When The Cooper Companies completes its most recent acquisition, its CooperVision unit will become the world's third-largest contact lens manufacturer and perhaps the fastest growing. In 2002, CooperVision's purchase of Biocompatibles Eyecare added $56m to revenue and the acquisition of Ocular Sciences, to be completed this quarter, will be worth an additional $345m. When added to CooperVision's $385m in sales (based on 2004 estimates), this transaction will nearly double the vision-care company's operations.
While growing in size, the Fairport, N.Y.-based CooperVision also is expanding in scope, both geographically and from a product standpoint. The Ocular acquisition, in particular, will add contact lens lines that complement CooperVision's line of specialty lenses, making the combined entity competitive in all major contact lens product categories. It also will expand the company's presence outside North America, with Ocular's strength in Japan, the Asia Pacific region and Germany augmenting CooperVision's presence in Britain, France, Italy and Spain.
To accommodate this growth-and to support CooperVision's commitment to superior customer service-the company needed to upgrade its ability to fill and deliver both domestic and international customer orders. "We embarked on a multimillion-dollar capital expansion program last year," says Joe Stannard, vice president of logistics. "And that was before we even knew about this latest acquisition."
Elements of the new solution include a voice-picking system from Voxware, Princeton, N.J.; a multi-station picking and packing system from Kewill Systems, Marlborough, Mass.; and a high-speed sorter from GBI Sorting Systems, Deerfield, Fla. CooperVision also doubled the size of its primary distribution center in Rochester, N.Y., where a Baan enterprise system provides warehousing and order processing functionality.
CooperVision partnered with Warehouse Management Consultants, Portsmouth, N.H., to help manage the upgrade and to identify leaders in various technologies, says Stannard. After putting out requests for information and then requests for proposals, Stannard made numerous site visits. "I have been to at least 50 different DCs over the last 18 months looking at various types of automation," he says. Final selection decisions were made by a logistics executive committee that included staff from several departments at CooperVision as well as the consultant. Stannard headed the team. "Our decisions were based on a long list of criteria and on an intensive evaluation of the proposals," he says.
Voice picking was the first technology that CooperVision implemented. Contact lenses are particularly well suited to this technology, Stannard says, because every order must be "each" picked. Accuracy is tantamount since each contact lens must match an individual's prescription for vision correction and eye curvature.
The Voxware solution, called VoiceLogistics, is based on a new generation of voice technology that is more vocabulary-rich and user-friendly than earlier versions, says Steve Gerrard, vice president of marketing for Voxware. Based on 802.11 broadband radio frequency, he says VoiceLogistics "allows workers to capitalize on a constant, two-way communications channel." This enables them to immediately communicate exceptions and to deal with unexpected situations, such as an aisle being blocked, he says.
At CooperVision voice picking is used for faster moving items, which are stored in 28-feet-high, gravity-fed racks. The picking area is at eye level and workers pick orders into rolling carts. Before VoiceLogistics was installed, Stannard says, lenses were stored by brand, whose locations had to be memorized by the pickers. To find the correct lens, workers had to get to the right area and then read a series of small numbers denoting the lens prescription. This is typically three separate digits but in the case of CooperVision's toric lens, which corrects astigmatism, a fourth number is added. "All the boxes look alike, so they had to read these numbers carefully to be sure they were getting the right lens," says Stannard. "Now it is much easier."
|"This is a leap-frog technology for us. It puts us ahead in efficiency and output for years to come."|
- Joe Spannard of CooperVision
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