October 2004 | Case Studies | I.T. Toolkit

Web-Based System Zaps Shipping Delays

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An upgraded shipping system nets faster turnaround, fewer mistakes, and a boost in revenues for American Biophysics.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners have reclaimed their backyards from biting insects since 1998, when American Biophysics introduced the Mosquito Magnet. The buzz about this instrument of fatal attraction has grown so loud, so fast, that from the year the product launched through 2002, American Biophysics saw its revenues soar some 25,000 percent.

Growth has since subsided to a less-dizzying rate, but current figures are still impressive.

"We're looking at more than 40 percent growth this year," says Mark Bates, fulfillment manager at American Biophysics in North Kingston, R.I. Add in the Mosquito Magnet's high seasonal demand—350,000 units shipped from March through July this year—and you have a recipe for anxiety in the distribution operation.

Until recently, its software wasn't helping American Biophysics. For one thing, its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system couldn't handle the rapidly soaring volume. Nor was the company's shipping system up to the job.

"It didn't integrate very well with our back-end ERP system," says Stacy Lanphere, the company's director of information technology. And it couldn't handle all shipments.

While employees used the software to prepare pickup orders by less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, they went to a separate computer to get shipments ready for UPS, using that company's proprietary software. Yet another workstation was employed for U.S. Postal Service shipments.

Beyond that, workers entered data in Microsoft Excel to create commercial invoices, and used a different computer to create labels required by the big retail chains, American Biophysics' main customers.

Eliminating Multiple Systems

"We had to access too many different systems to ship one order," Bates says. "Any time you're doing things like that, you just increase the chance of mistakes."

Having multiple systems also meant additional time to get shipments out the door—something the company could ill afford in the busy season.

In 2004, however, American Biophysics headed into the spring and summer rush with the Oracle ERP system, a new, more fully integrated shipping solution. It also moved its shipping process to Kewill Ship, a web-based enterprise shipping management system from Kewill Solutions North America that integrates with Oracle and manages the company's shipping activities.

American Biophysics chose Kewill Ship in part because Kewill already developed an interface to Oracle's system, Lanphere explains. She also liked that Kewill Ship supports an enterprise that ships from multiple locations, which will help American Biophysics as it adds new facilities to meet growing customer demand.

"I have the option of five sites right now with the basic license, and we're only using one," Lanphere says. When American Biophysics opens a new distribution center, its employees will only need a computer with an Internet connection to access the Kewill system on the server in North Kingston.

Closing a deal with Kewill on New Year's Eve last year, American Biophysics faced an implementation emergency. Oracle was due to go live in February; customer orders would start climbing in March. "I told Kewill, 'I need some kind of system just to go live with, so we can ship,'" Lanphere says.

To meet the immediate need, Kewill got American Biophysics running with Clippership, another system in its product line, designed for companies that ship from one location.

"We implemented Clippership in less than 30 days, with integration to the Oracle system," says Ira Grossman, vice president of professional services for Kewill.

While one Kewill team managed that project, another started gathering requirements for the Kewill Ship implementation. "We took a two-phased approach to make sure that we met their shipping deadline," Grossman explains.

American Biophysics started using Clippership to move Mosquito Magnets and accessories to retailers the first week in February. After further work, American Biophysics migrated to Kewill Ship in mid-April, just as the company hit its busy season.

"It was perfect timing," recalls Lanphere. "We would not have gotten as much out the door during our busy season without Kewill."

Kewill Ship retrieves shipment information from American Biophysics' Oracle system—including details about where the order is bound and which carrier will move it—when a worker in the warehouse scans a bar code on a packing slip.

Using that data, Kewill Ship prepares a document that serves two purposes: it's a shipping label for the carrier, and the label retailers require to manage their own logistics processes. Storing information about the kind of label each carrier and customer requires, the system can automatically generate paperwork in the correct format for each shipment.

The ability to print labels on the fly that meet the unique demand of each customer was especially important to Bates. The old system required a lot of manual input, and the results often didn't meet retailers' stringent requirements. Consequently, "we got chargebacks," he says.

With Kewill Ship, "when we close a customer's order, if that label needs to look different from a previous customer, the system will know that and give us the label in the proper format," says Bates.

Kewill maintains a library of label templates that is constantly growing. As American Biophysics starts selling to new retailers with unique requirements, "we can very quickly add those requirements to our template library," Grossman says.

The system also accommodates a large variety of carriers in the United States and abroad, including LTL trucking companies, package carriers, and postal services. "We haven't stumped Kewill yet," Lanphere says.

Along with printing the shipping label for each order, Kewill Ship uploads information to each carrier about the shipments American Biophysics will turn over to its drivers that day.

One function Kewill added specifically for American Biophysics allows workers to confirm the items they pack for shipment match the items on the customer's order.

"American Biophysics goes through the secondary step of scanning the SKUs for each package. In real time, we verify that information against Oracle's database to ensure what is in the box is what is intended to be in the box," Grossman says.

Kewill and American Biophysics have discussed developing a new function that allows workers to scan serial numbers on individual units as they pack them for shipping. This will help the company track delivery of specific products to specific stores and better handle any questions about products under warranty, Grossman says.

"At this point, the serial numbers on our units aren't bar-coded, so I couldn't scan them even if I wanted to," Bates says. But his department is working with the manufacturing operation to change that. If workers can scan serial numbers as products go out the door, "if there's an issue with the warranty or a return, we can then tie that unit back to the specific customer," he says.

More Shipments, Less Staff

Armed with Kewill Ship, American Biophysics made it through this year's peak season with unprecedented success. "The changes we've made improved our fill rates and customers are pleased," Bates says.

With a single system to handle all the steps in a shipment, the process goes much faster. "We've reduced the cycle time on the order itself simply by having that document set printed at the time we transact the order," says Bates. "As a result, we shipped more with less staff. And we did it with fewer mistakes."

As the company adds more distribution centers, Kewill Ship will help it control the cost of maintaining the system, Lanphere says.

With a traditional client-server system, when the software needs an upgrade, the IT department might have to send an employee to visit each site, which can get expensive. With a browser-based application such as Kewill Ship, when it's time to upgrade the software, Lanphere explains, "I walk out of my office to the data center, and it can be performed right there."

The partnership between Kewill and Oracle means those two vendors—not American Biophysics—take responsibility for keeping the interface between their solutions up to date, Lanphere explains. "It allows Kewill to do what Kewill does best, and American Biophysics to do what American Biophysics does best," she says.

Lanphere expects to work with Kewill on further refinements as the big-box stores continue to revise their shipping requirements.

"Working with the Home Depots of the world, we'll be asking Kewill to do more," she says, "because we're going to be asked to do a lot more."

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