A child is laying its hand in the hand of an adult

Ontex (Interview)

Ontex takes transport platform to a higher level

Ex-works shipments run a lot more smoothly than previously, due to the platform. There is a huge amount of communication connected with shipments.

Anthony D’Almagne 

For years now, Ontex has been using a transport platform to allocate orders and enable booking of time slots. As the requirements imposed on the platform grew, the solution in question had some difficulty keeping pace. That is why the producer of disposable articles for personal hygiene switched to the Transporeon transport platform. In addition to the dependable standard functionality, it offers a lot of extra features such as Rate Management and Surcharge Management, which helps to arrange transport orders even more smoothly.

Ontex manufactures and supplies disposable diapers and baby pants, tampons and panty liners to retailers and care institutions in no fewer than 110 countries. Besides its 17 production plants worldwide, Ontex has 25 sales & marketing sites and six R&D centres. The company has a total of 8,300 employees. The turnover of the company in 2016 was over two billion euro.

Two-third of the products are made to the specifications of retailers' own brands, often in response to innovative trends. Furthermore, Ontex produces a limited number of its own brands which are mainly known abroad, such as Moltex and Helen Harper. The market segments that Ontex is targeting are incontinence products for babies, women and older adults. Baby care products are mainly supplied in large quantities to large retailers, while feminine care products are sold in smaller volumes. Products in the adult care segment are supplied to retailers as well as these items also being delivered to consumers' homes. Anthony D’Almagne: "Just to make things completely clear: we only use our transport platform for palletized shipments, not for home deliveries. In addition, the focus of our transport platform is Western Europe, where we generate 53% of our sales. Unlike Eastern Europe and Russia - which are currently our major growth markets - the Western European market has more or less reached saturation, with virtually constant volumes. Since this year, we have been targeting the US too, following an acquisition in Mexico, which now accounts for 20% of our turnover.

"Besides transport from warehouses to customers, there are a lot of intercompany shipments within the Ontex organisation. That is because in Europe, many of the production plants specialize in a particular product. That means that pallets often have to be delivered from another site to assemble a complete shipment and set up efficient planning.

The department with overall responsibility for arranging transport is located in Buggenhout, Belgium. "We maintain the big picture and decide who is responsible for what within the network", Anthony D'Almagne explains. "So the knowledge about the network is located here. When it comes to purchasing and organization, we have more of a supporting role, and inter-company shipments are the only thing that we always handle. Of course, the everyday transport planning is done locally."


New platform to meet more requirements

The platform that Ontex used previously was already deployed within all production departments for communication with the transport companies and for booking time slots. "That platform did its job, for sure. But Ontex is growing fast, and what we need from the platform is growth too. We tried starting up a couple of projects with our previous supplier, but we had the feeling that they were never going to get off the ground", says Anthony D'Almagne. "So we started discussing with Transporeon again. During the previous selection process, we also had been in contact with them but at the time, they were not offering a web-based solution. Now they do. Transporeon also seemed to be able to offer a whole range of extras, which could take our platform to a higher level. It took about nine months from the first operational discussions with Transporeon until the go-live. "

During that time, we exchanged a lot of information with each other for an intensive five-month period. It was mainly Transporeon who asked for that, because they wanted to explore how we used our SAP system at various locations. Based on those analyses, we increased standardisation of certain transactions in SAP across various sites. At the same time, we coordinated all of that with Transporeon's procedures, to make sure that the overall system would remain consistent. Then we carried out tests for another month at Transporeon, and then we tested it for another two months at Ontex."

Due to the excellent preparation, the go-live went really smoothly. Furthermore, our employees were already familiar with working via a transport platform. For them, it was mainly a matter of getting used to the altered internal procedures within SAP. "We did have to draw the attention of our employees to the increased importance of the data input, because more fields in SAP are linked to Transporeon. But overall, the transition went very smoothly. We also deliberately opted for a 'big bang' and switched all sites to the new platform at the same time. Due to our inter-company shipments, it would have been tedious to have our sites going live at different times", says Maxim Sercu, Group Logistics Coordinator. "Two Transporeon project managers were also here on site when we went live, but with hindsight, that was not really necessary."


Smarter Rate Management

The new platform is used in the Benelux countries, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, the UK and Italy, at a total of 21 physical locations. Seven of those locations are Ontex production plants and fourteen are external warehouses. Currently, about 55,000 shipments are handled via Transporeon each year. At present, over sixty users are working with the Transporeon platform at Ontex.

