Case Study Let the Elephant Dance with the Mouse
A successful case of AB inbev’s 'Forklift Management System' Project.
As the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev (hereinafter referred to as AB inbev) who owns beer brands, such as Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck's, Leffe, Hoegaarden has always led the consumption trend within the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) field. However, optimizing and managing the logistics and distribution of its alcoholic products remains a highly challenging task. Teknect Engineering Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Teknect) is a young start-up company specializing in providing intelligent forklift management systems and safety technology solutions. However, thanks to research and development, it has successfully overtaken its peers and opened up domestic and foreign markets, thus becoming a world leading forklift management and safety technology provider, through its core patented technology and clear strategic thinking.
Integrating consumer goods and industrial technology may seem unrelated, but in fact they are inextricably linked. The cooperation between AB inbev and Teknect has produced a jointly integrated and innovated product, reflecting the need for an intelligent and systematic development strategy in modern warehouse logistics management. Only in this way can cost, efficiency, safety and environmental responsibility be perfectly and harmoniously unified.
Systematic management, inevitable for warehouse operation
We are very familiar with the taste of AB inbev Beer. Therefore, in order to ensure the smooth daily supply and distribution of consumables, the warehouse logistics management behind the scenes must play an efficient role, since its overall warehouse operation mode, and the application equipment management involved, are in fact quite a complicated matter.
We know that AB inbev Beer is mainly relies on its major production centers for storage, which are widely distributed across many wineries and sales centers throughout China. Currently, there are more than 30 logistics storage and distribution centers attached to the breweries, while there are nearly 20 regional distribution centers set up in the sales center. From an industry point of view, most of the storage operation equipment is still relatively traditional. Basically, mainly double-pallet/single-pallet forklifts are used for distribution and turnover; therefore, its efficiency is naturally relatively low.
Nevertheless, more automated distribution methods such as AGV, RGV and three-dimensional warehouses are also being explored to solve manpower shortage and low efficiency problems. It is for this reason that AB inbev Beer has begun to systematically diagnose the equipment operation management problems and optimization schemes in its own logistics storage, to try to solve the various management requirements of warehouse freight transportation.
In AB inbev’s eyes, beer is a fast-moving consumer product with low SKU number and a high flow rate. Hence, the use of forklift trucks in distribution is a key factor that must be considered. In this regard, Ran Zhu, Warehouse Engineering Manager of AB inbev Beer Asia Pacific Region, taking forklifts as an example, explained that in the finished product warehouse, the forklifts used are mainly those 4-ton electric forklifts with double stations, which can maximize the operation efficiency of single unit.
To be specific, in many warehouses, the operation efficiency of forklifts in the finished product warehouse can reach up to 60 pallets per hour. The use of electric forklifts ensures the cleanliness of the finished beer storage environment to the greatest extent, so as to ensure a perfect experience for consumers. In addition, in order to minimize the number of batteries used and reduce battery replacement times, we have started to try out lithium battery forklifts in several factories.
In the AB inbev Beer warehouse, we can see massive forklifts of various models. Some of them have even been used for more than ten years, but others are quite new. Some are using lithium batteries, and some are diesel models, showing the complicated "diversity" within the forklift ecosystem. The enormous number of forklifts used in storage and distribution is bound to pose challenges to the orderly operation of forklifts. Without installing a forklift management system, it is difficult to centrally optimize forklift management.
After all, it is by no means easy for headquarters to see the overall operation by simply visually managing how many forklifts are there in each factory, along with the models, brands, and service time, as well as service condition and frequency of use. These data can only be seen by browsing through sheets made quarterly or semi-annually, and the collection and summary of factory data throughout China. Moreover, graphical results can only be formed by professional statisticians after repeated reports and sorting, which requires a prolonged processing period, and thus is in complete hindsight.
Felix Dai, Logistics Director of AB inbev Beer’s Asia Pacific Region, spoke bluntly about the difficulties of management. Obviously, the optimized use of forklift resources used to rely more on the abilities of forklift supervisors in factories, and each factory’s management situation would vary to a great extent. This is a summary of our operation’s management pain points.
As we believe the first step is to begin looking at real-time data visualizations, we have started to explore a forklift management system that can be applied to all forklift models in the warehouse since 2017. Based on a systematic consideration of the management needs, technical difficulties and challenges of forklift operation, we look forward to finding a partner who shares our aspirations. Fortunately, and coincidentally, we learned in our initial pilot project that Teknect is an indirect partner.
However, as it is a new project and a new product development, there are many software and hardware components that need flexible modification, and since communication between these two areas is not that smooth, we have established direct contact with Teknect. At the beginning of 2019, during the launch of the project, the trend for overtime work was so strong that there were a huge number of bugs that needed fixing one by one.
As a result, we have established a profound and revolutionary friendship with the engineering team of Teknect; in addition, we have witnessed and recognized their professional services. Teknect is a small and sophisticated technology R&D company, and all their highly professional and systematic products are related to forklifts. Meanwhile, they attach equal importance to both the user’s experience and their needs. For AB inbev, Teknect is the very supplier that we are willing to cooperate with and seek win-win results.
As a developer of intelligent forklift management systems, much of Teknect's product design and R&D is achieved by collaborating with users. Its business philosophy is to consider the customer’s needs as the top priority, and to design the product in a way most customers would expect. No matter how challenging and difficult the design is, it should be continually developed and stuck to until it begins to create value for its users. It is with precisely such a concept that AB inbev and Teknect came together and successfully introduced FMS (the Forklift Management System Project).