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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters PlattlingContact
RAPUNZEL NATURKOST GmbH recently expanded its raw materials warehouse, restructured its SAP-based warehousing processes, and started using a SAP-based add-on developed by T.CON in order to implement a mobile iPad-based data entry system, making everything simpler and more efficient. This has enabled the organic food manufacturer to speed up its warehouse processes and ensure that its production operations are always supplied with raw materials quickly and reliably.
The organic movement shows no signs of slowing down, with more and more consumers choosing to go organic every day. In fact, companies like RAPUNZEL NATURKOST GmbH, headquartered in the Allgäu municipality of Legau, have seen a boom that only serves to confirm this trend. Founded in 1974, the company specializes in making and distributing organic vegetarian foods made from certified organic farming products, and has become one of the industry leaders in the field. Whether it be antipasti, spreads, nut butters, pasta, cooking oils, soups, or condiments: RAPUNZEL’s organic products can be found in more than 6,000 natural food grocery shops and health food stores in Germany, as well as in 30 other countries worldwide.
Not surprisingly, the company is constantly experiencing dynamic growth. Because of this, it is continuously expanding its range of products to match the pace, with the latest count coming in at a total of 550 products. This means that RAPUNZEL’s success on the market not only depends on high-quality organic foods, but also on effective internal processes ranging from incoming orders, through stock management and production, all the way to financial accounting. And to keep it all together and map these and other processes, the company uses SAP ERP – an integrated business software suite.
Warehouse logistics in need of an upgrade
In order for a company to be able to reliably supply its production operations with raw materials, it needs a strong operational foundation in the form of smooth and seamless raw materials warehouse processes. This is why RAPUNZEL uses SAP Warehouse Management (SAP WM), a component of the SAP Logistics Execution System (SAP LES) application, to manage its warehouse stock and the bin locations at its raw materials warehouse.
However, the company still needed to upgrade its system in order to catch up with its tremendous growth. Or, as Stefan Schmaus, Head of Logistics at RAPUNZEL NATURKOST GmbH, puts it: “The fact that we’re adding new organic products all the time means that we’re also increasing our production output continuously. This, of course, means that we also need to upgrade the capacities and processes at our raw materials warehouse in order to keep up.” And to do so, the people in charge decided to expand the warehouse and optimize the company’s warehouse logistics, which would also involve restructuring existing processes.
Implementing a mobile data entry system
Many of the workflows at the warehouse, including retrieval orders, withdrawals, stock placement, stock removal, and picking, involved time-consuming manual processes that ate up much of the time dedicated to warehousing work. This is why the company decided to replace these paper-based processes with dialog box-guided warehouse logistics, providing the 18 employees at the warehouse with a mobile data entry system that would make everything more effective and transparent. And the perfect IT tool was just around the corner: Plattling-based SAP developer T.CON had a SAP-based add-on called Mobile Warehouse Management (MWM) that could be integrated into SAP WM without a problem and that was perfect for RAPUNZEL’s needs.
And, just like that, the organic food manufacturer acquired a new 86,000 ft2 raw materials warehouse on the weekend before Christmas 2012. The new warehouse not only had enough space for about 9,000 Euro-pallets, but also featured a mobile rack system with a length of about 165 feet. “This system not only has twice the capacity of a stationary system, but has also allowed us to increase our utilization levels fourfold,” explains Schmaus.
iPads replace PDAs at the warehouse
With support from the logistics experts at T.CON, RAPUNZEL’s internal project team made a series of impressive changes without interrupting the company’s ongoing operations. These changes consisted of implementing the mobile application, switching the warehouse’s location-based inventory management system to a handling unit-based one, and rearranging the sequential processes used at the incoming goods area so that they would take place simultaneously. In addition, the team installed the MWM add-on on Apple iPads and then mounted the latter on forklifts.
