Werner Electric Supply Wins National Innovation Award

Werner Electric Supply Wins National Innovation Award

APPLETON, Wis. — Werner Electric Supply received the Innovation Award from Tecsys at the recent 2023 Tecsys User Conference, which celebrated the achievements of supply chain partners. The award recognizes Werner Electric for building and implementing a smart system for picking inventory from its massive warehouse, resulting in significant savings in supply chain management and speedy order fulfillment. The system was built in collaboration with another NAED member, Tecsys.

Werner Electric maintains a 200,000-square-foot warehouse with 30,000 individual SKUs in components ranging from general electric supplies to networked electrical systems. Prior to the automation, it was estimated that warehouse workers traveled around 290 miles per month picking inventory from the racks. The company maintains a zero-order backlog, so any order placed before 7 p.m. is picked, fulfilled, and delivered by the following morning. Additionally, Werner Electric maintains a 99.9% order accuracy ensuring the correct items are delivered to the correct destination without damage.

Veteran team members were experienced in knowing the configuration of the warehouse and where products were located to meet these goals, but new team members had a steep learning curve.

“In the past, our training required 3-6 months of job shadowing before an individual learned the nuances of the warehouse,” said Mark Mueller, RDC CI Team Leader of Werner Electric. “Now our training can be completed in as little as two weeks.”

The company’s commitment to continual improvement sparked the project, which was designed to improve productivity and reduce travel distance, as well as reduce new team member training time.

This real-world application of AI involved understanding current warehouse processes and barriers for future improvement. Team members road-mapped the routes veteran warehouse workers traveled, defined pick paths, and established performance markers. These variables were converted to data to address three primary areas by using AI to:

  • Pick orders more efficiently by developing a digital twin of the warehouse within the computer system that is used to recalculate pick sequence for optimized travel route and shortest distance.
  • Reduce training time and onboard new employees more quickly, which has a direct impact on labor costs and employee retention.
  • Conserve additional resources such as wear and maintenance on equipment, electronic hardware, and other support systems within the warehouse.

“It’s about having a system do complex calculations for you,” said Jonah Reinhardt, IT Business Systems Manager of Werner Electric. “In the system we built, we defined the parameters and relied on artificial intelligence to help construct better solutions faster and easier for our team members.” Reinhardt said the project goal was to see an improvement in the rate of picking and a reduction in travel distance.

The result has been significant. Picks per hour improved by 30%, and travel through the warehouse was reduced by 39%.  Reinhardt added that the system will help the company with continued growth in new markets in spite of challenges in the tight labor market

“The results-based approach to data science has meshed well with the Lean Continuous Improvement passion of our distribution center leaders,” said Fred Mauermann, Werner Electric’s vice president of operations. “This innovative, co-developed AI solution delivers an improved employee experience for our team members, both accelerating their training progression and freeing capacity to better serve our customers.”

“We take pride in seeing our customers set new standards and exemplify global supply chain excellence,” said Peter Brereton, president and CEO of Tecsys. “Our mission is to equip these customers with top-tier software so they can navigate complexity and create value within their organizations.”

The Werner Electric warehousing system went live in October of 2022.

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