Major UK tile company joins up with Aston University to digitise for the future

Major UK tile company joins up with Aston University to digitise for the future

April 10, 20243 min read

  • Shropshire-based Craven Dunnill has been in business for over 150 years
  • The company will work with the University through a Management Knowledge Transfer Partnership (mKTP)
  • It will streamline and digitise its warehouse processes and practices as part of a long-term growth plan.

The UK’s longest-operating manufacturer, supplier and importer of ceramic tiles has joined forces with Aston University in a Management Knowledge Transfer Partnership (mKTP).

Shropshire-based Craven Dunnill, which has been in business for over 150 years, has a large and complex supply chain, both of finished tiles and of the raw materials for manufacturing. Its customers are consumers, merchants, property developers, bathroom and kitchen retailers, in addition to architectural and building communities.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. Aston University is a sector leading KTP provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as very good or outstanding by Innovate UK, the national body. An mKTP focuses specifically on increasing effectiveness and improving results through better management practices.

The company wants to fully streamline and digitise its processes and practices, including ordering, purchasing, stock and warehouse management, as well as delivery planning and sales tracking. It would also see the company’s different business divisions integrated.

Developing an accurate real-time warehouse management system is a key part of the project as, currently, different production batches vary slightly in colour and size, making it crucial not to mix them when fulfilling orders.

The company is working with Aston University’s Professor Ben Clegg and Dr Gajanan Panchal (academic lead and supervisor) from Aston Business School. Professor Clegg, a professor of operations management, has pioneered a successful methodology called Process Oriented Holonic Modelling (PrOH Modelling), a way of fully engaging employees in organisational change using systems modelling and storyboarding, that will be used to help Craven Dunnill’s employees to guide and implement new processes. Dr Panchal specialises in logistics and supply chain management, including warehouse management and optimisation. He uses a variety of approaches to comprehend and analyse problems with warehousing operations.

Completing the team in the KTP associate position is Dr Olanrewaju Sanda, who has started analysing the issues in the warehouse including the data around inventory accuracy and stock selection. Working closely with management and the Aston University team, he will digitalise operational systems. Part of this will include building a digital dashboard to represent the factory and move it towards a ‘digital twin’.

Simon Howells, CEO of Craven Dunnill, said:

“Although the mKTP is for two years, we don’t see it as a finite project. It will improve our pace of change and our developmental dynamism. Our supply chains and processes are complex, and we know getting the best advice and expertise is going to be really crucial for the long-term growth of the company.”

Professor Ben Clegg said:

“We’ve been using the PrOH modelling approach in various forms for several research projects. The more people we can involve, the more successful the project tends to be. I think the company was interested in our unique combination of our knowledge of digital technologies, logistics and our expertise in organisational change.”

Olanrewaju Sanda said:

“The warehouse is the heartbeat of the company – everything flows in and out of there. If we can solve the high-level problems at the warehouse, it will trickle down to everything else and leave the company in the best possible position for the future.”

Spotlight By Aston University

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