Logistics Legacy

My father was a “logistician” and “supply chain professional” but never knew it – for those terminologies weren’t used then!

During World War 2 Dad served in the British Army and in 1941 was appointed Director of Printing & Stationery Allied Forces, Middle East, based in Cairo.

This was an important and challenging role — with responsibility incorporating planning, hands-on managing, and arranging of instant stock (JIT) availability.

There were many varieties of line items and large volumes of hard copy forms, in various languages; resulting particularly from government red tape, security, and non existence of computers.

Associated items and equipment had also to be procured, manufactured, stored and be delivered to Commonwealth, American and Allied Forces in that part of the world.

His foremost challenge was the design, building, fit-out and commissioning of a large warehouse/distribution complex.

Building materials were in short supply and the finished structure needed top security, with ability to withstand dive bombing.

Dad decided to scoop out a very large hole from the desert, and mix the excavated sand with cement and water to enable construction of the building, pallet racking and shelving (non adjustable) in concrete.

It was an original design, with lineal storage extending over several miles – quite an achievement!

When returning to London, my father worked with the War Office and subsequently the Ministry of Supply.

Among his responsibilities was the providing of paint for the armed services which involved setting of specifications, evaluating tenders, awarding contracts, testing of samples / manufacturing to rigorous standards and delivery to the Army, Navy and Air Force on time.

Each forces requirement differing tremendously – ranging from camouflage, resistance to salt water corrosion, heat tolerance, etc., and quantities were vast.

Maximum paint coverage was further more of considerable importance.

Ticker tape machines operating 24 hours, 7 days a week, relaying secure information was modern technology then.

Upon leaving college in 1960 I followed in Dad’s footsteps, to some extent, by commencing a career with the New Zealand High Commissioner’s Office in London.

Wishing to travel the world and with job offers from French and other European governments this was my decided choice.

As a Purchasing Assistant, the job entailed progressing orders for government departments in “The Land of the Long White Cloud”, with vast total needs, from sewing needles, for the Health Dept; to earth moving plant for the Ministry of Works; to frigates for the Navy; etc.

During this period, it was a privilege, as part of official inspection delegations, to go on board two new frigates in the Pool of London, prior to hand over to the New Zealand Navy.

After a couple of years, having received Purchasing Officer status, a transfer to The Ministry of Works, Stores Board Head Office, in Wellington eventuated.

This job included responding to mail from England and for some time that meant my own!

The previous fellow in that role was in turn seconded to the High Commissioners Office in London, in my old position, and hence an interesting friendship was established.

In 1971 becoming a Sales Engineer I joined Hamilton Perry Industries, the NZ Licensee and manufacturer of Dexion’s range of products, their main lines being adjustable pallet racking, shelving and small parts plastic storage containers.

This was my launch pad in the materials handling industry, as it was then termed, and after a short period was appointed Regional / Wellington Branch Manager.

These were very buoyant times and during 1973, in association with another ex Hamilton Perry employee, formed SHD (Storage Handling Design); a materials handling equipment provider offering an extensive portfolio of best value purpose designed materials handling kit.

The product was sourced from all around the world, and was promoted with the aid of a comprehensive easy to use, 100 pages plus, free mail order catalogue.

In parallel a complimentary supply chain consultancy service was established.

In conjunction these organisations offered total turn-key service in the study, evaluation, design and supply of complete storage & materials handling systems.

Top professionals were employed, including independent consultants, to promote, conduct business, and partner with clients.

SHD’s first contract was awarded by the Union Steamship Company, part of P & O Group, with whom business had been conducted previously.

This was followed by: Air New Zealand; NAC (National Airlines Corporation); Then New Zealand Egg & Poultry Board, for whom SHD designed and provided an extensive roll pallet system (1st in the southern hemisphere), which were used throughout the countries rail and trucking operations from farm to shop floor.

The contract also incorporated vehicle load restraints, tail lifts, and dock levelers.

This project was a huge accomplishment, cutting down on handling, reducing breakages dramatically, stopping pilferage, saving considerable time – resulting in product freshness on the shop floor; and the roll pallets serving as mobile shelving modules within supermarkets, thereby providing a prompt return on investment.

