Inside Logistics

Plugged In

BC electrical supplies distributor EB Horsman & Son needed a new way to manage its DC. With help from an ERP-WMS one-two punch, it increased pick productivity by nearly 200 percent without having to expand its 20,000sqf facility. Deborah Aarts explains.

March 30, 2009
by Deborah Aarts

When you’ve been in the electrical business as long as EB Horsman & Son, you come to appreciate the importance of technology.

Since 1900, the company has grown into the largest independent electrical supplies distributor in Western Canada. It runs 16 branches across British Columbia, serviced by a 20,000sqf distribution centre in Surrey.

The building is small but busy. The company ships product to every branch every day by truck, using a number of carriers (via ferry for its four branches on Vancouver Island). This translates to some $80 million worth of product—most of which is low-value items like bulbs, fixtures and switches—passing through the facility annually.

Such an operational model depends on quick and accurate replenishment. Recently, with business growing, the company had to decide how to maintain its own high shipping standards: either expand its physical footprint or make better use of the space at hand.

It chose to stay put and looked to new software to recharge the facility.

Charged for change

Sparking the change was outdated technology that was no longer flexible enough to handle evolving business needs.

Roy Bragg, Horsman’s vice-president of operations, joined the company in 1998, two years after the Surrey DC opened. At the time, there was some RF technology in place at the facility; workers were able to scan bins and had some directed picking. But the system had many flaws.

“We could only scan product ID on about 60 percent of the items because of manufacturer barcode non-compliance. If they were using European standards, there was an issue. There was no ability to create an internal barcode with that software,” he explains.

“It was fairly rigid. You were only allowed one barcode per item, and at the time we had products that could have had six different barcodes.”

This became less and less acceptable, and Bragg and his team set about creating a wish list. They soon realized they wanted much more than better barcode scans. They wanted a comprehensive system that could pull together all information, from sales reports to order-entry to shipping, in a simple interface. That meant finding ERP and WMS systems that could communicate seamlessly with one another.

The team started by choosing an ERP—the Prophet 21 (P21) system from Activant, which is meant for wholesale distributors. It so happened that Activant had a preferred WMS for the system—the Latitude suite from PathGuide.

Latitude is a modular WMS; it co-ordinates receiving, picking, packing and shipping, and a number of other modules can be added.