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IMCD

Automation pays dividends


Elaine Burridge talks to IMCDs Stan Bijsterveld on how centralising and automating its distribution system offers greater exibility for itself and its customers
Innovation is a constantly evolving process at pan-European distributor IMCD. As the distribution sector grapples with increasingly exacting requirements from both suppliers and customers, companies need to stay on their toes to fulfil sometimes opposing demands. Stan Bijsterveld, IMCDs manager, supply chain Europe, says that distributors have to be more flexible in their handling capacity, coping with both small parcels of just 1kg right up to bulk container loads. Suppliers are starting to demand larger lot sizes, while customers want smaller lots and shorter lead times. To reconcile these is a major challenge, says Bijsterveld. of service providers, which has allowed the implementation of track and trace and electronic data interchange (EDI) and which has had a major impact on business efficiency. Complying with different fiscal and regulatory regimes in each country had to be a primary consideration. As Bijsterveld explains: The penalties from customs authorities are huge if documents are not returned in time and it took many meetings with customs officials to map out what was required.

NEW INFRASTRUCTURE
The new infrastructure has enabled transparency to improve up and down the value chain. Both upstream and downstream, we want the same degree of priority and effectiveness, Bijsterveld says. The company has also rolled out a robust three-point emergency response plan across Europe. The procedure is implemented and audited throughout the IMCD Group and, following recent acquisitions, is now in the course of being implemented in South Africa too. A robust investment in an automated sampling system with track and trace capabilities is an integral part of IMCDs development and is closely linked with the strategically placed application laboratories. A major part of IMCDs business is sending out samples to prospective customers and the new system monitors the entire flow of information from how many samples have been sent out, to whom, feedback, success rate, right through to full orders. This also means that IMCDs supply partners are kept fully informed of IMCDs development activities, providing them with an informed view of market and geographic performance. It has also enabled IMCD to focus even more on technical development and growth of the business. We are spending lots of money on our infrastructure and this has resulted in the growth of our supply partners, comments Bijsterveld. Although the automated system is in place, that doesnt mean the innovation stops. Every little change, from a change in volumes to a new supplier, needs to be incorporated. Bijsterveld says that IMCDs supply chain is constantly being re-engineered to improve process efficiency.
IMCD

Suppliers are starting to demand larger lot sizes, while customers want smaller lots and shorter lead times. To reconcile these is a major challenge
Stan Bijsterveld, supply chain Europe manager, IMCD

Foreseeing these challenges, two years ago IMCD centralised its supply chain coordination in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, allowing a European focus to optimise its local logistics and warehousing operations. Not surprisingly, making the move to a centralised distribution system did not come without some challenges itself. The implementation of an automated infrastructure in a multi-country organisation, which has local warehouses in each operating country and multiple facilities in some, required careful and meticulous planning. As IMCD can cover all customer volume requirements, it has increasingly developed an infrastructure to repack, thus allowing greater flexibility and business simplification to both the customer and supply partner.

DRUMMING OPERATIONS
IMCD outsources its drumming operations to a few carefully selected supply chain partners and also has its own technical staff on site to monitor product quality, a capability that Bijsterveld believes differentiates IMCD from its competitors. IMCD has also consolidated its number

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An ICIS Chemical Business supplement | June 2008