1 August, 2005 – Wincanton / Heinz
When giant global food producer Heinz took the decision to site its National Distribution Centre (N.D.C.) in Wigan two years ago, it was more than just the town’s superb access to the UK’s motorway network, or the close proximity of the wider Greater Manchester conurbation, or even the presence of Heinz’s major production plant at Kitt Green, that was the key.
As Chris Drake of Wincanton – the distribution and logistics specialists who operate the N.D.C. for Heinz – explains, it was the people of Wigan that made the town an ideal location for a major distribution centre.
“Our site is close to the motorway network, but there are other very important factors to take into consideration, the main one being the people. We have an excellent pool of people to recruit from in Wigan, and that’s critical to the success of the operation. Wigan is also a cost-effective choice; the cost of land is a factor, but it pays to look at all the issues when making a critical location decision for an operation like this.”
And it’s a truly massive operation. The Kitt Green plant produces the Heinz range of soups, catering products for the foodservice sector and its world-famous baked beans. The N.D.C. handles a staggering 80 million cases of ambient product (foodstuffs that can be stored at room-temperature) a year, and is the base for a fleet of 51 lorries and 160 trailers that distribute the product across the whole of the UK. The N.D.C. also manages the distribution of product from other Heinz facilities; such as the Farley’s range of infant foods made in Kendal, as well as John West Salmon and Heinz Tomato Ketchup, both of which are made in the Netherlands and imported for UK distribution.
The scale and operational scope of the N.D.C. makes it one of the UK’s leading distribution centres.
The operation employs more than 320 Wincanton staff, 100 Excel staff, and 50 Heinz personnel involved in stock control and logistics. The N.D.C. picks around 400,000 cases every week, with an 11,500 average weekly pallet throughput from 32,500 square metres of ambient storage space, using 11 automated high bay cranes, 36 despatch lanes, 4 automated layer pickets and 2 AVO infeed lanes. A private link road has been built to move product from the Kitt Green plant directly into the N.D.C. with specially adapted transports handling 30 pallets at a time.
After just 12 months in charge, Chris has achieved significant efficiency and productivity improvements, with service levels now operating at 99.85% for order fulfilment with on-time deliveries at 98.5%. That’s above the targets set by Heinz for Wincanton and a large part of the success is attributable to Chris’ innovative approach to running the N.D.C.
He firmly believes that people are the most important part of any distribution operation and has worked hard to recruit, train and retain high calibre employees; introducing a rigorous induction procedure to ensure that every member of staff is fully trained and made fully aware of all relevant health and safety issues before they start their role, with additional training for key personnel. His efforts have seen staff turnover and sickness levels fall and productivity rise.
He’s also drawn on his previous experience to introduce efficiency-promoting measures like cross docking (where spare capacity is released to store another manufacturer”s products). Wincanton also backhaul wherever possible and customers are encouraged to order in layers to allow for a greater percentage of layer picking. Product integrity is a key part of the process; making sure pallets and cases remain undamaged helps improve efficiency on the automated leg of the operation.
Even having achieved such major successes in so short a period, Chris is ambitious about the future. He said: “There is always room for improvement and we are continuing to strive to drive up flexibility and efficiency at the site. The key to effective automation and the efficient running of the operation as a whole is to start slowly and smoothly. It takes time to effect change and it is vital to get everything operating well before you can start to make sudden increases in demand.
“We have made an excellent start and we have the right people in place, but there are still further gains to be made and I am looking forward to working with Heinz to deliver those results.”