Further success came with EMI Records and a specifically designed live storage open box order picking facility.

Also AWL (Associated Wholesalers Ltd) – an early high bay distribution centre, plus Foodstuffs (the Four Square Group).

Then the largest contract of its type: Government Printing Office.

This major turn-key project had similarities to my father’s WW2 Distribution Centre challenge.

By providing consultancy submissions SHD were appointed to design, fit – out and move Government Print’s operations into new purpose designed facilities, 100 miles North of Wellington, incorporating its own rail way track coming into the complex.

The Government Print and AWL assignment had some of the first narrow aisle man rise order picking machines and turret truck fork lift operations in Australasia.

SHD grew rapidly – success building upon success – expanding throughout NZ and into Australia.

Some suppliers however couldn’t keep up with the demand SHD were creating and hence two manufacturers joined the group.

Production of pallet racking and shelving, under license to Colby Engineering (now Dematic) eventuated, and continues today in one of the manufacturers’ factories.

Roll Pallets, plus government assisted development in designing and producing Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (ASRS) – similar to the “Litton Mole” (considerably ahead of it’s time) – handling unit loads within integral high rise storage silos, were pioneered in the second factory.

In 1978 SHD, through becoming further stretched in resources, was sold to a financial business entrepreneur.

And then after two years in Australia, involving working with Colby Engineering, I returned to England and joined Linvar, inventors of “Linbins” semi-open fronted polypropylene plastic storage containers – a household name in the materials handling industry in the UK, and to a lesser extent Europe at the time.

SHD had previously been awarded manufacturing rights for “Linbins” and associated equipment in Australasia. Production however hadn’t commenced.

Linbins were primarily designed for locating upon louvered panels, rather that shelving, to save space and give maximum flexibility.

Just prior to joining Linvar there had been a large fire at British Aerospace’s Weybridge premises.

It was a catastrophe for the complete warehouse stock, valued at untold millions of pounds was lost, including “priceless R & D specials”.

Fire fighters were able to get near the inferno due to thick black toxic smoke and fumes from thousands of plastic storage containers melting and catching fire.

As a result Linvar developed a range of fire retardant “Linbins” (orange coloured polypropylene) and captured this newly formed market — insurance premiums becoming considerably less than when using any other storage method.

Linvar were probably the first also to develop static sensitive containers (black coloured polypropylene), for the electronics industry, capturing another big chunk of this new industries requirements.

Linvar, part of the Marwin Group of companies, had an excellent client base including, as just mentioned British Aerospace; plus Rolls Royce, GEC, Marconi, Plessey, Racal, etc. etc.

The Marwin Group further more designed and manufactured CNC machines, and other sophisticated high tech equipment, holding many world patents for clever engineering inventions.

The Group and Linvar in particular were going places.

Shortly after joining Linvar the company decided to enter the world of semi-automated storage and retrieval systems, already enjoyed by leading European manufacturers who tended to call their vertical carousels Paternosters (nearer to God!).

A number of competitors’ machines were already in use within Marwin Groups’ customer base, operated by quite basic controls.

Taking the bull by the horns Linvar purchased a number of foreign manufactured carousels and tested these vigorously in their R & D dept, and at clients’ premises.

Linvar evaluated this equipment and digested feed back from users/potential users.

Over a reasonably short period, being well prepared and possessing excellent resources, we developed a range of semi-automated vertical storage carousels – “Linpics”.

These state of the art machines incorporated greatly superior controls, using specifically designed on board computers, and visual display monitors, rather than just simple microprocessors.

We interfaced Linpics to main frames enabling batch loads of pick lists to be dumped directly down to the work place.

These real-time revolutionary machines had on-board stock control facilities, which could provide multiple dynamic locations, and FIFO (First in, First out) stock rotation; pick and place location identification, plus odometers to ensure servicing was carried out at regular intervals.

It was now possible to multi-task, with one operator controlling a number of these machines simultaneously.

Paperless picking and replenishment was born — an average of less than 10 seconds per line item picked commonly experienced by many blue chip users.

Bar code readers confirmed correct items were picked and replenished.

