Before thinking ‘logistics’, stand back and look at the supply chain in its entirety. The words quality control, product integrity, enhanced productivity and cost savings, may not be words that spring to mind when thinking of food distribution; however, nowadays this term encompasses a far broader spectrum of services that can achieve all of the above. The key to this? Talk the same language!
Not literally; that’s a given. Talk the language of ‘manufacturing’. Distribution is no longer about the movement of products from A to B; it’s about facing challenges with customers and adding value to their business with a broader scope of services. This can only come from an intrinsic understanding of a customer’s needs and an ambition, on the side of the logistics provider, to deliver a workable solution, which may be outside of its traditional remit.Mirroring the standards and ensuring quality
Earlier this year, Bibby Distribution acquired Atchison Topeka – a specialist logistics supplier to the food manufacturing industry with numerous ex-manufacturers on its management team – which extends the methodology of manufacturing into the logistics element of the supply chain; mirroring the stringent standards of the food and drinks industry.
Being accredited to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Manufacturing standard is unusual in the distribution sector but it comes with a distinct advantage; the ability to take processes away from food manufacturers (such as decanting, converting products into different formats etc); aiding efficiency by delivering raw ingredients in a format that fits straight into the production line. Although the Food Manufacturing element of the BRC accreditation is not mandatory, companies such as Atchison Topeka believe this is of significant value to customers who are already up against time and cost pressures.
BRC accreditation also broadens the scope geographically of ingredient supply; handing over the re-formatting of ingredients from outside Europe to a ‘logistics’ company – for example when quotas are low or harvests have failed – is now possible as part of a modern day supply chain.Just-in-time relies on communication
As we all know, lead times in the food industry are critical; production relies on all the right ingredients being in the right place at precisely the right time. If this doesn’t happen, the cost of rectification can be huge.
In order to get this right, logistics firms should be working with manufacturers and suppliers to look right back along the supply chain to identify areas for greater efficiency. The key factor in this is good planning. This comes from an integration of strategies from both the manufacturer and the logistics provider; so a trusted and open relationship is crucial.
From the logistics provider’s point of view, traceability and on-time delivery is high up on the agenda. Incab technology and tracking have certainly helped to an extent on the delivery scheduling side, but now is the time to cash in on technology and develop bespoke programmes which can bring greater clarity and provide more comprehensive information for customers.
Any logistics provider worth its salt will strive to exceed the KPIs set by the customer, such as ‘on time in full’ (OTIF) targets, and customers should expect to be informed of any deliveries which may be falling behind schedule. There is no interest in the 498 orders out of 500, which are all running on time. What needs to be known (and communicated) is when the other two will arrive so appropriate measures can be taken to ensure this doesn’t have a knock-on effect on production. Modern technology, such as bespoke IT platforms which enable real-time tracking of vehicles and goods, mean there is no excuse for a lack of communication or provision of comprehensive reporting in the logistics function.Plastic fantastic
Where food production is concerned, hygiene is a prerequisite. Therefore the pallets used to carry products are arguably more important than the trucks that are used to transport them.
Removal of timber pallets from food production areas has been on the hygiene agenda for some time now and whether any official legislation will come into action remains to be seen. However, the move from timber to plastic is growing in popularity, and quite rightly. Manufacturers are fast becoming aware of the hygiene and health and safety benefits of plastic pallets, but not necessarily of the potential for reduced cost and enhanced traceability.
Additional cost is often generated by receiving goods from suppliers on timber pallets and transferring to plastic before ingredients can be taken into food production areas. This is where plastic comes into its own; not only can it be taken directly to the production line, but plastic pallets can be cleaned and tracked with far greater efficiency. PLS, a supplier of returnable transit packaging – and a company also under the Bibby Distribution umbrella – is currently introducing RFID tracking to customers to increase traceability of products and assets. Rental services such as this remove the need for a capital investment in assets and can be linked directly back into the logistics loop; thereby freeing-up management time and reducing the risk of food contamination.
Much like the Atchison Topeka model, PLS runs to the internationally recognised HACCP standard which is at the core of the BRC standards.A cohesive strategy
In addition to moving pallets from A to B, logistics suppliers, distribution companies, haulage firms – whichever you prefer to call them – should be assisting manufacturers in increasing the integrity and continuity of products, minimising the risk of production down-time and helping to enhance quality control. The overall aim should be to lower the cost of ownership for the customer and make the logistics element of the supply chain run as smoothly and as cost-effectively as possible. An amalgamation of skills within one organisation can be a distinct advantage as it leads to a greater overall understanding of a customer’s organisation and its changing requirements. This is where real value can be added and the potential for error reduced.
Paul Byrne is development director at Bibby Distribution. Bibby Distribution is one of the top ten logistics providers in the UK and exists to enable other companies to drive value from their supply chain activities. The company specialises in providing contract logistics, warehousing, distribution, systems integration and added value services to a wide range of customers.
For further information, visit: www.bibbydist.co.uk