WLN The Interview

Tuesday 27 November 2012 11:03 AM
Unisto is the market-leading supplier of security seals, and via the acquisition of Encrypta Electronics in 2002 provided the first effective reusable security seals for trailers and containers back in the mid 1980’s, when they were pioneered by former Bletchley Park code expert Gill Hayward. Today Unisto security seals are used globally throughout the transport and distribution industry for a wide variety of applications, including sealing tote boxes, roll cages, vehicles, trailers and intermodal containers.

Unisto’s blue chip customer base includes major retailers, parcel carriers and their third party logistics partners. Over 70,000 vehicles worldwide rely on the increased security and operational efficiency provided by Unisto’s electronic seals. From their transport security roots, Unisto have extended their expertise to include RFID and infrared technology, creating security solutions to meet the needs of modern distribution and logistics operators, but security seals remain their core business. Donald Miller, Sales & Marketing Director of Unisto Ltd, the UK arm, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.

Warehouse & Logistics News - When was Unisto founded?
Unisto is an international group founded by Franz Stoffel in Switzerland in 1926. Unisto began trading in the UK in 1935.

WLN - Who owns Unisto now?
We are still family owned: there will shortly be a transfer to the third generation when Peter Stoffel takes over as Chairman from his father Mario.

WLN - How big is Unisto worldwide?
We have a £65m turnover, employ around 500 people and operate in 23 countries.

WLN - When did you join the company?
I started in 1986 and left in 1989, returning in 1991. I was promoted to lead the UK business in 1997, and was responsible for relocating Unisto from West London to our current offices in Surrey, near Guildford, in 1999.

WLN - Where do you make your security seals?
We produce them at our factories in Switzerland, France and Malaysia. Last year we relocated manufacturing of our electronic seals to our state-of-the-art plant in Switzerland, where we can focus on the quality, reliability and development of the product range and peripherals. Our research, design, development, tooling and manufacturing are all undertaken in-house.

WLN - Where do you make your other products?
Unisto have five main manufacturing sites. Switzerland, France and Malaysia focus on security seal development and manufacture. Our two other plants in Germany and Italy manufacture brand identification products such as automotive badges, branded displays and personnel badges.

WLN - Do you sell your products direct in the UK or through distributors?
Unisto’s aim has always been to deal directly with end users. Building relationships and really understanding our customers’ business enables us to provide advice and solutions to customers’ problems. This also helps ensure our new product development is tightly focused on market needs and keeps the quality of our products and service under continuous review, based on feedback from customers.

WLN - The main focus of this interview is transport security, but what other product areas are you active in?
In the UK we are strong in “brand premiumisation,” especially for the drinks industry: for example, we supply Diageo with their T seal bottle decoration for Tanqueray Gin, and designed and installed the applicators on their bottling line. In Switzerland and Japan we are very strong in the watch industry, working with brands like Rolex, Omega and Seiko, providing authentication seals and POS display.

WLN - What proportion of your UK business is security seals and distribution centre management?
Security seals, including electronics, are about 65% of our UK business. DC management systems are still in their early days, but have exciting growth potential.

WLN - Is truck security a growing problem in the UK?
Sadly the UK has always excelled in theft, and also has the world’s most highly developed logistics industry. Put these two areas of expertise together and BINGO…! No doubt as we enter a downturn, not only will the thieves become busier but major retailers and transport companies will be more aware of their unaccounted losses as they eat further into their profits.

WLN - Let’s talk in detail about your security seals. How do your single use seals work?
Unisto single use seals have innovative tamper-evident features, and can be branded for enhanced security control. Sequential numbering ensures each seal is unique: optional bar coding provides an efficient means of capturing data and supplies an audit trail for effective monitoring.

WLN - What are single use security seals’ benefits?
Single use security seals provide a simple, cost-effective and highly visible integrity check to help detect theft or contamination and assist with maintenance, tracking and control applications. Disposable seals in either plastic or metal require quite a bit of managing. For one thing they need to be stored securely and issued under controlled conditions with the numbering - which makes them unique - recorded and monitored at every stage of the logistical process. Ideally used or “dead” seals should be disposed of securely to prevent giving thieves the opportunity of tampering practice.

