Packing a punch
18 October 2017
HSS editor Simon Duddy caught up with Chess Logistics sales and marketing director Alex Mills to talk innovation and the value of experience.
The WMS market is a mature one, with many companies in the UK making their first forays into WMS in the 1980s. Chess Logistics was one of the providers blazing a trail in those days, and has managed to retain some key staff from that era, helping the firm to gather a huge depth of experience.
Chess sales and marketing director Alex Mills explains: “It is probably quite unusual but we have a lot of experience accumulated over the years. Some of the staff joined in their early 20s and are now in managerial roles in their 40s or 50s. We can draw on this experience. Whatever problems you are having with warehousing or WMS, you can be almost sure we have come across it before and can help.”
Chess has acquired a good client base over the years and counts demanding 3PL clients such as DHL among these. These clients pose quite a challenge, because when they win new contracts, they may have to add or adapt WMS capability.
“Certainly we are very good at quickly turning around WMS installations, although there has been a growing appreciation over the years that a quick turnaround is not always the key priority, and that a carefully managed process that may take longer, will have better long term results,” explains Alex.
Alex has seen major trends evolve and says it is now rare to see a warehouse driven by a ‘paper-based’ system, although it still happens.
“RF was not commonplace at all when we started such installations, but sure enough within four or five years, most warehouses are using some kind of WMS with handhelds,” says Alex. “We’ve also seen voice take a foothold in the market, and deliver very good picking efficiencies in the right environment. Although, looking ahead, it is hard to see how much augmented technologies will improve on voice picking. I can’t see the improvement being more than incremental, and that raises the question of whether or not it is worth the investment.”
An increased use of BYOD in the market is also apparent, although Alex feels this may be a short-lived trend.
“I think the market needs educating. Perhaps some firms think where they are picking more items and cases as opposed to full pallets, there isn’t a need for ruggedised equipment. But I can’t see that being the case in the long term, as the risks of damage are the same.”
Another future trend is a move towards automation, which Alex sees as highly likely.
“Looking at it logically, wages can't get much lower. So companies that have money to invest will be increasingly likely to do so, if it means trimming ongoing costs.”
An exciting development from Chess has been the launch of the ProSKU brand. This entry level WMS is designed to help smaller companies utilise mid-level WMS for a modest monthly cost. Its chief attributes are ease of use and ease of setup. It is not uncommon for a WMS to take weeks to set up, but ProSKU can be set up in a few days with implementation support, or indeed, it has been designed to be installed by the client themselves without difficulty.
Alex says: “ProSKU actually packs quite a punch. For example, the system can be used to support an impressive variety of picking methodologies, from single item picking, to wave picking, bulk picking, and what we call cluster picking (which combines picking and packing). This means that although ProSKU is quite a simple system, it can adapt to customers who may organise their warehouses in quite considerably varied ways.”
ProSKU now also offers a dedicated Android App, which makes the WMS more user-friendly. The multi function App provides clear, intuitive processes to manage key warehouse activities.
“There is a big difference between using ProSKU on a mobile device with a browser and the App. The App does away with the browser, it’s purpose-designed and it's a lot more user friendly and slick to use from the point of view of the warehouse operative as he or she carries out picking, replenishment etc,” says Alex.
ProSKU plays a key role in the company’s overall offering, providing an entry level proposition. But there are two other WMS versions, Empirica and Empirica-lite, which form an upgrade path clients can follow as they grow in size and complexity and require ever more complex solutions to cope with the extra stresses that growth brings.
Alex concludes: “This will help minimise disruption for companies as they grow, by providing a partner and a system that will adapt with them through different stages of their journey.”