Warehouse robotics for all UK businesses 12 December 2019

With over 1,000 UK customers and 15,000 end users, businesses of all sizes, industries, and sectors, are currently using OrderWise software –
including those in the fastener and fixing industry. Deputy Editor Claire Aldridge visited the UK company’s head office to see how a GB£2 million robotics investment is helping it provide a unique software solution to manage and monitor operations effectively and efficiently.

Initially established from the back of CEO and founder David Hallam’s garage over 30 years ago – the company today employs around 200 people at its impressive purpose-built offices in Lincoln. “When I started OrderWise, I saw a gap in the market. Any stock control and order processing systems were all on main frame computers, which, at the time, cost an absolute fortune for companies to invest in. We’re talking pre-internet when main frame computers took up an entire room. Once the PC was launched, and in time the ability to network was realised – it became clear to me that we could have stock control and order processing systems on PCs. I spent many hours writing OrderWise version 1 – and I knew back then, how many businesses would be able to benefit from it,” explains David.

OrderWise is an integrated business management software that brings together the supply chain, order processing, stock management, financials, and distribution processes, into a single application – held on a single database. It can also be scaled to meet the specific requirements of businesses, allowing them to buy only the features needed and grow into the rest later. This helps provide a stable infrastructure that drives better performance and supports growth.

“OrderWise can dramatically increase the accuracy, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of all daily processes – whether you’re a wholesaler, distributor, retailer, merchant, web trader, manufacturer or something else entirely,” proudly states David.

OrderWise includes dedicated core modules such as stock control, sales order processing, despatch, goods in, purchasing, invoicing, reporting, and accounts integration. There is also a variety of additional and specialist features for companies to really personalise and optimise the benefits. These include eCommerce websites for both retail and trade, CRM and marketing, Business Intelligence, advanced warehouse management, mobile WMS devices, KPI dashboards, EDI and sales order mapping, and warehouse robotics – something that OrderWise has invested over GB£2 million in over the last three years.

The in-house warehouse robotics division was established in 2016, after studying customers’ picking habits and finding that 50% – 70% of warehouse operator’s time was spent walking between various locations in the warehouse – which simply wasn’t productive. Therefore, after extensive research with robot manufacturers, and investing GB£150,000 in foreign robots, OrderWise began testing procedures and initiated the bought robots in its purpose-built testing centre. “The robots we bought were not passing our simple tests, and quite frankly the difference between the sales literature and reality was quite simply embarrassing. I knew we could do better,” explains David.

The decision was then made to design, build and code its own robots. Recruiting both electrical and mechanical engineers to start the design process, OrderWise now has a fully functioning robotics lab where its engineers design circuit boards in-house. “It was important for me to keep the circuit board assembling on-site. Circuit boards control every individual aspect of our robots – movement, battery management, WiFi, safety operations, etc – so I wanted to make sure we had absolute control over the quality of what we produce,” comments David. For the rest of the in-house designed robot, CAD images are sent to a sheet metal supplier where the robot’s chassis, as well as a scissor lift, are both manufactured.

“Our knowledge is in controlling the warehouse and in the software element, and in my opinion the two go hand in hand. You can’t just build a robot and get it to do something. We have the knowledge and understanding of what a robot needs to achieve in the warehouse environment to make processes more efficient,” points out David.

OrderWise robots have a 36 hour running time and in that time will travel a distance of 15.5km and lift a tonne 800 times. The robots are only part of the solution however – the robots will operate inside a cage and bring specifically designed ‘pods’ carrying stock to fully optimised picking stations. “If you think of a small fully operational warehouse that currently has 10 pickers. We know our robots can reduce these pickers to 3, giving significant cost savings, and will improve stock accuracy considerably,” mentions David.

Once the ‘pod’ is at the picking station, a light will shine on the correct bin or product that needs to be picked and loaded onto the pallet – as well as the software screen showing this. If multiple pallets are being picked at the same time, a light will also shine on the correct bin to place the product in to avoid errors. The robots also have built-in scales to make sure the correct product is picked to try and eliminate human error. Once the correct product is picked, the robot will be sent back to the warehouse, and the next pod is already queued up on another robot, waiting for the picker.

“We will work together at the conception stage to realise how many robots are needed for maximum efficiency – a picker must never wait for a robot, so enough robots to fulfil picking stations is essential. However, our software is intelligent enough to realise when a picker has spare time, so will change the flow,” comments David. This means one picker could be asked to stock check, or arrange stock for heat mapping – all whilst at their picking station.

“We understand that the concept of robotics is an up and coming market in Britain and we need to catch up with the rest of Europe. Amazon has just spent GB£2.5 billion on a fleet of over 150,000 robots. Our aim however is to bring robots and automation to everyday companies and it’s working. Our main obstacle is customers thinking they’re too small for robots – robots are for everyone. Our ROI is approximately 2 years – and we have a number of options for payments,” explains David. Currently OrderWise has four robotics systems in operation and is fully booked for all of 2020.

“When we first meet with a customer to discuss robotics, customer requirements tend to be very unique. Our system has to be flexible enough to be customisable to enable our customers to work in the best way they do business – otherwise it simply wouldn’t be feasible,” comments David.

“For example, our ‘pods’ operate inside a robot cage – each pod will carry a tonne, so each shelf will take 250kg. It is not possible for most customers to keep all their stock inside the robot cage. We need to imagine what the robots represent is actually the picking phase – so that is around 6/8 weeks worth of stock. We therefore must create a mixture of picking stations and ‘goods-in’ stations where a separate dedicated member of staff can replenish stock in the robotics warehouse from bulk stores.”

“The most important thing to point out is that we’re one company that offers it all. We can take a new customer from using a multitude of different systems to OrderWise controlling everything – an e-commerce website, ERP system, accounting and we can automate the warehouse. Nothing is subcontracted out – we work with the customer, to make it as easy as possible every single step of the way.”

This working together is apparent in its recognition by numerous regional and national awards in the last couple of years. Last year, OrderWise was named as ‘Business of the Year’ at both Lincolnshire Media Business Awards and Lincolnshire Tech and Innovation Awards. David has also been named ‘Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the 2019 Natwest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for the Midlands. Finally, OrderWise has been announced as a finalist in two categories at the Growing Business Awards 2019: the ECI Partners B2B Business of the Year and the Santander Growing Business of the Year.

There is a definite enthusiasm and buzz surrounding OrderWise – with the team working to promote its new warehouse robotics technology and bring the concept to all UK businesses. The company has a unique offering – cost savings, efficiency, increased fulfilment, and round the clock support, all from one ERP software provider. “We are a family business competing on a global scale, and to do that we have to be the best,” concludes David.

www.orderwise.co.uk

Deputy Editor

Claire Aldridge Deputy Editor t: +44 (0) 1727 814 450

Biog

Having joined the magazine in 2012, Claire developed her knowledge of the industry through the numerous company visits, exhibitions and conferences she attended both in the UK and abroad.

Claire prides herself on keeping readers well informed and up to date with the latest industry news.