“T.CON’s consultants loved the idea and customized the add-on specifically for running on the tablet computer. That definitely made a good impression,” says Schmaus, who is full of nothing but praise for the teamwork between both parties. As for RAPUNZEL’s reasons for deciding on iPads: They are not only tremendously stable, but are also much more affordable than PDAs. On top of this, their touchscreen display is easy to use and makes it possible to show all relevant information at a single glance.
Despite the tight schedule, the company’s restructured, dialog box-guided warehouse logistics went live at the beginning of 2013, just as planned and with the new mobile data entry system and everything included. “We replaced our slip-based management system with mobile IT processes, and everything has been faster, simpler, easier, more efficient, and more transparent ever since,” Schmaus is quick to point out. This not only made it possible to significantly increase warehousing throughput with roughly the same amount of employees, but has also resulted in a much more effective use of forklifts. Simply put, retrieval orders are now distributed in a targeted manner, eliminating unnecessary routes.
Today, the forklift operators at the warehouse post about 600 material movements per day – the result of stock placements, stock transfers, stock removals, and production supply movements. To do so, they use a Bluetooth scanner in the MWM application that is running on their iPads, which enables them to make the postings in real time. Once the data is acquired, it is automatically transferred to SAP WM via WLAN and immediately posted as stock or as a withdrawal, meaning that the system immediately reflects the material flows at the warehouse. “This way, we know for sure that whatever’s in the warehouse is also in our SAP warehouse management system, and vice versa,” Schmaus summarizes. Or to put it another way, this means that a quick look at the system enables warehouse employees to keep track of all goods movements in real time.
Handling units provide greater flexibility
Using stock-keeping units as the basis for inventory management, together with the use of simultaneous processes at the incoming goods area, has resulted in greater flexibility, effectiveness, and efficiency at the raw materials warehouse. In fact, this approach makes it possible to determine exactly how many pallets are located at each single location and which raw materials, in which quantities, are found on each pallet. Moreover, it also means that multiple withdrawals from a single location can now be carried out simultaneously. “As long as there are raw material stocks on a pallet, we can use them, since every withdrawal is posted in SAP WM in real time,” Schmaus reports. This is quite a change from the previous system, in which pallets were blocked from access after raw material withdrawals and would not be unblocked until the withdrawals were confirmed with paper slips.
Standardized and streamlined processesRAPUNZEL also bundled the various processes at its incoming goods area in a special monitoring application with a clear and easy-to-understand layout. The result? These processes can now be carried out rapidly and simultaneously. For example: If a truck needs to unload delivered raw materials at the ramp, the workflow will immediately notify Quality Assurance. This way, QA can take all necessary samples during the unloading process and enter the corresponding measured data into the ERP system before the raw materials are posted at the warehouse. In fact, other information, such as batch numbers, is also recorded this way.
“One of the key advantages of having a mobile warehouse management system at our raw materials warehouse is the fact that our processes are now the same as those used at our distribution warehouse in Bad Grönenbach,” Schmaus says. This means that both warehouses now have identical or similar process sequences, enabling employees who switch from one warehouse to the other to learn the ropes much faster. It is worth noting that RAPUNZEL had already implemented iPad-based mobile processes at distribution warehouse areas where a third-party vendor’s software was being used, with the results being resoundingly positive.
Directly connecting warehousing and production operations
Schmaus is quick to point out the positive impact of all the changes made: “Our optimized warehouse logistics have enabled us to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our raw materials warehouse processes and supply our production operations quickly, reliably, and exactly as required.” However, the people in charge at RAPUNZEL feel that there is still much to do, and want to directly connect their warehousing and production operations by using T.CON’s MES CAT Suite manufacturing execution system, which is fully integrated into SAP ERP.
Doing so will make it possible for the right information to be transferred electronically – automatically and in real time – when raw materials are physically handed over to production. This, of course, should provide a marked improvement in comparison to the company’s current system, in which machine operators have to request information manually and double-check it against the delivered goods. This connection should also increase the efficiency of processes that require production information to flow directly into the warehouse management system, such as when the contents of a pallet are used up and the pallet is ready to be picked up.
Images provided by Rapunzel