Sustainable Growing

What does the CEE&E supply chain for Grodan products look like?

Krzysztof Fatel
January 16, 2024

Cultivation slabs and blocks produced at the factory in Malkinia must be delivered efficiently to growers. This is quite a complex task, the main goal is to supply products on time. A growing substrate should end up in the greenhouse between production seasons, preferably after the facilities have been cleaned and disinfected and before planting is started. Since most growers choose similar start dates, December and January are the most popular months when tomatoes are planted in greenhouses. For this reason, deliveries of growing media accumulate in a short period of two to four months in a year. Logistically, they are really challenging.

Production and transport planning

That deliveries run smoothly and without disruptions is ensured by a team led by Robert Prządak, head of Supply Chain CEE&Ex (Supply Chain Division for Central and Eastern Europe and Export). Robert’s responsibilities, however, are much broader than just the logistics of finished products. His responsibilities include coordinating the production of Grodan products, ensuring timely deliveries and proper quality of growing media, as well as managing the storage and distribution process. The team leader himself describes his role as a liaison between Grodan, i.e. the purchaser, and the factory, i.e. the manufacturer. He is the first and the primary contact person between Grodan and Rockwool. The peak of the logistics season is usually at the end of the calendar year, but a busy period for the Supply Chain department starts as early as the middle of the year. Then, it is planned how to ensure supplies and production, conclude contracts with warehouses and provide necessary means of transportation. Robert says that these are routine activities carried out every year, which ensure that the company is able to fulfil orders according to our customers’ requirements. When asked what would make the job easier, Robert invariably replies that this would be timely orders from customers. They would enable production as well as all storage and transport activities to be planned very precisely. It is not a good idea to rely only on data from previous years when schedules are prepared. Better results can be achieved with current orders and by carrying out a proper market analysis together with the sales department. This greatly facilitates Robert and his team’s work and, most importantly, helps to secure the availability of the products required by growers.

Part of the Supply Chain CEE&E team (from left): Monika Wojnarowska, Anna Olak, Robert Prządak and Anna Masalska

Ideally, the products produced at the factory should be delivered directly from the production line to the greenhouse. Unfortunately, this is not viable, since demand exceeds production capacities in the season. To ensure that orders and deliveries are fulfilled properly, products must be manufactured in advance and stored. To prepare an adequate level of stocks, the company has more than 15,000 m2 of warehouse space. However, a number like that turns out to be insufficient during the peak season. For this reason, the so-called seasonal outdoor storage facilities are organised every year, where a buffer of several thousand pallets of growing slabs and blocks is accumulated. Locating additional warehouses closer to greenhouse growing regions significantly improves the subsequent distribution process to customers. A measurable assessment of the supply chain department’s performance is timely production and deliveries. Orders specify delivery times in on a weekly basis, but carries are notified for a specific day. This makes recipients’ work easier. For this reason, Grodan is very meticulous about ensuring timely deliveries. Monthly reports list all transport orders and resulting delays. Current performance of the team is very good. Since the beginning of the year, with over a thousand shipments, statistically 99.1% of deliveries have been carried out as planned. The main cause of the resulting delays was delayed pick-ups, which unfortunately are difficult to avoid.

The International Supply Chain CEE&Ex team of:

  • Anna Olak responsible for deliveries to Japan, New Zealand and the Middle East,
  • Iryna Parkhomchuk, who looks after deliveries to Australia, Singapore and the Commonwealth of Independent States,
  • Hugo Garcia-Teruel Sanmiquel, who takes care of deliveries to Korea, Spain and South America,
  • Monika Wojnarowska, who organises shipments to southern Europe and the Baltic countries and supports the domestic market,
  • Anna Masalska, who is responsible for the domestic market as well as the Czech Republic

