In-plant Printer Expands Fulfillment Operation Without Expanding Costs
Hubbell Lighting, Inc., located in Greenville, SC produces indoor and outdoor lighting products for industrial, commercial and institutional markets and is the largest manufacturer of residential lighting fixtures in North America. Hubbell Lighting operates a large in-plant printing operation whose primary mission is the production, warehousing and fulfillment of the materials used to support the sales and marketing efforts of the 24 different brands the comprise Hubbell Lighting.
The fulfillment component of the operation is quite complex. The in-plant printer manages hundreds of different SKU’s, some of which are printed in large quantities and stored in the warehouse, and some that are printed on demand when ordered. The items are ordered on-line by a nationwide network that consists of both Hubbell employees and independent sales agents. Access to the items is permission based and varies based on the Brand and role of the individual placing the order.
CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES
Hubbell Lighting’s on-line ordering and fulfillment had been facilitated for a number of years through a system that was geared primarily towards web-to-print. While the web-to-print system did enable users to place orders, it included only limited ability to manage inventory, could not track kits & kit components properly, offered little in the way of reporting, and was not integrated with other technologies that Hubbell utilized. In short, it was simply not designed for a full blown fulfillment operation the likes of which Hubbell Lighting’s In-plant team was now managing.
Warehouse management and inventory control is a central component of the order fulfillment process. The web-to-print system Hubbell used could track inventory levels in aggregate, but not by warehouse location. This fact alone proved a significant barrier to the in-plant’s ability to efficiently manage the operation. When an order was processed, the picker had to know where go to find the material. Items were often stored in multiple locations, but the picking documents provided no information as to which locations contained sufficient quantities to fill the order. As a result, pickers often spent valuable time hunting around the warehouse for the material.
Kitting posed similar challenges for the Hubbell team. Several of the firm’s brands utilized binders containing many associated items for a product or product line. Unfortunately, the system that Hubbell used had no ability to define kits & kit components, and therefore no ability to manage the physical process of pulling components and assembling them into kits. The Hubbell team was forced to manage the kitting with time consuming offline processes. At month end they placed “orders” for each of the components to adjust for inventory that had been used for kits during the month. This approach was clumsy, and made it difficult to maintain any semblance of inventory accuracy during the month.
The above mentioned inventory challenges meant that the Hubbell team had to work extremely hard in order to ensure the accuracy and order turnaround times that the organization required. Another significant source of frustration for the team was the fact that their fulfillment platform was not integrated with UPS, their preferred shipping vendor. As a result, when an order needed to be shipped, they had to manually enter the order into the shipping system, and then hand key the shipment details and tracking numbers from the shipping system into the web-to-print system. These two manual steps required several man-hours each day and with each entry, presented the risk of a keystroke error.
Despite these operational challenges, demand for the fulfillment services that the in-plant supplied continued to increase as Hubbell Lighting developed new product lines and expanded its sales network. David Dahl, Facility Manager of Hubbell Lighting’s printing operation, understood clearly that if his team were to continue providing these services in an accurate and timely manner, something would need to be done.
David began to investigate software solutions that would better equip his employees to do their jobs. In the course of researching options, David discussed their situation with the sales representative from a nearby commercial printer that Hubbell used for occasional overflow work. The sales rep suggested that David take a look at the VeraCore Fulfillment Solution, which was used in several of her company’s plants.
David and his production manager, Michael Stiles, discussed their situation and objectives with the VeraCore salesperson in advance of a demonstration. The VeraCore salesperson explained that the biggest differentiator between VeraCore and their current system was the intended use of the two systems. VeraCore he explained, unlike the web-to-print system, was designed from the ground up for fulfillment. After viewing the demo it was clear to David and Michael that VeraCore would provide solutions to all of their most pressing challenges. David began the process of formally recommending that Hubbell Lighting move forward with VeraCore.
As the manager of a corporate in-plant, David was mindful of the fact that implementing a new solution would require corporate approval and that he would need to provide clear cut cost justification for such a purchase. As it turned out, implementing VeraCore would result in a reduction in the monthly costs associated with software licensing and support. David also anticipated that the cost of the initial investment in the new software would be recovered in a short period of time, given the process efficiencies he expected the system to introduce.
Hubbell Lighting proceeded with their implementation with VeraCore and the results have been impressive. The system’s inventory tracking, proper handling of kits and integration with their shipping stations shaved several man-hours off of each work day. The decision to implement VeraCore has really changed the way we operate”, explained Mr. Dahl “It has made our lives a lot easier and allowed us to improve the service we provide in ways that we had not even anticipated, but the most significant benefit is that we have been able to take on substantially more work for our company, without having to add additional labor.”
The software upgrade has provided some other unforeseen benefits, including a reduction in sales agents accidently ordering the wrong materials. The VeraCore shopping cart can easily be configured to include a PDF, which has proved a simple but effective way to squeeze errors out of the fulfillment process. Michael Stiles explains, “We stock over a thousand different pieces of literature, many of which look very similar, especially if you’re looking at a thumbnail image in a shopping cart. Allowing the users to click into a full PDF lets them verify that they are ordering the right piece. This has helped to save us money by reducing the need for us to rush out a shipment overnight when a user realizes at the last minute that they’ve ordered the wrong piece”.
The impact that VeraCore has had on the operation also extends to Hubbell Lighting’s brand managers, who are responsible for the firms the sales and marketing materials. The system’s extensive reporting and automated email notifications provide real-time information regarding inventory utilization, stock levels and other data points required to plan and make decisions regarding stocking levels, reorders and the scrapping of obsolete items. Bridget Coffey, Marketing Assistant for Hubbell’s Progress Lighting division was very excited about the decision to implement a new system, and the results have not disappointed. “The new system is better in so many ways”, explained Coffey, “it’s easier to use, it does so much more and it saves me time. VeraCore saves me an hour day compared to the old system, easy”.
Hubbell Lighting, is one of three divisions that comprise Hubbell, Inc. Due to the Lighting division’s success, it was decided that this operation should also manage the printing and fulfillment needs of Hubbell’s Power division, effectively doubling the in-plant’s order volumes. With the efficiency that VeraCore has helped Hubbell Lighting to achieve, Mr. Dahl anticipates being able to take on the Power division’s fulfillment work, without having to hire any additional staff.
...the most significant benefit is that we have been able to take on substantially more work for our company, without having to add additional labor.