In functional terms, not much has changed with the advent of Transporeon. Ontex chooses a carrier, which receives the order automatically and then books a time slot. However, a number of extra modules have been implemented. Ontex also uses Rate Management." We soon decided to use that module too, because we no longer had the feeling that our Rate Management could do any better. It is true that our SAP system does offer options in that regard, but for transport rates, we weren't completely satisfied", explains Anthony D'Almagne.

"With Rate Management, we can update our rates in a manageable way, with all the historic data. Furthermore, the system recognizes certain parameters as soon as we create a shipment, such as postcodes, truck type, name of the carrier, etc.", adds Maxim Sercu. "Based on those parameters, the rate is calculated automatically. With a few exceptions, we don't need to input rates manually any more, which reduces the risk of error. Last but not least we can very easily track the impact of diesel prices and road charging over a period of years. ”


Time Slot Management and more besides

Within the Transporeon Time Slot Management, Ontex also finds it convenient to use the 'Multi-booking' functionality, where multiple slots can be combined, for example when loading and booking at various loading locations or booking a slot for both loading and unloading. That was not possible within the previous platform.

Another module that Ontex has adopted within Time Slot Management is 'Surcharge Management'.

Maxim Sercu: "During a shipment, extra expenses can be incurred, such as waiting hours. Before, we did not really have a clear picture of the extra expenses that were being charged. Often it is hard to find out afterwards what caused those expenses. Now we ask the carrier to enter the extra expenses they have incurred on the platform, so that we can approve or reject them. Surcharge Management saves us a lot of detective work. Now it is easy for us to see if extra expenses are linked to a carrier or a loading or unloading location, and take any action if necessary."

Moreover, ex-works shipments run a lot more smoothly than previously, due to the platform. "There is a huge amount of communication connected with shipments. If we tell the customer when their goods are ready, we have to agree a collection time, exchange all the necessary information, etc.', says Anthony D'Almagne. "Using the 'light login' procedure, it is possible to make a connection for orders with carriers who aren't ours. In practice, we just press a button in SAP, and from then on, the system recognizes the ex-works customer. The customer automatically receives a message that the goods are ready and that he can fix a collection time via the link in the mail. They are able to book a slot and enter all the required details. For our employees, that means less manual input and it also makes the job of the warehouse workers easier. Moreover, they have proof in black and white if the agreed loading arrangements are not followed."


Switch to automatic allocation

Moreover, Ontex is already testing automatic allocation within the 'No Touch Order' module, where shipments can be allocated automatically to certain carriers. "Today, that knowledge for allocation of shipments is very localized. We would be happy to make the switch to 'No Touch Order', using the input in our Rate Management system as the basis. Rate Management enables us, for example, to designate a hierarchy of carriers", says Anthony D'Almagne. "We have to admit that some local staff were a bit reluctant to relinquish that responsibility. But many of them can see the advantages too, because we will be really able to cut back on the large number of local Excel files that we have to keep up to date. It is not a matter of cutting jobs, but rather of working more efficiently with the same manpower."

At present, 91 Ontex carriers are linked to the platform. "Over three-quarters of our carriers already had an account with Transporeon for other customers, so the switch to a different platform was not really a problem. Particularly as we were already working via a platform before, sometimes carriers do not appreciate the benefits immediately, especially as they themselves only use a limited part of the functionality. Although we did inform our carriers a long time in advance about what was going to happen, nevertheless ... The switch from a manual system to a more automated way of working was probably easier to justify. "In addition, now we are asking our carriers to indicate proactively in the system if they know that they will arrive late. That is not happening smoothly enough yet. This is a process where we have to remind people regularly how important it is."

Looking to the future, Ontex is considering optimising the transport planning of raw materials with the help of Transporeon. 'The inbound goods flow that we collect from suppliers is under our own control. But of course, a lot of suppliers deliver to us. What we would like to know from them is when we can expect those shipments, the details of the carrier, etc. From the technical viewpoint, the setup would be rather different, because we would be dealing with different product references in SAP. We will have to examine how to integrate our various processes for generating PO’s. We want to examine the options for dealing with that flow of shipments more efficiently", says Anthony D'Almagne. "In addition, we want to study whether it makes sense to widen the geographical area where we use Transporeon."

Irrespective of future developments, Ontex is already very satisfied with the benefits that Transporeon offers today in comparison with the previous situation. "This platform offers us the extra functionality, the visibility and user-friendliness that we wanted", Anthony D'Almagne concludes. "Furthermore, Transporeon is prepared to make a lot of customer-specific changes at our request. If we ask for something, then a proposal is on the table within a couple of days. We really appreciate that. We also notice that Transporeon is keeping track on how the market is developing. That is very reassuring in a fast-changing market."