Precision of orders is important

Anna Masalska receives all orders from Polish distributors and traders, which she unofficially calls ‘working orders’ at this stage, as they usually require formal clarification. A working order contains the most important clarification, including the type of a slab and its quantity, price and delivery date. The order must now be completed with the exact product codes, catalogue codes for cultivation holes and all other required details. Specifying the order usually requires consultation with the trader, the distributor or often with the customer himself. Only then is the order formally entered into the supply chain system. This work takes a few or several hours, depending on the type and quantity of the order, but is necessary to eliminate possible mistakes. For example, with its unusual layout of holes, a familiar GT Master product ordered by a grower is a new product for the system. Creating such a product, which consist of assigning a numerical index, and arranging technical parameters and production capabilities with the manufacturer, extends the preparations by one or two weeks, correspondingly increasing the time needed for registering the order in the system. This is worth keeping in mind when orders are placed for the so-called non-standard products,” reminds Ania Masalska. According to Monika Wojnarowska, from the order reports of previous years it follows that the percentage of non-standard products did not exceed 20%, but these orders consume up to 80% of the team’s time.
Once the specified order is in the supply chain system, the ordering party again receives a copy of the order by e-mail for final approval. The grower or distributor has two days to make final changes and corrections. Lack of comments after that time signifies acceptance of the order and then the actual production and logistics process begins: specialists set a production date, select a warehouse if necessary, and order a suitable means of transport, and so on.

Hygiene protocol is a basis

A growing medium that has already arrived at a particular greenhouse company cannot return to the Grodan depot. This principle stems from the hygiene protocol used against viruses and bacteria that infect crops. If a substrate that is ordered, produced and delivered to a farm is not accepted for any reason, it must be disposed of. This means that, once a delivery has started, any mistakes in the order can prove very costly. Colleagues in the supply chain team are aware of the nature of the greenhouse industry and know that changes to the ordered substrate are sometimes necessary and must be made. However, they stress that this concerns standard products and any changes can be made no later than ten days before the scheduled shipment. During the peak of a season, it is additional work and stress to change even a single order, since each change requires arrangements with multiple people in production, warehouse and transport systems. In practice, a minor change requires as much work as a new order.

In the case of non-standard slabs or blocks already produced for a specific grower, the order cannot be changed. Then, the shipment can only be disposed of and the full cost of the order must be covered by the party that made the mistake.

On the day of loading a vehicle, the recipient receives a message from Track&Trace system or an e-mail (or a text message) directly from the Grodan office with information on the time of delivery and its contents, with details of the vehicle and driver. Notifying recipients of deliveries enables them to prepare for receiving and unloading the vehicle, which is why this way of organising deliveries is praised by customers.

At the delivery stage

When products are delivered and unloaded, the customer expects to receive a delivery note (release of materials/goods to outside). This note lists the type and quantity of products supplied and much other important information. The recipient also notes on the delivery note any irregularities concerning the delivery, such as mechanical damage to the pallets or the products themselves. Once the driver has confirmed (signed) the comments, this is the basis for a very quick logistics complaint.
Grodan’s principles are simple: the warehouse gives out quality products and the driver delivers them to the customer. Monika Wojnarowska says that the following items are absolutely essential: a description of the damage in the delivery note, an estimated quantity of damaged products and the driver’s signature. She adds that photos of, for example, damaged pallets on the truck can be enclosed to the documentation. Without this, the subsequent investigation to determine where and who damaged a specific number of products is very time-consuming.
In Anna’s opinion, this is why it is worth paying a little more attention to deliveries. Logistical complaints now refer to a small percentage of deliveries (0.5-0.6%) due to bulk products being packed better, loading methods and techniques used, the training and awareness of drivers, and Rockwool/Grodan requirements related to the means of transport. According to Monika and Ania, the system’ works well considering the number of vehicles travelling between the Grodan warehouses and greenhouses.

Responsibilities throughout the year

Preparations for the new greenhouse season and the associated logistics peak fall in the fourth quarter of the year, so it may seem that the first half of the year is a time of leisure for the Supply Chain CEE&Ex team. Colleagues do not like such am humorous opinion. Their year-round responsibilities also include controlling invoices and payments, and controlling and determining stock levels, as well as coordinating deliveries between Rockwool factories and deliveries between warehouses. Members of the SC team participate in various projects to improve their work (e.g. BigOrder Project), collaborate and train together with the delivery departments of Grodan’s partners, develop delivery and claims process schemes, as well as have many other responsibilities aimed at improving the efficiency of order and delivery handling. Also, the principle always holds true that a well-planned and prepared season will not be bringing unpleasant surprises.

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