Good to Grape: Welch's Juices up Its Inventory Management

Improving warehouse and inventory management operations creates efficiencies across a high-velocity nationwide supply chain

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By William Atkinson

Welch's (Concord, MA), the processing and marketing subsidiary of the National Grape Cooperative Association, produces and markets grape juice, grape jelly and over 400 other fruit-based products.

The company, which sells products in over 50 countries, faced increasing supply chain challenges related to the management of high-volume incoming and outgoing perishable goods, continually expanding product lines, increasingly rigorous lot tracking requirements and evolving customer demands.

Welch's production facilities were collecting more information on the flow of materials and inventory than ever before. However, the company needed an effective and accurate method to organize and manage these data. Furthermore, the company wanted to increase the speed of transactions (from raw material ordering through final product shipment) in order to achieve streamlined operations.

Automating the Manual

Welch's had recently implemented Oracle Process Management (OPM), selected in 2005-2006 to be the platform of choice for its ERP project following a cross-functional evaluation and selection process. "OPM fit our business model better than other software or the discrete module," explains Gordon Conkling, business process specialist.

However, in order to fully leverage its new enterprise system, Welch's needed to automate some cumbersome manual processes that not only limited productivity but also reduced real-time inventory visibility and lot traceability capabilities.

Welch's executives also realized that they needed to improve production lot control and traceability. In addition, they needed to standardize inventory procedures across their production and warehousing facilities. This would require automating data collection across the supply chain.

In considering their options, Welch's executives realized that the solution would not only need to meet the company's functionality requirements but also integrate seamlessly with its OPM technology in order to minimize operational disruptions.

The solution would also need to improve inventory data integrity and accuracy, increase the speed of reporting processes, reduce inventory, provide better visibility from order through delivery, streamline inventory and warehouse processes, enable data synchronization (as required by an increasing number of customers), and provide electronic capture of critical business data at the time of creation.

Deploying in Three Days

Welch's ended up selecting two solutions from Take Supply Chain, which provides real-time supply chain execution and reverse logistics software solutions: the Gemini Simplified Interface (G.SI) for Oracle Process Manufacturing (OPM) mobile software solution, and the Compliance Label Manager (CLM). Welch's selected TAKE over other potential solutions for two main reasons, according to Conkling. "TAKE had a well-developed data collection solution for OPM, while most of their competitors were limited in this area," he explains. In addition, TAKE had an excellent development team, led by Sudhir Perinchery, which quickly grasped Welch's business requirements. "They worked hard to develop transactions that met our needs, while building new functionality that could be utilized by other customers," says Conkling.

Gemini Simplified Interface for OPM enables process manufacturers to collect data using radio frequency devices to increase the availability of real-time information on receiving, shipping, manufacturing and inventory activity. Compliance Label Manager is a barcode and RFID label management solution that automates labeling processes without the need to invest in custom code, consulting or new infrastructure.

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Prior to implementing the solutions, Welch's and TAKE worked closely together for a four-month period, and the entire system was able to be deployed seamlessly in just three days. Conkling attributes the speed and success of the implementation to three things:

  • First, an excellent project implementation team led by Pat Anderson and Prasanth Vijayan.
  • Second, quick and accurate reaction by the TAKE development team. "The close connection between TAKE's project team and development team was outstanding," notes Conkling.
  • Third, the integration with Welch's ERP project team. "TAKE became part of our larger ERP implementation," explains Conkling. "They worked effectively with our ERP consultant team to develop win-win solutions for Welch's."

There were some challenges, however. The biggest related to the implementation of shipping and warehouse functions without implementing WMS. However, the teams were able to overcome this challenge. "The enhancements and flexibility of the TAKE Gemini software allowed us to develop several transaction processes that maximized our capabilities as efficiently as possible," explains Conkling.

Controlling Data Collection

Today, TAKE Supply Chain Gemini controls inventory data collection and management across Welch's entire line of juices, spreads and fruit products. Welch's has been able to improve operational control, inventory accuracy, visibility and order fulfillment by automating its processes across three production/warehousing locations nationwide. The system captures data across all plant functional areas, including receiving, processing, packaging, warehousing, maintenance and quality.

In specific, Gemini allows Welch's to trace lots and batches within 24 hours and provides over 99 percent visibility and over 99 percent inventory accuracy rates. According to Conkling, the four biggest benefits of Gemini are scalability, flexibility, efficiency and validation. "Gemini can be used to integrate both internal and external customers in our ERP system," he says. The use of profile options and configurations allows Welch's to configure the base software to meet specific business needs. In addition, the solution allows the company to minimize data entry requirements through concatenation and auto-populating. Finally, it validates data at the time of entry, minimizing errors and issues.

In addition, CLM allows Welch's to use mobile RF scanners to automatically and accurately record key transactions — such as inbound materials, receiving, inventory movements, production control of batch operations, quality control and outbound shipping — directly from the production shop floor. CLM also enables Welch's key suppliers to barcode all shipments. According to Conkling, since CLM is scalable, it can be used to integrate internal and external partners. "It is also easy to use," he says. "Our internal resources have used CLM as a platform to develop several new labels and transaction processes to meet customer needs."

One key focus for Welch's these days involves the integration of third-party logistics providers (3PLs) and co-manufacturers into its ERP system. "We are currently implementing the Gemini and CLM solutions at some of our sites," says Conkling, adding, "The initial results have been encouraging." ¦

About the Author: William Atkinson is a freelance writer based in Carterville, Ill.