A thirst for automation speeds up success

When NZ Drinks decided to transform their business model, the Waikato beverage company chose Abel® ERP to fully automate its supply chain and drive the efficiency, integration and traceability required to succeed in the demanding retail grocery industry.

For Director Tony Vesper and Kyle Osborne, NZ Drinks began in 2010 with a clear vision – to provide pure New Zealand spring water that was natural, affordable and sustainably bottled. Tony and Kyle planned to carry out their vision by outsourcing all the bottling.

“We started initially as a marketing company, but after a few years and with the business established, the next step was to build our own bottling factory”.

Thinking big turned out to be a watershed moment. Built above an aquifer in Pokeno, the high-tech factory features a fully automated bottling line that can produce up to 220 million bottles of water a year in bottles they make themselves.  Most bottles are made from rPET (recycled plastic) – making NZ Drinks the leading bottled water producer in New Zealand. More significantly, since their new factory opened in 2016, the multimillion dollar company’s annual revenue has nearly tripled.

“Automation has been the key to our successful growth,” Kyle says. “It’s given us the efficiency and the cost and quality controls we need to thrive in a very competitive industry where there’s little margin for error.”

To achieve this scale of production and overall efficiency, NZ Drinks realized that, before the new factory started operating, they needed a more robust and flexible ERP system. After reviewing other systems, they chose Abel to streamline all the supply chain processes.

“Abel impressed us with their flexibility and reasonable pricing, but more importantly they understood our vision and our industry,” Kyle says. “We now have a powerful, reliable business management system that has not only automated our processes but has also seamlessly integrated them with those of our customers and vendors.”

At their new 3,500-square-metre facility, the signs of automation extend from the front door to the factory floor. Visitors use a lobby touch-screen to sign in and obtain a personalized barcoded badge while an instant notification of their arrival is sent to their host. Staff start and end their shifts by entering their personal ID code into an automated time-tracking touch screen.

The factory itself – the largest, fastest and most efficient water bottling facility in New Zealand – is a model of 21st Century productivity. The bottling line now operates virtually round the clock, producing the company’s Pure NZ brand of still and sparkling water, as well as private label manufacturing for some of New Zealand’s largest retail chains.

Every hour 27,500 preforms are blown into bottles, filled with spring water using hygienic stainless-steel equipment, and capped and labelled as they roll smoothly along conveyor belts. Robotic machines then shrink-wrap finished products and pack them into bar-coded pallets that are stored in racks until they’re loaded onto trucks for next-day delivery.

In the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, speed is essential for both production and meeting the exacting delivery expectations of customers.

Kyle says Abel’s end-to-end automation and integration of real-time information enables NZ Drinks to meet these supply chain challenges. Everything from customer orders and dispatches through to invoicing are linked by direct electronic data interchange (EDI) with customer and third-party logistics (3PL) vendors systems. All EDI processes are handled by Abel’s built-in EDI integrator, which manages the inbound and outbound electronic documents and messages, eliminating the need for manual inputs.

It all begins with detailed product forecasts by individual stores that drive precise forecast manufacturing and stock requirements, such as managing critical and varying lead times for preformed bottles, caps and other materials whether they’re coming from Auckland or Asia.

Production is scheduled and monitored using EDI links to the bottling line equipment. Once finished products are wrapped on bar-coded pallets, they’re scanned with handheld devices and moved, using EDI, by third-party logistics companies from the factory or storage depots across New Zealand. From the moment a customer places an order, no one needs to key in any data.

Abel’s barcode architecture also ensures that NZ Drinks meets the end-to-end traceability required in the food and beverage industry, enabling them to track dispatched products to a unique pallet identification number in the event of any quality or safety issue.

“We couldn’t run so efficiently and effectively without this scale of automation and EDI integration. This saves time on staff resources, avoids costly shortages and manual errors, and all but guarantees we can deliver what we promised exactly on time. For our business, that’s critical.”

With a new factory and all this automation, Kyle says NZ Drinks has no plans to slow down.  They’ve just finished a multi-million-dollar bottling-line upgrade to facilitate growth. They’re also planning to grow their export market and double their revenue over the next couple of years.

Kyle says Abel has also improved their back-office processes, from automated time-sheeting and accounts payable to financials and reporting. Thanks to a real-time business intelligence tool, Kyle and other senior managers can monitor critical KPI measures on an hourly, daily and monthly basis.

“We’re glad we chose Abel,” Kyle says. “They’ve worked closely with us to configure Abel to suit our business and this has helped us surpass our original vision. For a system of this complexity, it’s easy to use and intuitive. I can’t imagine there’s any more functionality we’ll need.”