Going green through automation: In Conversation with MW Fulfilment
Mike Walls, Managing Director at warehousing services firm MW Fulfilment, tells us about his switch to sustainable packaging and how automated scanning software is transforming his business.
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MW Fulfilment provides warehousing and fulfilment services from two sites in Bolton and Rochdale, specialising in support for entry-level e-commerce retailers. The business was started in 2018 by Mike Walls, who has 40 years’ experience in the third-party logistics sector.
Mike began working with Claire Scott, a specialist advisor in our Resource Efficiency team, in August 2020 after opening his new warehouse in Rochdale.
With Claire’s support and an Energy Efficiency Grant of £5,300, MW Fulfilment has installed energy efficient LED light fittings and sensor controls, as well as a system of handheld barcode scanners that have enabled paperless order processing.
The scanners automatically provide picking staff with the location of each order, which has eliminated the need for printed order sheets. The move will save over 540,000 sheets of paper – or 2.7 tonnes – from going to waste each year. Taking into account future growth, this could potentially rise to nearly one million sheets of paper saved from landfill annually.
Advice was also provided on sustainable packaging solutions, resulting in a switch to recycled materials that have already had a positive impact on the business.
When did you decide to invest in automated scanning technology?
As e-commerce grew and grew through the pandemic, it got to the point where I couldn’t support the growth of my customers at our existing site in Bolton anymore, so in August I decided to open a new site in Heywood outside Rochdale.
In Bolton we were printing a piece of paper for every order that needed picking, which was wasting hundreds of pieces of paper a day. Automated paperless picking with handheld scanners was something we had been looking at for a while, and the new warehouse was a perfect opportunity to test the concept.
Claire came in and showed me how much of an impact it would have if I moved to 100% automated picking, so with the grant funding we bought four barcode scanners and grew from there.
What impact has it had on your business?
Everything in our Heywood site is now barcoded and scanned. If I took you to the Bolton site, you’d see the reams and reams of paper we were producing; but in Heywood there isn’t a single piece of paper for anything coming in or going out.
It’s not just the environmental impact – it’s given us traceability, trackability, accountability and huge efficiency improvements. In the Bolton warehouse, without the scanners, last Monday we did 220 orders with five people. At the Heywood site, five people did 1,000 orders on the same day. They can pick as many as 40 orders in one trip, compared to only 2 or 3 without the scanners. I simply wouldn’t have been able to achieve the levels we are now without the systemic digital system we’ve brought in.
We’re now at 14 scanners in total and will be applying everything we’ve done in Heywood to our Bolton site in the New Year.
Claire has been amazing. She opened the door to a new way of thinking that I’d honestly not considered before. She sat in front of me and told me about the environment and sustainability, and I just thought – “Yeah, I’m going to do that”.Mike Walls, Managing Director
Tell us about the changes you’ve made to your packaging
Once Claire explained the options available to me, I knew sustainable packaging was the right way to go. We’ve moved to eco-friendly recycled jiffy bags, replaced polythene void-fill with crumpled paper and switched from virgin cardboard to recycled cardboard for our boxes.
We buy the recycled cardboard from a nearby company, Ribble Packaging, and it’s actually half the price of the cardboard I was buying before. The quality is the same – you really can’t tell the difference. We’ve even started to offer postal bags made from sugarcane and we’ve already taken on a new customer who wanted to use them.
What are you doing to improve energy use?
Both our sites are now lit with energy efficient LEDs. The Heywood warehouse already had LED lights installed when we moved in, but it was all on a single on/off switch, so I’ve had sensors put in each aisle to ensure lights are only activated when they’re needed.
Our heating is something we’re now thinking about. The electric heaters we use aren’t very efficient, so that will be looked at in time. I also have a commercial vehicle for moving things between sites that I’m planning to replace with an electric model next year.
How useful has Claire’s support been throughout this process?
Claire has been amazing. She opened the door to a new way of thinking that I’d honestly not considered before. She sat in front of me and told me about the environment and sustainability, and I just thought – “Yeah, I’m going to do that”.
She’s passionate about what she does and that rubs off on you. By the time she had sent me a full report of all the recommendations she’d given me, I’d already actioned all of them!