Rob Brown and Mike Grimshaw of Vickers Laboratories share a case study in the implementation of a business IT system.

Vickers Laboratories is a family-owned, UK-based company, making a wide range of chemicals for markets including primary and secondary education and pharmaceuticals, plus specialist niches like monitoring, measuring and contact lenses. Due to some products being classified as dangerous goods, the company has to work in a highly regulated environment and its IT system has to conform to this.

Vickers’s business essentially falls into two key areas. Goods are either purchased in bulk then broken down, repackaged into smaller amounts and sold on, either as own brand or third party, or they are purchased, mixed to form new products and then packaged into the required sizes.

Whilst the company only deals with an average of 30-40 orders/day, it has a product range of 2,500+ and over 6,000 stock-keeping units. Moreover, orders may range from a 10 ml bottle to a 1,000 litres batch with raw materials being supplied in sizes from 0.01 gm to tonnes.

The hazardous nature of many of these chemicals means that different products need to be stored in specific ways to comply with ever changing regulations. Varying shelf lives add to the complexity, as do lead times for certain chemicals where there may only be one or two suppliers worldwide.

This complexity extends to an otherwise straightforward manufacturing process. With the exception of product(s) for contact lenses, manufacturing involves literally mixing the required chemicals in the appropriate way in any of the different sized mixing vessels, then testing the end product and adjusting accordingly where necessary. Once complete, the finished goods are then packed to customer specifications and dispatched. 70% of all products are make-to-stock but, given the nature of the finished goods, most products are actually dispatched within a week of manufacture.

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