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        Students, Supply Chain Management

        Harbert supply-chain consulting projects aim to increase help for food-insecure Alabamians

        By Troy Turner

        All News


        Food Bank reps listen to student ideas for streamlining workflow

        AU Food Bank TeamsDressed in coats and ties, eyes alert and faces brimming with confidence, the small group of 10 or so students in Erik Sjolseth’s Supply Chain Consulting class were split into two teams, each ready to give a semester-ending presentation to business clients sitting in the room.

        This was no drill, as the old cliché goes. The clients weren’t there to grade papers or a speech assignment. They wanted real-world solutions to real-world challenges facing their organization.

        The Auburn University Harbert College of Business students were ready and within an hour, weeks of work reviewing supply-chain, supply-storage and supply-distribution issues were summarized with a list of recommendations for action.

        Meeting the need

        The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama faces many demands, or more importantly, many mouths to feed.

        The non-profit entity is based in Birmingham and serves almost 260 agencies in a 12-county region of central Alabama.

        Food Bank It distributed nearly 22 million pounds of food to 1.7 million individuals in just the past year alone, and the need for its services isn’t going away. Rather, the need is expected to grow year by year.

        Thus, when Food Bank began studying how it might improve its warehouse operations and product workflow, its leadership considered Harbert College of Business, which often provides students with hands-on experience in various economic impact studies and supply-chain evaluations for companies and non-profits around the state.

        The two teams in Sjolseth’s consulting class each took on a specific focus; one on the warehouse operations, and the other in search of improved workflow, all to find suggestive ways to streamline the receiving of donations, storage of them, keeping a good inventory list, and then pursing the most efficient manner of distribution.

        Looking for space

        Among the current challenges facing the growing operations and needs of the Food Bank in its warehouse, “space is probably the biggest one,” said Brock Murphy of the class warehouse team.

        The Harbert students reviewed congestion in the staging area and parking lot, and explored ways for improving inbound and outbound flow, as well as storage and the way storage racks are used. It also took a closer look at the roles of employees and volunteers working in the warehouse environment.

        “The current warehouse does not have enough storage for current inventory to service 260 agencies and several food pantries effectively,” the team confirmed.

        It also noted that the non-profit’s steady growth has led to the need for more parking-lot space.

        Among the proposed solutions or wish list for the Food Bank, the team recommended an expanded warehouse and provided suggestive designs for it, decreasing bottlenecks that can occur, improving the use of available space with better and/or additional storage racks, and adding a mezzanine over inbound and outbound loading docks for additional storage space of items such as boxes or other supplies.

        Another recommendation is to train some of the volunteers and/or employees to multitask so that they can serve in different roles when needed in the warehouse or on the loading docks.

        Other members of the warehouse team in addition to Murphy were students Nathan Reed, Jones Stamper, Nicolas Larriviere and Maverick McDonough.

        ‘Greater data accuracy’

        Scan GunThe work-flow team narrowed its focus to the topic of “Scan Gun Implementation Consulting Project.”

        “Greater data accuracy” will help, especially in times of surges with donations and distribution such as during the holidays, and it also will help with accountability in being more easily able to track down the whereabouts of certain food items, said team member Easton Russ.

        By having scan guns and adding bar codes to food donations, along with corresponding bar codes on storage racks, “you’ll know exactly what you’ve got, at all times,” team leader Braeden Stewart said.

        “Once workers have scan guns in hand, things will roll really smoothly,” he said.

        The team explored a variety of scan-gun systems and ultimately chose one deemed most appropriate to Food Bank’s operations. It also offered ideas for ensuring equipment such as the scan guns stays on site by having employee check-out, check-in procedures.

        One common problem many businesses face with new technology is how much of it, whether accidently left in a pocket, work bag, coat, etc., or otherwise, “actually walks off the premises,” Stewart said.

        Along with Russ and Stewart, other team members studying the implementation of a scan-gun system included Kyle Whitehouse, Michael Clardy and Tyler Turner.

        A praiseworthy effort

        Food Bank CEO Brett Meredith and executive assistant/data analyst Brittany Spain, herself an Auburn alumna and supply-chain management graduate of Harbert, praised the two teams for their work and ideas.

        “You did a great job of explaining what the process needs to be,” Meredith, a veteran administrator with experience at various non-profit organizations, told the students. “You guys did a great job of making sure we consider the various workflow issues.”

        He and Spain asked several questions about the findings and indicated they would take the recommendations under consideration with other planning already under way for the Food Bank.

        “The big takeaway,” Sjolseth said, is that “both projects enable Community Food Bank of Central Alabama to serve more people in Alabama, lessening the risk for food-insecure people within the state.”

        “The warehouse design team came up with ideas that improve the public’s ability to interact with Food Bank. This results in more public awareness and support for their services within the community.

        “The scan-gun team’s recommendations will help Food Bank (1) improve the accuracy of inventory, (2) speed up the process of moving food from suppliers to food pantries and other grass-root operations that feed communities, (3) create greater visibility with the patterns that happen at Food Bank (think predictive analytics), and (4) how to implement such a system so that the transition is easy to understand and adopt (think change management).”

        Sjolseth congratulated the class on a job well done, and he wished the students well, indicating that for some of them the next such project will be with an employer, who will expect the same good work.

        Inspiring Business

        Learn more about Supply Chain Management Programs at the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University.