When a company sets its sights on emulating one of the global retail phenomenon of the century, it goes without saying that it is serious about putting automation at the heart of all its dealings with its customers, as Distinction Doors IT Manager Matthew Spence explained.

Anyone dealing with Distinction Doors would not be surprised to hear about the principles upon which the company has based its automated systems: “We have looked closely at Amazon and, just as Toyota pioneered the principles of manufacturing during the 20th Century, Amazon has revolutionised the way that products are ordered and the way deliveries are processed and fulfilled,” explained Distinction Doors’ IT Manager Matthew Spence. “It may seem a lofty ambition, but we are well on the way to establishing a similar model within our own business, with a significant degree of automation that is already benefiting our customers, and with further investment to bring the Distinction customer experience even closer to that of Amazon.”

Matthew explained further: “It is the principles now established by Amazon, rather than its technical systems of course, that we are emulating. Amazon might essentially be a retail operation but it has set new benchmarks for ordering and delivery efficiency that have redefined retail customer expectations and that increasingly applies to business transactions. So the Amazon model has defined our benchmark too.

“Our goal is to make choosing and ordering a composite door as simple, efficient and effortless as possible, following an intuitive, effective and ultimately satisfying process. It has taken a lot of planning, not to mention considerable investment, but we have excellent, robust processes in place already and a clear focus on where we are going with it all. Our further investment and continuous improvement will build upon everything we have achieved so far and continuously refine and improve,” added Matthew.

Automation is proving to bring significant benefit in all areas of Distinction’s operations, but the effects are most visible in the production department which embraces core ‘TPS’, or Toyota Production System, principles to answer the rapidly growing demand for prepped doors.

Matthew explained: “Our core business originally was selling blank door slabs but that is changing rapidly, and we now find demand for fully prepped doors is around 40% of all our output, and growing. Significantly, that growth is from new customers as well as existing accounts for door blanks. We have recently completed the automation of our production department, including CNC machining and barcode scanning and an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, which allows us to integrate the management of all of our main business processes and in real time.

“From there, we control everything – edge-banding, painting, glazing and prepping to specification for lock, handle, hinges and letter plate – and all in a way that is quicker, more efficient and with minimal risk of error than most of our customers could typically do themselves. Demand for this service is growing at such a pace that we are, right at this moment, installing two additional CNC machines to keep ahead of demand.”

The next challenge, says Matthew, is to refine the online ordering procedure itself: “This is now undergoing the same revolution with ongoing plans for three phases of development involving between them more than 20 separate updates, all due to be completed in the New Year.

“This is well on its way and when this is complete, we will have a customer interface that Distinction believes will offer Amazon-levels of ordering and logistical ease and expectations. From order placement and then, throughout our internal production and administration processes all the way through to the product, exactly as ordered, arriving at the customer’s factory door in the time-scale that they expected it. It has taken considerable investment, planning and will-power to achieve this but this is what customers may expect from Distinction.”