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The Bank That Gives

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The Bank That GivesAs the largest not-for-profit hunger relief organisation operating in Australia, Foodbank provided food for 32 million meals to Australians in need in 2011. Acting as a pantry to the charities and community groups who feed the hungry, Foodbank faces a number of unique logistical challenges.

Foodbank was first established in 1992 in NSW and now has a presence in every state, with distribution centres in all state capitals, as well as a number of regional centres. They operate with a staff of approximately 90 employees and host over 3,000 volunteers every year.

Foodbank relies on the donations of key organisations in the supply chain, including logistics organisations such as Toll, to transport goods across the country. Foodbank identified the need to upgrade their paper-based systems to cope with the constantly changing products and ever-increasing orders lines. In the search for more adaptive and efficient logistical solutions, Foodbank approached Intermec with a very specific set of requirements, to improve its supply chain.

Stuck in the past

Volunteer programs are integral to the success of the day-to-day workings of the distribution centres, as Foodbank operates with only a skeleton staff of paid employees. Many of these volunteers are white-collar workers who can only donate a day of their time and have never picked warehouse stock before. Therefore any food distribution systems or hardware that volunteers needed to use had to be basic enough for a volunteer with little / no picking experience to operate with minimal training.

Foodbank’s longstanding system involved publishing a paper-based stock listing every week. Charitable organisations selected the items and amount of stock they would like to receive and sent their order into the distribution centre. Foodbank, in partnership with a logistics operator, would then allocate and distribute the orders as best they could.

"One of the unfortunate by-products of this system was that our warehouse felt more like a pick-and-save supermarket than a distribution centre," said Angus Laing, I.T Projects Manager.

"The agencies that got their order into the distribution centres first were often unfairly rewarded with the ‘best’ items, while geographically remote agencies sometimes missed out."

While these problems were easily identified, rectifying them was a more difficult prospect. As a not-for-profit organisation, it would have been impractical for Foodbank to implement a full RF system across their DCs. The capital investment required to upgrade the systems in-place, across all of their warehouse and distribution centres, ensured that without some good-will from a solution provider, they would be stuck utilising dated paper-based processes.

Keeping it simple

"The bottom line for Foodbank, is that the quicker that we can process an order line, the more meals we can get out of the door to those in need," said John Webster, CEO, Foodbank Australia.

With this in mind, Foodbank approached Intermec to integrate simple, but efficient, supply chain solutions into their distribution centres. These solutions would need to be simple enough for volunteers to learn how to use in a short period of time, but advanced enough to accurately track and manage the constantly changing set of product lines.

Angus Laing highlighted the constantly changing range of goods available, saying "Foodbank tends to get food that for some reason or other no longer meets the requirements of the supply chain, such as outdated promotional stock, products that aren’t moving well or superficially damaged goods."

"So while there are certain products which are always in stock, from week-to-week the products on offer may be 80 per cent different to the week preceding."

To accurately track and monitor these products Intermec, in partnership with barcoding database provider GS1, developed a system that integrated an automated barcoding processes with a paper system. This allowed volunteers to receive, scan, identify, manage and distribute order lines and products with ease and accuracy.

"We were glad to be able to assist the logistic challenge for such a worthy organisation," said Tony Repaci, Intermec’s Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand.

"It was crucial for Foodbank that any systems we put in place could be picked up and used by their volunteers, who are only in for short periods of time, with minimal training.

With this in mind, we have contributed meaningfully to their supply chain, providing them with a partially automated and paperbased system that makes their day-to-day operations easier and more efficient."

With the new system in place, staff can easily use the Intermec handhelds to scan incoming goods, which can be identified by their barcode through the GS1 database, and then input the number of those products into the automated recording system. From here, the staff member enters the amount of the product available, which is uploaded onto the web. Agencies can then easily access and develop their picking order from an online shopping cart.

This partially automated system has created a fairer, more accurate and efficient experience for agencies, volunteers and workers alike. The distribution centres have been transformed from supermarkets into efficient conduits for the charitable contributions of all of Foodbank’s donor partners.

What has the change meant for Foodbank?

By integrating an automated freight management system into its supply chain, Foodbank has been able to improve and streamline the management of outgoing food. Scanning incoming products provides a real-time picture online of what’s available in the warehouses. This replaced a cumbersome paper-based system, which involved weekly mailings and hit-and-miss ordering.

Charitable organisations, by their very nature, have to deal with a unique set of logistical challenges because of the large volume of low value order lines. As a result, from a supply chain perspective, the opportunity for logistics and solution providers to donate time and resources to improving these operations is ever-present.

Ensuring that these charities can serve the disadvantaged, by overcoming their logistical challenges, is a constant battle that requires meaningful donations from companies such as Intermec and GS1. By integrating hardware solutions with a better track and trace system, Foodbank is able to better achieve its key goal of getting more food to where it needs to be.

© 2014 Honeywell International Inc.

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