The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused supply chain disruptions across industries, but demand for e-commerce increased. Retailers and logistics services rushed to handle the shift in consumer expectations and position themselves for growth.
One supply chain leader, Wiptec, based in Sherbrooke, Quebec, addressed its need to scale with the creation of a third distribution center. The result was a new $150 million, 1.7 million-square-foot, state-of-the-art distribution center in Longueuil, Quebec; however, the process of reaching their goal required the right team and technology.
Wiptec needed a strong network foundation to support its applications, such as robotics and HD video. The company opted for an Aruba Edge Service Platform network and hired CPU, a channel partner, to design, deploy and maintain the new infrastructure. Wiptec had to find the right vendor and service provider, but the change was so successful that the logistics specialist said it might eventually upgrade its two other facilities.
A growing logistics business
Founded in 2002 and with 1,000 associates, Wiptec likes to stay busy. The logistics supplier manages 85 million parcels annually at two facilities. The company provides pick, pack and ship services. Every day, personnel prepare and ship hundreds of thousands of products from an inventory with more than 250,000 different SKUs in warehouses that span more than 2,300,000 square feet. The company provides fulfillment services for suppliers ranging from small boutiques to big-box retailers in both the B2B and B2C markets.
With its software technology, LEAD warehouse management system, Wiptec takes on logistical features for many customers. It offers comprehensive, integrated and strategic capabilities including assembling activities, kitting, inventory management, process engineering, shipping and support.
Business had been booming, so the company needed a third facility. By deploying advanced equipment, it expected to automate much of its operations, move product more efficiently and create frictionless experiences for its customers. The COVID-19 pandemic hit and accelerated e-commerce demand, increasing the need for technology solutions to reliably automate processes while minimizing downtime, optimizing labor utilization and increasing order fulfillment accuracy.
Looking for a network provider
Wiptec desired a network solution that simplified deployment of access points, offered proactive network management and scaled to meet its future needs. In the spring of 2021, Wiptec issued a formal request for proposal to a handful of leading network equipment suppliers, including Aruba.
Aruba called in CPU, which has been in business for more than 40 years. The partner, which has about 300 employees, focuses on large-scale deployments and delivers turnkey solutions, handling all phases of a project including design, deployment and ongoing maintenance.
The twosome's bid won for several reasons.
"We invested a lot in training our technicians, so we have a very experienced team, one capable of handling large complex deployments," explained Stéphan Wener, executive vice president at IT service provider CPU. Customer service is another differentiator. CPU provides Level 1 and Level 2 IT support in French for all of its Quebec customers. They also have a dedicated support representative for each account.
After evaluating the bids, Wiptec selected Aruba Edge Service Platform network, with Wi-Fi 6 indoor access points, outdoor access points, access switches and Aruba Central for network management. The simplicity of deploying the access points and switches, the management capabilities and the price were all factors in the decision.
The project had a tight turnaround: The infrastructure had to be installed in less than a few months. "We wanted to be sure that we had the warehouse up and running before Black Friday," explained Martin Ball, president and CEO at Wiptec.
Stéphan WenerExecutive vice president at CPU
Getting the warehouse built created logistics problems.
"Given the variety of activities occurring in the warehouse, we wanted to minimize the time that we spent on site," explained CPU's Wener. "So, we did a lot of staging of the equipment at our offices. When we came to the site, the systems were ready for deployment."
Product availability was another issue. Supply chain confusion and microprocessor shortages made it difficult to ensure that equipment would be available when needed.
"We ran into some problems with our robotic equipment, but the network and our servers, which came from Dell, were delivered on time," Ball said.
Improving the business
The company started to bring its applications online in the summer and had it ready before Black Friday. The network connects more than 10,000 networked devices that support inventory tracking, security and lighting, such as barcode and RFID scanners, mobile computers, wearables, video displays, surveillance cameras, robots and automated guided vehicles.
The network rollout went smoothly, and the system provides important new functions.
"We wanted to move to a paperless operation to improve efficiency," Ball said. "The level of automation available enables us to do more with less."
Video displays throughout the facility show employees the status of each item in real time, as well as the number of orders in the system. Employees can then take steps if a problem arises.
In this logistics environment, resiliency is important. Thousands of employees constantly make requests to the corporate database and require a fast, available network. The Aruba network promises to deliver unprecedented uptime and flexibility.
"An e-commerce customer may ship 10,000 items one day and 50,000 the next day, and our network accommodates such changes," Ball said.
Based on the new system's success, Ball said the company may eventually upgrade its two warehouse locations to similar configurations.
Wiptec relies on technology to provide its customers with turnkey logistics services. Aruba and CPU deployed a strong wireless network foundation and the change helped Wiptec weather business fluctuations and position it for future growth.