An economic powerhouse, Singapore has made great strides since the state gained independence in 1965. Fast forward 52 years, the Republic’s economy continues to prosper under its government’s careful planning and the various regional trade agreements set in place, amongst other things. With these factors for growth, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – which make up more than 99 per cent of local enterprises and generate half of the country’s total GDP – are better able to leverage on available opportunities to expand their businesses.
Lian Hock Hardware Pte Ltd (Lian Hock) is one SME that has flourished together with Singapore. Established in 1976, Lian Hock started with humble beginnings of repairing worn-out items, such as typewriters and shoes. Mr Koh Chuan Poh, Managing Director at Lian Hock, shared, “It was a different time back then. We were not as highly educated as this generation, and we relied heavily on our creativity and our bare hands to make a living. Everything we handled – orders, storage, or packing – was done manually. We never gave up even when times were tough.”
Climbing to new heights
Over the years, Lian Hock evolved as a business, and eventually established itself as a hardware provider for the marine, chemical, engineering, and construction industries. It was Mr Koh’s ‘can-do’ attitude that led him to independently invest in a brand-new warehouse building at Soon Lee Road in the West of Singapore. In addition to a warehouse that spans eight floors, Lian Hock’s new facility will incorporate offices, a food court, swimming pool, gym, and a training centre for tools and machinery workshops.
At first glance, the untrained eye may completely miss the warehouse, as the design of Lian Hock’s new facility is not what one would expect of a traditional warehouse building. Mr Koh wanted to build an artistic, aesthetically pleasing storage facility as he hoped to change people’s perception of warehouses.
It may come as a surprise, but despite the company’s success over the years, Lian Hock did not have a storage and inventory system in place. In many ways, Mr Koh has always been the ‘key’ to the hardware business as inventory details are logged in his memory, and he had never relied on records to keep track of inventory movement.
Mr Koh explained, “Perhaps it is out of habit, but I’ve managed the business manually since it was established. Although memorising the inventory stock list has become second nature to me, I recognise that we need to change our ways to retain our edge in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. The new building represents Lian Hock’s desire to keep up with the changing times, and one of our immediate priorities was to find a sustainable method to support our inventory and storage operations.”
A Game Changer
Although Lian Hock did not apply for subsidies for its new facility, Mr Koh was inspired by the various initiatives introduced by the Singapore government which urged SMEs to invest in innovative technologies to be more competitive. After learning about the advantages of automated warehousing technologies, Mr Koh was encouraged to explore advanced storage systems for his new warehouse.
Despite his interest, Mr Koh found it challenging to source for a suitable logistics provider that could accommodate a large number of stock keeping units (SKU) and tailor automated solutions for a relatively small warehouse like his. Although Mr Koh orders hardware components from different global providers, Lian Hock’s inventory volumes could not compare to that of a multinational corporation’s, and many of the logistics providers that Mr Koh first met with were in the business of designing warehouses to support storage operations of a larger scale. Eventually, a mutual business associate introduced Lian Hock to Consoveyo.
Mr Koh recalled a most positive first meeting with Consoveyo, “The main factors that encouraged us to engage Consoveyo was their expertise in working with warehouses of different scales and its top-of-the-line warehousing technologies. Since we were new to the idea of automation, it was especially beneficial for us to work with a global provider that could tailor an automated warehouse just for us.”
For Lian Hock’s new warehouse, Consoveyo recommended its automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS) solution, featuring an aisle switching crane technology, and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) system. The ASRS’s higher level control, also known as its Warehouse Management System (WMS), provides operators with real-time information of inventory movement and data, so they can be aware of what goes on within their warehouse. This can reduce the need for inventory stock take and inspections, increasing overall throughput and efficiency.
A notable feature of the pallet ASRS is the system’s ability to maximise vertical space and to minimise its footprint. High bay warehouses often employ ASRS solutions to reach great heights and make full use of available space. However, as Lian Hock’s warehouse has a maximum height capacity of 13.5 metres, and an odd-sized floor area, the ASRS was employed in a different manner. Making full use of aisle switching technology, the ASRS solution was able to transform the small area that was otherwise not recommended for warehouse use, into usable space.
Designed to house 1,605 pallet locations, the warehouse’s aisle switching technology also enables two pallet stacker cranes to access all aisles, offering higher levels of efficiencies. The technology also helps to reduce operational costs, and maintain selectivity in an automated facility as each crane can service more than one aisle.
Another benefit of this aisle switching technology is its ability to speed up equipment recovery and support preventive maintenance. The technology is programmed to ensure a high level of reliability, carry out equipment breakdown recovery, and regularly support preventive maintenance with minimal disturbance to the warehouse. In times of breakdown, each crane can service multiple aisles to safeguard warehouse continuity and redundancy, further attributing value to the customer.
Lian Hock also commissioned Consoveyo to customise a mini load ASRS specifically for bins and boxes to store hardware equipment of smaller sizes. Meant for small item order picking, and measuring just six metres in height, the mini load’s stacker cranes service over 1,644 storage bin locations and mirror the larger pallet cranes in execution. Separately, Lian Hock also requested for RFID system integration to monitor the inflow and outflow of pallets. With RFID tags and gantry, Lian Hock is better equipped to improve warehouse security and manage product traceability.
Mr Lorentzen explained, “As this is Lian Hock’s first automated solution, we wanted to make the system as user-friendly as possible, so we worked closely with Mr Koh to fulfil Lian Hock’s requirements. Each technology was carefully considered before it was integrated into the overall warehouse design, and we are confident that our solutions will make a positive difference to Lian Hock’s storage operations.”
“SMEs are capable of automating their processes too”
With Lian Hock’s new automated warehouse, Mr Koh hopes to inspire other SMEs to do the same. He advocates investing in automation, so that businesses can maintain their competitive edge while reducing labour costs, and promoting increased productivity. At the same time, he strongly believes that keeping up with the times and having advanced solutions are crucial for SMEs to generate market interest, reduce labourintensive and mundane tasks, and attract and retain younger talent. He quipped, “Logistics can be fun too, and SMEs are capable of automating their processes,” just as MNCs can.