24/7 Supply

Most customers using the FAST 5000SM machines find they have better control of their PPE and MRO supplies than ever before.

This year started well for Fastenal Company, which reported that double-digit daily sales growth continued in January, February, and March at its stores opened for more than five years. The Winona, Minn. company also said its gross profit percentage for 2011's first quarter held steady at 52.0 percent from 4Q 2010; it opened 37 new stores during 2011's first quarter toward its goal of opening 150 to 200 new stores during the full year.

By the end of March 2011, the industrial supply company had 2,522 stores and 8,618 full-time equivalent sales personnel.

Those stores are part of the success story that is the FAST 5000SM. An Internet-linked vending solution, the machine is saving time and money for an increasing number of customers in several industry sectors, said Russ Rubie, Fastenal's vice president of customer relations.

The FAST 5000s are an offering of FAST (Fastenal Automated Supply Technology) Solutions™. They are stocked for the customers with a selection of PPE and other frequently used work items.During a March 30 interview, Rubie said Fastenal has been offering the machines for more than two years. "It's really picked up over the last 10 months or so with customers seeing so much consumption reduction," he said. "We are offering them to multiple customers in the industrial sector. It's a 24/7 service center, basically, for their facility."

The FAST 5000s are an offering of FAST (Fastenal Automated Supply Technology) Solutions™. They are stocked for the customers with a selection of PPE and other frequently used work items that is customized to each customer's needs. Typical items supplied by the machines include safety PPE -- gloves, ear plugs, safety glasses, etc. -- cleansers, batteries, first aid items, and a variety of MRO products, from grinding disks to cutting tools.

"The FAST 5000 is our local distribution and our local stores there," Rubie said. "The customer doesn't have to touch the product. We get reporting from readouts. When the supply runs low, we replenish them, and we do that locally with our stores."

Thomas Presley, a buyer for a 500,000-square-foot Lufkin Industries, Inc. oilfield equipment manufacturing facility in Lufkin, Texas, said the seven machines in his facility are efficiently stocked. (Two each are in a fabrication shop, a machine shop, and a final assembly shop and one is in a heavy welding unit. The entire plant employs more than 500 people.) Using the machines has saved his company administrative time and money, Presley said April 19.

"We've had them approximately eight months now, and thus far we've eliminated about 80 percent of the traffic to and from our tool room just by implementing the machines. It saves a great deal of time," Presley said. "By implementing the machines, it really has improved efficiencies and allowed us to reduce the personnel that we kept in the tool room. Basically, it's become much easier for everyone."

A big plus: Reordering is automated. "AP [accounts payable] can pay it without having to go through the man-hours of creating a PO and entering it piece by piece by piece onto that PO. Not only has it eliminated all of that time out in the field, it's eliminated a lot of administration and processing time, as well," he continued

These seven machines stock consumables such as gloves and nozzles. Usage of the consumables has dropped since the machines were installed. "I think it mostly comes down to accountability," he said. "People are swiping their cards. All of their supervisors and the big bosses know what's coming out of there. We also were able to put limitations on what they take in some areas. Such as basic work gloves --we put a limit of two pairs a day. At one time, people would come at the beginning of the week and get 10 or 12 pairs to last them all week; they would get dirty or whatever, and they'd come back for more. Now, at the beginning of their shift, they stop by and get two pairs, and they can't get any more that day unless they come to the window and ask."

Presley said workers initially weren't happy with the machines, but that passed. "The first three months, it was very rough. I think it was just resistance to change more than anything else," he said.

"We really haven't had any problems. It's been a steady and steadfast program so far, I really haven't had any issues," Presley said. "I think that the actual per piece price ended up being slightly more expensive, but when you did your cost comparison for creating POs and handling those POs, receiving accounts payable, moving the product to the tool room and the tool room personnel who were able to liquidate it, it ended up saving us a lot of money. The increased efficiency of people not standing in long lines at the tool room at the beginning of each shift. When you compare all of those things, it ends up to be a significant cost savings."

Checking Out, Checking In
Users of the machines include large distributors, manufacturing plants, energy providers, and construction contractors. For construction companies, the machines might be located at the home office, where workers can access them before heading out to a job site. Some, however, are used on individual construction job sites.

"A lot of the larger projects may last anywhere from six months to three or four years. And if they really want to control inventory that's being dispensed, this is definitely one way to do it. Especially if you're working multiple shifts," Rubie said. "Again, the 24/7 factor comes into play."

The result is better inventory control than most of these customers have ever had before, he said.

Fastenal offers a locked unit that checks out tools and requires users to check them back when their use of the tool is completed. Customers who choose this option can know where tools are in their plants by knowing who checked them out.

PPE items are frequently lost and sometimes not carefully maintained. Having a 24/7 source that tracks them accurately saves time and money for the customer and also should tighten up PPE usage significantly, Rubie said. "Yes, it really brings that accountability to a work department or an individual. But it also helps out from a safety standpoint. If the machine or the tooling, for example, has a fault -- a bad cord or a switch that's on a grinder or something -- the employee can actually tell the machine that, and then the check-in/check-out locker will send a message to the supervisor and will lock that tool out and not allow another individual to utilize that faulty tool," he said.

Both the machine and the locker are predetermined by customers. "We build the machines based on what their needs are," he said.

The FAST 5000s don't supply gas monitors, said Rubie -- not yet, at any rate. Rubie said there's a limit to the products that can be checked out now, but they're willing to discuss higher-end products with customers.

Touted As a Green Solution
Fastenal touts the blue-colored FAST 5000s as a green solution because the Apex Industrial Technologies Connect n' Go technology they use makes them true, non-PC-based Internet appliances, which saves in these ways:

  • No computers are used, so there are no computers eventually winding up in landfills. No power is used to support a PC.
  • Having no hard drive means the machines draw less power.
  • A "sleep mode" allows for scheduled powered-down periods so a machine doesn't drain power during off shifts.
  • Light-emitting diodes are more energy efficient than fluorescent lighting, which poses disposal problems.
  • No purchase orders are needed, representing "a huge reduction in paper usage," according to Fastenal.

In addition, the machines offer real-time tracking and dispensing information that is available to customers anywhere, reducing site trips and allowing for better planning, the company says.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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