A greatly improved service will be achieved as Heinz starts operating its new NDC at Wigan says Sarah Hardcastle H einz is about to begin the phased opening of its new UK national distribution centre at Martland Park, Wigan, next to Kitt Green, the site of its largest European factory. When fully operational this summer, the 350,000 sq ft state-of-the-art automated warehouse will bring the majority of the company's UK ambient warehousing and distribution under a single roof for the first time. These include warehousing operations for John West at Widnes, Farley's at Appleton and Heinz foodservice at Telford. Only the Kitt Green warehouse, which has served the company for more than 40 years, will remain as an in-house operation run by Heinz. Logistics general manager David Armstrong says the NDC is needed to provide customers with a better level of service and eliminate the complexities that have arisen from dealing with its various warehouse operations. Says Armstrong: "Through acquisition and growth, our present arrangements have become too complex. Customers placing a single order for, say, Heinz Baked Beans and John West seafood, have been receiving up to three separate deliveries and been invoiced for each ­ a cumbersome operation entailing unnecessary deliveries and paperwork. "For us, dealing with several locations has made despatching products very complicated, particularly at peak times when demand rises. "The new NDC will greatly simplify and improve services, providing customers with a single invoice, and enable us to handle rises in demand smoothly and easily." Kitt Green was chosen as the site of the new facility because of its proximity to the M6, the national motorway network and the ease of exchange of goods with Heinz' primary food factory. It is being built, commissioned and operated by Wincanton, a leading logistics service supplier, which set up and has run the Heinz Net Logistics operation at Kitt Green for the last five years. Armstrong says Wincanton was chosen as its operating partner because of the cultural similarities between the two companies and because of its extensive experience in running automated warehouses. "The automated warehouse is one of the most advanced in Europe and when fully operational will handle up to 83 million cases a year, processing an average of 250 vehicles in and out every day," says Armstrong. "On the input side, the majority of pallets will be unloaded from vehicles mechanically by an automatic vehicle unloader. "Pallets will be transferred to storage bays by unmanned conveyors and cranes, the fastest of which travels at 200m per minute. "Retrieval will be wholly automatic as well, with every facet of storage and picking under the control of the warehouse management system. A very large number of manual interventions have been taken out of the entire process." Among the benefits Armstrong expects to see will be improvements in picking accuracy. "It's always been reasonably good, but we expect to raise customer service levels. "Another benefit will be a reduction in damage as there will be less handling, resulting in a better quality of product going to customers." Commissioning of the new facility will take to July to be completed. "We've designed it in phases so that it will be seamless, and we'll know it has been a success if our customers say they haven't even noticed," says Armstrong. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}