Linvar took the British market by storm and grew automated materials handling systems use dramatically. Linvar continued expanding, extending manufacture into America; and by appointing agents in Europe and other parts of the globe.

This included Brown Built being appointed as agents in Australia, who then sold Linpics to power stations and other early users.

I’m proud to have been involved in selling and project managing many Linpic installations, including what was at the time, and may still be, the world’s largest: STC (Standard Telephone & Cable) at Harlow in Essex.

This installation comprised 60 large Linpics; all located under one roof, in their new European Spare Parts Distribution Centre, operating 24/7.

Linvars’ first Horizontal Carousels were also commissioned there.

Other memorable installations include on-line manufacture, with stock carried within production cells — the ultimate accomplished being Marconi Underwater Systems who purchased 60+ Linpics, over a number of locations, and actually stored finished product therein — Stingray Torpedoes!

Apart from carousels Linvar pioneered by developing ASRS for larger items, contained in high bay racking modules, serviced by robots.

Linvar continued to grow and prosper by taking over another specialist materials handling equipment manufacturer.

Marwin Groups’ shares were amongst the best in the UK according to top financial advisors, such as Adam Faith (ex 60’s rock ‘n’ roll singer) who highly recommended us due to our successes and innovation.

This however was the time of reverse takeovers and that’s what happened – Linvar became part of a smaller organisation and changed hands again shortly afterwards, whilst being asset stripped along the way.

A real shame for such a wonderfully dynamic forward thinking company!

For Christmas 1992 my wife and I holidayed back in NZ visiting friends and relatives.

Whilst there an unexpected offer was received from a past manufacture of SHD’s equipment and within a matter of weeks we returned to live.

With me came the marketing rights for Linpics in Australasia, and over a couple of years a considerable number of installations were achieved — several customers having already been aware of their associated organisations and associates using Linpics in Europe.

In 1997 VCA (Vertical Carousels of Australia), who began manufacturing their own systems in Australia a few years earlier, became aware of Linpic installations occurring right under their noses and consequently approached me with the view to joining them.

This offer happened to coincide with the Linpic manufacturing rights acquisition by a UK competitor, effectively cutting off my supply route.

Shortly after becoming part of VCA’s team the company was acquired by Kardex, a Swiss / German manufacturer, resulting in my transfer to Sydney to set up improved sales operations.

The company continues today as Kardex VCA.

Ten years ago, whilst on annual leave, at my original SHD business partners’ scenic abode in Queensland, my arm was twisted to join AAAI (Aust Asia Appointments International) an executive recruitment agency.

This was undertaken in partnership shortly after in the name of AAAI Logistics.

I wished to give back some contribution to the industry that had provided a terrific career.

Over these last ten years I’ve enjoyed partnering with many logistics and supply chain organisations, both large and small — some previously competitors – in finding and securing the best executive professionals to do the job.

I’ve thoroughly relished some 48 years experience in materials handling, logistics & the supply chain, and being part of tremendous changes.

These changes range from being the only store man remembering where the XYZ’s are stored (through memory alone), to using of visible tray records systems and bin cards, through to Kanban, paperless systems, bar coding, RF (radio frequency) methods; JIT (Just in Time); JIC (Just in Case), and “Golden Stock” as used by IBM.

Gone are the days when unions dictated which systems and practices would be adopted; where the warehouse was the poor forgotten department of companies.

Logistics / the supply chain are now recognised as a science, and there are several formal qualifications available for our profession.

Today logistics / the supply chain, offers a challenging future for those wishing to carve an interesting, and rewarding, career.

My wife and I are shortly returning to England to be amongst family and old pals, to enjoy the next phase in life.

It has been wonderful making so many friends and conducting such good business during this extensive career.

My very sincere thanks go to clients and candidates alike; and of course the Logistics Association of Australia Ltd.

I wish you, and the industry as a whole, all the very best for the ever evolving and challenging future.

Remember: Good business is very much people related.

If you have the best products but don’t employ the right staff then your company will not succeed.

If you employ the best people, with average products, the company shall get by; however combine top people with top products that company’s success will exceed all expectations in leaps and bounds.

Roger H. Dunn

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