If there is one country which loves all things green and blossoming, it is the United Kingdom. Fertile ground, therefore, for a supplier like Farplants. The company makes good use of Container Centralen’s products and services, such as trolleys, shelves and the data matrix code on the container tags. Operations Director Simon Hawtin explains.
Based in Britain’s beautiful south, near the West Sussex coast, Farplants is one of the country’s largest wholesale suppliers of outdoor plants to garden centres. The co-operative group has five member growers, each specialising in different plant ranges. Established in 1972, the company now grows over 11 million plants every year, with a retail value of more than 50 million pounds (close to 60 million euros). Farplants grows over 2,000 different varieties and employs up to 500 people, mainly during the peak gardening period in spring and early summer.
Joining the company in 2012, Simon Hawtin (56) is Farplants’ Operations Director. “I am responsible for all aspects of the business relating to the receipt of bulk products from our growers”, he introduces himself. “This includes customer price labelling, packing on to customer trolleys, despatch and delivery to customers. And it also includes the control, issue and return logistics of CC equipment to our group of businesses.”
Please tell us about Farplants’ dealings with Container Centralen.
“We have been a customer for more than 20 years. We use standard horticulture trolleys and shelves – to be precise, 8,400 bases and 36,000 shelves.”
CC’s tags contain an RFID chip and a data matrix scanning code.Does Farplants use these, or one of them? And for what purpose?
“We solely use the QR data matrix code on the tag.
This barcode enables us to connect stock and trolleys. As the products come off the end of our production lines, they are grouped into customer orders, using Stock Keeping Unit labels. Each group of customer products and their associated SKU label are put on to a trolley. We scan the trolley barcode and then all the SKU codes, so that our systems know what is on the trolley. All stock is given a priority level, according to how quickly it needs to be packed and despatched.
By scanning all the SKUs, the system enables us to give a trolley a high or low priority, and determine where that particular trolley goes in the queue for packing.”
The packing is the next step in the process. Tell us what happens.
“Each packer takes a trolley from our production line, based on its priority. They then move each customer’s order from the production trolley to the customer’s trolley. All packers have PDAs, handheld computers, which are individual to them, so that their performance can be monitored.
“The packers scan the trolley barcode to start the packing process. The system will tell them, via their PDA, which location to go to in the packing grid where all the customer trolleys are. They find the first customer trolley that they need to pack on to, and scan the customer SKU codes. Once they have done this correctly, the system tells them their next location and so on, until the whole trolley has been packed away. Eventually, they go back and collect the next packing trolley and repeat the scanning and packing process.”
Would you describe CC’s data matrix scanning code as an essential component of your business model?
“Absolutely. The unique trolley identity is central to our routines. Without it, we would be relying purely on people reading descriptions, often in a language which is not their native tongue. To put this in perspective: we despatch close to 90,000 customer trolleys a year. So the scale and complexity of our operation demands that we have a good, easy-to-follow system which is as error free as possible. CC’s data matrix barcode is a fundamental part of that system.”
Have you downloaded an app, which is needed for scanning the data matrix code?
“No. We have written our own applications to use the QR code within our own bespoke warehouse management systems.”
Finally, what are the benefits, in your opinion, of Container Centralen’s data matrix for Farplants?
“Without it, we could not operate at the speed and scale that we currently do. Theoretically, we could devise our own, in-house version of trolley IDs. We could actually do this fairly easily, but it would come at a cost and they would probably not be as reliable as the ones provided by Container Centralen.”