WLN - What different single use seals do you offer?
We offer Pull Tight Seals, ideal for bags and roll cages: Fixed Length Seals, most suitable for vehicle door latches: Padlock Seals, including key padlocks with a security sleeve that have been used with great success on controlled drug cages and secure storage for cigarettes and alcohol: Metal Clip Seals with wire or string - an original solution dating back to the start of Unisto, and still used today: Push-fit Closures for tote boxes/attached lidded containers and chemical drums: Barrier Seals, both bolt type and cable type seals for high value goods and shipping containers conforming to the new ISO PAS 17712:2006 standard: Tool-closing Seals, including our unique Straplock, that secures polypropylene strapping on cartons and pallets: Emergency Exit Seals to safely control the use of fire doors: Tamper-Evident “VOID” Labels, often a solution for sealing applications when there is nowhere to apply any other kind of seal, such as van doors, data cabinets and control boxes.

WLN - How are your single use seals sold?
Our sales team sells them direct. We avoid selling online; we have a philosophy of providing best advice and supplying seals that are most suitable for our customers. People often find us through our website; nearly always this leads to samples being provided for trial before purchase, either sent by post or with a visit to discuss the customer’s application and the options available.

WLN - When would a customer use an electronic re-usable seal?
Our electronic seals are best suited to closed loop logistical systems, such as a retailer with a number of outlets and DCs. Single use seals can also be used in this way but are also suited to open loop distribution systems, hire and reward and point to point deliveries.

WLN - What different electronic seals do you produce?
C2K is our entry level seal: it replaces a single use seal and provides a randomly generated four-digit serial number with a brightly lit display, ideal in poor light conditions. The C2K provides a “fit and forget solution”: the seal is always on the vehicle, eliminating back office organisation of seals. Our Manta electronic seal with memory and infrared download gives an audit trail of the last 100 events with seal number, time and date of event. This can now be downloaded automatically using our new SealTrak handheld device that links to your PC and provides a secure report that can be printed or e-mailed. Manta RFID is the top end solution. Used in conjunction with GateSuite Software it requires some infrastructure installation such as loops and readers; this is the really exciting end of our business! Manta RFID/GateSuite takes people out of the system by picking up sealing events automatically at every passage through the DC gatehouse. In the case of a non-conformance, such as an un-registered seal number, it flags it allowing security management by exception. With this system we can also provide an “alarm mode” when loaded trailers are parked in the yard. Unauthorised opening events trigger an “alarm”, a pop-up on the security gate house computer, an e-mail or a text sent to the security manager’s mobile, alerting the trailer number and yard sector where the breach occurred. Manta RFID can also link to other devices such as GPS engines or temperature sensors, allowing continuous monitoring of vehicle doors. SPD3 tamper-evident electronic seal for fuel tankers is a very specialist device for securing fuel tankers’ individual compartments, working in a similar way to our other electronic seal products.

WLN - How do your re-usable electronic seals work?
Unisto’s permanently mounted electronic seals are powered by long-life lithium cells, and generate random numbers each time they are closed. This number must be recorded on vehicle documentation for checking at the delivery point. Tampering with the load is easily identified if the number has changed. The easy to read illuminated display ensures checking errors are minimal, even in poor light. On our more sophisticated Manta Seal, a built in, downloadable, time- and date-stamped audit trail provides full integration with modern logistics systems.

WLN - Which industry sectors are your customers in?
We serve a broad spectrum of industries, from retail and parcel distribution organisations to cash-in-transit, food production, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, utilities, airlines and airline handling services, law enforcement and government departments.

WLN - Which industry sectors are the biggest customers for single use seals, and for re-usable electronic?
Our most important sectors are cash-in-transit and airlines for single use seals: whilst for electronic seals, retail distribution is the most important.

WLN - What remote data capture products do you offer?
Our SealTrak IrDA device uploads from our Manta seals, capturing the audit trail and allowing event viewing and investigation. Manta RFID, combined with our GateSuite modular Windows based management system, provides fully automated seal verification.

