Written by Alan Johnson, for TecTorque Winter 2014
Traditionally, the dispensing and control of items such as MRO (Maintenance Repair Operation) supplies, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) items, spare parts and other indirect materials used in day-to-day operations has been through a traditional store, however today there are many other alternatives.
Increasingly technology is being utilised to automate and control inhouse distribution of these items, with Blackwoods now offering a broad range of solutions; from a variety of standard vendingmachine stock dispensers, through to sophisticated RFID tracking systems.
Craige Bradford, Blackwoods National Manager for Business Services, explains that these electronic solutions offer a wide range of benefits, including increased monitoring via authorisation levels, stock and access limits, consistent product availability and the ability for the stock to be located where usage occurs.
“These systems also offer companies significant cost saving opportunities in inventory management and increased accuracy.”
Bradford said the key benefits are controlling usage and accountability.
“With employees required to scan in to the machine before gaining access to the stock, the computer tracks exactly what they have taken, the quantity, and at what time the transaction took place.”
He said the vending machines can have a positive influence on the behaviour of employees with regard to utilising products from the stores.
“Already we have a number of companies in industries such as mining, aerospace and manufacturing taking advantage of these machines,” he said. Bradford explained that while demand is coming from larger customers at the moment, he said the systems are suitable for any size company that uses high volumes of consumable items and is looking to control usage, avoid waste, hoarding and generally increase efficiency.
“Surprisingly, we have found that many of our larger customers struggle to control their inventory management processes, often providing employees with open access to a whole range of products,” he said.
As a consequence, he says, they have limited visibility of what is going out of the door, who it’s going to, which section of their business is using these products, and when replenishment is required.
“However, with these types of solutions our customers gain full visibility of where usage is occurring going and who is utilising it.”
He said that as well as assisting customers to control their usage and eliminate waste, vending systems are also suitable for customers who are looking to build specific product compliance with their employees.
“We now have a whole range of vending solutions for our customers. It all depends on what is the best fit for them; whether they are looking for high security or more usability where employees have access to a broader range of products with shorter issue time frames.”
As Bradford pointed out, every business has security level requirements for their inventory. “Whether a company requires basic storage and identification so items can be inventoried quickly, low security to control the distribution of inventory, or maximum security for highaccountability tool control among users, we now offer customised storage solutions that provide the proper level of security for any operation.
“For example, we have systems that use RFID technology to monitor and track tool movement when positive tool control is critical.”
He explained that the range of machines goes from the basic “coil” type of vending machine, “which is great for PPE items”, right through to Weigh Station solutions which are typically larger machines with bins and weigh scale technology that measure the quantity of items taken.
He said the machines use sophisticated technology, which can manage consumables, durables, serialised items, kits and assemblies in a completely passive device.
“Using ultra-sensitive, highly accurate scale and bin technology, these machines can be used for easy fast dispensing, and replenishment of bulk items, with no repackaging or tagging required.
“They are also fully configurable for large and small items with up to 140 bins,” he said.
Bradford explained that Blackwoods has partnered with US storage systems and technology provider Cribmaster to offer customers this service solution.
“Cribmaster has the widest range of machines on the market and are supported by sophisticated software packages that can provide over 200 standard reports, plus reports can be tailored to suit individual customer needs.”
“These machines are ideal for all fast moving consumables, and we have a solution to suit almost every product,” he said.
Bradford said the systems are very popular with companies looking to adopt Lean principles within their processes, as they are taking the goods out of the store and positioning them close to the actual point of use.
“In a traditional situation, a person may have to walk to a store room, have a bit of a chat with the storeperson while he is issuing stock, then walk back to his work station.
“From a lean perspective, they might have wasted some time in that whole process, but with these vending machines located at the point of use, a lot of that time is saved and productivity increases.” Bradford also pointed out that with access to these machines normally 24/7, there is the ability to dispense fast moving products after hours.
“The procurement and replenishment processes are also automated with these machines. For example, as a person is taking items out of the machine, the software sends a notice to the relevant servicing branch, which in turn generates a picking slip to replenishment the goods.”
As Bradford explained, this takes away the need for the customer to generate any purchase orders, making the process very efficient and offering productivity improvements.
“We can even provide on-site services to replenish the machines through our own site facilitators,” he said.
Bradford said the machines are very popular with several of Blackwoods national multi-site customers, with the software able to give them a clear consolidated view of what is going through these machines at all their operations.
“For example, a large mining company, which recently rolled these machines out across a number of remote sites, is now able to draw data from everyone of those machines and see what the usage analysis is from each of their operations across the country.”
He said that by utilising the same brand of machine and software, the customer can see who is using what products and how many from one central point in their organisation.
Another large company taking advantage of these latest vending machines is Jetstar, who has recently installed one at its light engineering facility on the edge of Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.
Ben Knabe, Light Maintenance Manager at Jetstar Engineering, explained that the facility is a large wide-bodied hanger where the airline does all its light maintenance work on its Boeing 787 and Airbus A320 family aircraft.
“The vending system enables us to offer the free issue of all our PPE items, including safety glasses and gloves, plus our regular high use items, such as batteries and tape, to all our staff.
“With this system we can ensure accurate inventory lists,” Knabe said.
He said that previously a lot of these items were available for staff to just take from the shelf.
“The problem was our computer system would often think some were still there, when in fact there was none.”
And with safety a key focus for Jetstar, Knabe said he needed to make sure PPE is always there, and the guys are using it.
“So rather than having to make sure that every piece of PPE they need is booked out of the stores, the guys can simply go and help themselves.
“Now, when an engineer needs PPE or some batteries for his torch, we always have stock for him to use.”
With the Jetstar facility operating 24/7, Knabe said it is important engineers always have access to the system.
“Now they can access the items they need very quickly, without any interaction with a storeman or anything like that.
“With the industry we are in, where a lot of guys can get hurt, having the PPE available all the time is very important, while another benefit, but to a lesser extent, is governance,” he said.
“If an engineer removes a large volume of an item, I could see it on the system and have a little chat to him to see why.”
He said another secondary benefit is pre-approved purchase orders, which cuts out a lot of time for Jetstar’s purchasing department.
“Plus as the system becomes more mature we will be able to see consumable averages per aircraft, and we can budget for that. And for all these items, we have no interaction with our purchasing department at all,” Knabe said.
While the vending system has only been in use for a relatively short period, Knabe said he is very pleased with the system and the service.
“The guys at Blackwoods and Cribmaster have been fantastic; they are great companies to deal with. The installation process went quite seamlessly,” Knabe said.
He said he would recommend the vending machines to other companies.
v “It’s a really good bit of kit,” Knabe concluded.