detailed operational strategy for a revised layout and new picking procedures. They identified fast moving stock, prioritised procedures and provided full visibility of SKUs, volumes and demand to help manage each aspect of the business. The pens and tools pick faces were re-designed and the pick process changed to batch picking. To keep costs down the existing picking stations were adapted from pick to belt to mezzanine pick floors.

The first major improvement was the removal of the obsolete sorter which released around 4,000m², adding 12% more usable space. This allowed the company to move the consolidation zone into the area formerly occupied by the sorter and to extend the VNA pallet storage installation, adding the equivalent of 8,400 one-metre high pallet spaces. Fortunately The Polygon Partnership also managed to locate a buyer for the sorter and excess conveyors, releasing valuable capital.

As a result of the review Polygon advised on re-slotting the pick face to suit pick walk, product popularity and consumption. While their proposals did not reduce the number of SKUs, they did enable 11,000 SKUs to be relocated or storage positions resized, making the process more productive.

The floor locations of the pick engines were switched around to bring high volume, fast moving products stored on pallets down from the upper levels, and lower volume, slow moving products stored in cartons and totes were relocated on the upper floors.
The existing conveyor configuration on the three upper pick levels was adapted to bring picked goods down to the ground level consolidation zone.

With so many changes Newell Rubbermaid’s WMS needed updating to match the physical improvements achieved. Following The Polygon Partnership’s recommendations, the company carried out a series of modifications to their in-house WMS which now provides full real time, accurate stock management data to ensure that the Newell Rubbermaid pick engines remain optimised.

As a result of the improvements, two more Newell Rubbermaid brands – Rolladex and Mimio – who supply office products and white board technology respectively – have started to use the Lichfield warehouse.

The final comment from Dave Bright, VP of Distribution and Transport for Newell Rubbermaid, sums up the company’s experience of seeking outside support. "Bringing in Polygon enabled us to concentrate on our ongoing business as they produced an excellent design and transition strategy for our UK facility. They were instrumental in our reaching the targets set regarding cost saving and efficiency improvements. We will be happy to use Polygon again in the future."

The Polygon Partnership
Tel: 01536 205577.
Website www.polygonpartnership.com.

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