WLN - Can you tell us a bit more about the GateSuite?
Unisto’s Distribution Centre Management solution GateSuite™ is a fully integrated software solution that addresses everyday operational issues and helps manage physical resources, to achieve greater efficiency and productivity with improved security. GateSuite includes different programs: GateTrak Express delivery data analysis tool: Gatehouse gate security automation and verification: GateSuite™ replaces paper and verbal communications systems in the depot and yard, automating essential processes to give total visibility and control from your desktop through a visual control centre on your PC (GateTrak™). Real-time reporting ensures loads are processed through the depot without delay, in the confidence that all necessary security checks have been completed (GateHouse™), and provides a comprehensive audit trail. Operational issues are identified as they arise and can be resolved quickly before they become a crisis, enabling management by exception.

WLN - What are the benefits of GateSuite?
It ends gatehouse congestion at peak times and improves asset tracking within the DC, ensuring vehicles and drivers are where you need them, when you need them: it saves money by optimising drivers’ working time and reducing security staff overheads and fuel consumption with the knock-on benefit of lower CO2 emissions. By achieving all that, GateSuite makes a huge impact on service level and delivery-on-time performance; it gives 24-hour security. A major spin-off benefit has been to avoid misrouting; if a tractor unit hitches up to the wrong trailer, the automated RFID checks at the gatehouse spot the non-conforming data and alert security so the vehicle can be turned back before costs are incurred.

WLN - How did the GateSuite come to be developed - was it in response to a particular customer’s needs?
The concept was devised some years ago and initially trialled at a DC of one of the UK’s leading retailers. Subsequently Bibby/Nisa-Today’s site at Scunthorpe installed GateSuite, and we have perfected and fine-tuned the system with their feedback. Next year it will have been installed and working there successfully for five years.

WLN - Is there a case study for the GateSuite system at Scunthorpe?
Yes - see separate page.

WLN - Has GateSuite been deployed at any other sites in the UK or overseas?
We have had some success in the United States and look forward to more deployments here and in Europe.

WLN - How are you going about recruiting more customers for GateSuite?
We are exhibiting at the Commercial Vehicle Show 2009 in April (Hall 3 stand 099), and Neil Harrison will be giving a master class at the Retail Fraud Conference in London on 25th March. We have all the information about our range of seals, including C2K, Manta and GateSuite on our website http://www.unisto.co.uk with a link through to our video. My colleagues Neil Harrison and Matthew Hall both specialise in logistics and distribution security, and are in regular contact with the key industry players.

WLN - Roughly how long does it take to develop and install a GateSuite solution for a customer?
The GateSuite system is available “off the shelf,” however installation of ground or overhead loops, RFID readers, commissioning and fine tuning can take up to two months.

WLN - What industry standards are your products made to?
Our electronic seals undergo a variety of accredited tests for vibration, bump, high pressure hot water and dust ingress, humidity, salt, electromagnetic compatibility and tensile strength, all with a series of BS and EN numbers; we can supply this detailed information to interested customers.

WLN - What external factors are affecting demand for your products?
We are waiting to see what the downturn brings: no doubt there will be a reluctance to invest unless it brings efficiency savings or reduces losses. As our products do both, we’re feeling pretty positive!

WLN - Where do you see yourselves going from here?
On the product front, we’re looking at further development of our GateSuite automatic seal verification system, such as using RF technology to link to other devices such as GPS engines temperature sensors with the aim of taking human effort and human error out of the security sealing process; speeding throughput and waste reduction in terms of time, fuel and materials. We have a number of new ideas at various stages of development in most of our market segments.

WLN - Finally, as Sales & Marketing Director, what challenges are you most looking forward to?
The next two years will most likely be the most challenging of my career and of my colleagues. I firmly believe that consistent high product quality, excellent customer service and offering robust and reliable solutions are the answer to keeping our business strong through tough times - “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!” From our retail customers’ point of view, let’s hope that is the case.

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