Accurate data requires periodically inventorying machines to get field numbers in order. Blotner recommends this be done every 3 to 5 visits.
Mark Kronenberg, president of CompuVend Systems, agrees. “Drivers do need to periodically take an inventory,” he said. “Some people believe computers know everything.”
He uses an example: if the spiral holds 10 products and the warehouse person only packs eight in the tote/the machine dispenses two products at the same time, the driver will be unable to completely refill the row. If the driver does not record that inventory is missing two units, the pick lists will continue to be short. Another example might be if the driver has to remove out of date products.
“It’s important to be accurate,” said Kronenberg. “Prekitting relies on item level tracking.”
What’s needed for prekitting
First and foremost, prekitting requires getting all machines to DEX. “We had two people doing this full time, said Jon Snyder, vice president of Snyder Food Services, Inc. in Kendallville, Ind., about when Snyder Food Services converted its 20 route operation in 2010. “Hands down it was the largest expense. We didn’t realize how much it was going to cost.” Snyder used a lot of manufacturer kits and still only 85 to 90 percent of his machines on location are fully DEXed. “Some machines just don’t,” he said.
Another key requirement for Snyder was driver buy-in. He got his drivers to transition, in part, by proving prekitting would help them be more efficient, in effect, work less hours, while servicing more machines and making more money. “It was most rewarding to see route drivers embrace it,” Snyder said. “That we were able to deliver on it and that it did improve their quality of life, yet cut operating costs and make us more profitable.”
Software is another necessary component to prekitting. Products sold need to be calculated at item or SKU level in order to produce pick lists. When operators consider software packages for prekitting, they should think about functionality, forecasting, DEX data and whether the software is scalable and robust — will it work for them in the future, explains Silpa Pande, Streamware product manager at Crane Merchandising Systems. Functionality refers to the program’s ability to take care of stores, trucks and warehouses and the flow of product across each. The software should be able to forecast what products will be needed for a prekit based on real-time and/or regular DEX data. “And finally, [operators] should consider a software package that will work for them long-term and is future proofed,” said Pande. “For example, after they implement prekitting successfully, it should offer other functionalities that will take them to the next level.
Launching a VMS and prekitting aren’t accomplished in one day. It requires dedication with both staff and time. Cliff Fisher, sales manager at MEI goes so far as to suggest four phases necessary to implement the technologies successfully. The phases are: disciplined operation, preroll machine and truck forecasting, prekitting machine and forecasting as well as telemetry based forecasting. “It is important to realize that skipping the prior steps doesn’t eliminate the prior requirements,” said Fisher. “…Trying to accomplish everything in a single step can be overwhelming, costly and disruptive.”
Get the first route right
“You want to hit a home run with your first route,” said longtime vending software salesman Bill Lockett, sales director of VendSys. “You want the drivers to want this — that it’s not just another big brother thing.”
Lockett explains that starting to prekit takes at least four months. It needs an administrator in the office to print reports and techs in the field to fix DEX issues and move machines. “Every machine talks differently,” said Lockett. “You have to have a service tech who can get it back online before the driver sees it again.” Lockett believes small operations should start prekitting from the truck, getting drivers to make one trip into a location. “Once you get four routes prekitting at curb and the driver says it works, then move it to the warehouse,” he said. At the warehouse level, operators can pay $12.50 per hour to pick product versus a driver picking it for $20 an hour. Plus, a driver can easily manage to service 80 to 100 machines per route, an additional 50 to 75 machines without being over worked. There’s a potential for servicing even more machines with the application of wireless/telemetry, according to Lockett.