High margins? In the logistics industry, they're the exception that proves the rule. All the more reason to work with increased efficiency—by using a fully automated warehouse management system, for example. To up its efficiency, Antwerp Cold Stores, a warehousing company specializing in so-called climate-controlled storage for third parties, relies on Sparklink.
It's no secret that business spaces are in short supply in Belgium. That's why many exporting companies make use of what we call port-centric warehousing: they don't store their stock on their own premises, but at Antwerp Cold Stores (ACS for short), in the Port of Antwerp. That way, they can maximize their own space for production (which yields higher return than storage), and simultaneously avoid the last-minute logistics stress of getting the wares to port in time for export.
"ACS specializes in storing a gamut of products under specific temperature and humidity conditions," explains Maarten van Loon, Sparklink's COO. "We call that climate-controlled storage. Customers' goods are stored for a certain period of time at ACS, and are then forwarded to their destination. In addition, ACS offers a range of other value added services, such as repackaging, wrapping, and strapping pallets, but also labelling products with the correct brand label, and expedition. So it's really a full-service warehouse."
It speaks for itself that ACS always needs to know where every product is in the warehouse. "When you know that ACS easily stores some 8,000 to 10,000 pallets at any given time, you'll understand this is an enormous logistical undertaking, involving countless transactions we need to keep close track of," ACS CEO Ben Van Wolput explains. "Sparklink's software manages this process for us. At any time, we know exactly where a pallet is as well as the type and amount of goods on it. All transactions are registered in the warehouse management system. From when we receive the goods to the moment we ship them out."
A unique number, which is scanned at different locations and for every transaction in the warehouse, allows ACS to perfectly trace the goods' itinerary. Because the tool is cloud-based, the company can manage and keep track of the operations from anywhere in the world. "As soon as we receive them, our customers’ goods are our responsibility," Ben continues. "It's important that everything is done flawlessly. For the inbound goods, we create stock in the system, and ensure they can then be stacked in the warehouse as soon as possible."
That needs to be done quickly and efficiently—the staging area is not climate-controlled. Fortunately, ACS usually knows in advance what goods to expect, so they can prepare for receiving them. "An inbound order details everything: the freight, the contents, the paperwork that needs to be taken care of, even down to the name of the driver and the truck's number plate," says Maarten from Sparklink. "Sometimes, our software even communicates with that of ACS's customer, automatically letting us know—down to the pallet level—what's coming up."
The goods are then brought to the right area in the warehouse and stored under the appropriate temperature and humidity conditions. As soon as they're up for shipping, an outbound order ensures that that process goes smoothly as well. "All operations are controlled using Sparklink's software," Ben explains. "Bar codes on the outbound order let the forklift driver know exactly what he needs to pick up and from where. The goods are then placed at the gate, where the haulier can load them up. An additional scan makes sure every driver picks up the correct goods from the right gate. That has to be done quickly as well, because we want to avoid needless waiting times for carriers. Thankfully, as opposed to other warehouse management software, Sparlink's system is exceptionally stable and doesn't crash."
The tool's user interface consists of a Q&A system, making it very user-friendly and intuitive. "That's incredibly important to us," Ben says. "We rely on a lot of temporary workers to cope with work spikes. A temp forklift driver should be all set to start work after only 10 minutes of training. That means the tool has to be self-explanatory. Sparklink's software is super-easy to use: there's a conversation between the person and the system, one question at a time. That interplay of questions and answers is fully tailored to our operations, leaving no doubt at all as to what our worker has to do. That's exactly what we need."
In conclusion, Sparklink also helps invoice all the services ACS provides to its customers. "For every type of service, ACS has agreed a price with the customer, which varies based on the type of work and how labour-intensive it is," says Maarten. "In addition, there are obviously commercial agreements with every customer. Since our software registers all operations and transactions, from A to Z, our customers can also fully automate their invoicing."
Sparklink's software manages this process for us. At any time, we know exactly where a pallet is as well as the type and amount of goods on it. All transactions are registered in the warehouse management system. From when we receive the goods to the moment we ship them out.
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