City implements first-of-its-kind fully automated supply store
Continuing to innovate in its efforts to provide efficient service to the City’s residents and businesses, the City of Redlands recently installed a unique, fully automated inventory system to provide equipment, tools, parts and other necessary supplies to the City’s employees.
Gone are the outdated computers and rows of dusty shelves filled with inventory at the City’s warehouse on Park Avenue. In their place stand 42 state-of-the-art vending machines designed to dispense safety gear, fasteners, fittings and other items City workers need to do their jobs. Completed in mid-August, this fully automated warehouse is the first of its kind in the nation.
The machines (and the products in them) are provided by Fastenal, an industrial and construction supplies distributor, with an office and store in San Bernardino. The City Council approved a contract with the company in May. Under the terms of the agreement, the City pays nothing for the installation, maintenance and stocking of the machines and only pays for the inventory it uses - at the time it is dispensed. Fastenal maintains and replaces inventory as it is needed. In addition, the City receives Fastenal’s bulk discount pricing on inventory from a variety of suppliers.
The company stocks dedicated inventory at its store to anticipate City demand, makes sure the machines are continually filled, and owns the product until it’s dispensed, eliminating the need for the City to purchase and maintain hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory.
Currently, more than 150 city employees are authorized to use the store. To retrieve needed supplies, they simply approach one of the vending machines, enter an employee ID, and make a product selection. If the transaction is authorized, the item is dispensed and the transaction details flow into the system’s reporting website, where authorized personnel can track real-time inventory and usage data.
“In the past, everything was done manually – ordering, receiving, counting, reporting – but we simply didn’t have the resources to do it all efficiently and effectively,” said Purchasing Services Manager Dana Abramovitz, who used to spend an hour or two each day managing inventory and handing out supplies at the store. “Now all of these processes are automated, giving us more time to focus on serving the city and taxpayers.”
Another key benefit is that City personnel no longer have to plan projects and preventative maintenance around the store’s operating hours, previously limited to fours hours a day, four days a week. Today, products are available on a self-serve basis around the clock, 365 days a year. Additional benefits include vendor consolidation and the elimination of years of obsolete inventory – outdated medical supplies, floppy discs, and other things that, according to Abramovitz, “were needed by somebody five years ago but were just gathering dust.”
As the City has reduced its budget, staff has also been reduced across most departments, yet workload has continued to increase. Automating the City’s supply store is part of the City’s efforts to accomplish more with less and maximize every taxpayer dollar.
Fastenal has installed more than 15,000 of its industrial vending machines with corporate and government customers across the country, but the City of Redlands automated supply store – an unstaffed facility with so many machines in one location – represents a new concept in industrial vending.
“I truly believe this is the future,” added Abramovitz. “Normally you see private companies taking the lead with this kind of supply chain innovation. I’m proud that the City of Redlands is setting an example not only for other cities of our size across the state and nation, but also for private industry.”