"Amazing results with real impact for us and our clients"

How can we optimise our product pallets – preferably using automation? That was the challenge that Masters in General Management students Hannelore Houf and Charlotte De Vuyst – both supply chain newbies – took on for their in-company project at multinational Ontex. Good grades weren’t the only positive result of their efforts. “Our teams across various departments are now putting into practice the theoretical groundwork they laid over a two-month period.”

Ontex makes personal hygiene products. “Our products are typically low-value density products, such as nappies and sanitary towels: the value of a pallet of our products isn’t very high,” explains Noël Vranckx, Supply Chain Director at Ontex. “So it’s important to make optimum use of the configuration of each pallet.”

Complicated

And that’s more complicated than you might think. Noël: “Every client – often a retailer – has their own requirements when it comes to packaging, because that’s simply the way they stand out from the competition. So to load a pallet in the best possible way, you actually have to go back to the product development stage. That’s when you determine the size of the consumer packaging, the number of items and the way they’re packed in a box. Then there are the limitations of your warehouse infrastructure, modes of transport and ergonomic guidelines throughout your supply chain. And if you bear in mind that there are several thousand products in the Ontex range, you’ll understand that we have to have automated pallet packing to get the optimum result.” 

Vlerick graduate himself

Noël wholeheartedly welcomed the prospect of working with Vlerick students on this task. “The idea for an in-company project originally came from Lisa Verstraete, who coordinates Ontex’s successful Young Graduates Programme, an international internship scheme that provides opportunities to work at Ontex sites in various countries. I and many of my colleagues have a Vlerick background, so we were keen right from the start. (laughs) What’s more, the timing of the in-company project was ideal for us. As a company, you have to be willing to invest people and resources if you want this kind of project to pay dividends for everyone involved.”

‘Really welcome’

MGM students Hannelore Houf and Charlotte De Vuyst worked almost continuously at Ontex during May-June 2019. Hannelore: “We felt really welcome right from the word go. Ontex had already done an initial analysis, but we still spent the first couple of weeks observing and asking questions: what data is available? What knowledge is available? What are the possibilities?”

ontex in-company project

Broader scope

After completing their initial reconnaissance, Hannelore and Charlotte suggested broadening the scope. The supply chain project was then divided into two parts:

  • Setting up a data-driven packaging matrix to optimally load the pallets (Charlotte),
  • Developing an efficient pack tool that sales people could use in their contacts with clients (Hannelore). 
     

‘Practicable’

Together with their Ontex project sponsor, Yasmine Dewolf, the two students were able to generate a lot of enthusiasm for their project across different departments and sites. “We knew that our tools were practicable for Ontex,” says Charlotte. “And that they were definitely going to work with them. That was also a massive incentive for us to give it our best shot. We also had to make presentations to quite senior management. In that respect, it was a really challenging consultancy assignment.”

Impact

“Hannelore and Charlotte turned out to be two top students who exceeded our expectations,” Noël confirms. “Our teams are now busy putting into practice the theoretical groundwork they laid. The impact of their project is huge: they’ve managed to further optimise not only our own supply chain, but also that of our clients, in terms of both cost efficiency and sustainability. Because smarter loading of trucks means fewer trucks on the roads.” 

The impact of their project is huge: they’ve managed to further optimise not only our own supply chain, but also that of our clients, in terms of both cost efficiency and sustainability.
Noël Vranckx, Supply Chain Director at Ontex

No supply chain experience

For them to achieve such a result in such a short time, you would have to assume at least one of them has supply chain experience, surely? “Not at all,” says Hannelore. “The subject of the supply chain came up during our Masters classes, of course, but we were also able to draw on the expertise of our supervisor, Professor Brecht Cardoen.”

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