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Increased ‘visibility’ helps the supply chain

24 October 2017

By partnering with GS1 Australia, InfraBuild has standardised product identification and scanning processes to dramatically improve productivity and customer quality outcomes.

With increases in the complexity and scale of commercial and infrastructure construction comes heightened demands on the steel supply chain.

Those demands can be met with the adoption of Global Data Standards (GDS) which, when aligned with modern technologies, can improve supply chain efficiencies by enhancing the ‘visibility’ of transported products. Working with global leaders in supply chain tracking GS1, InfraBuild (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel) has developed and implemented highly efficient open-source standardised GS1 DataMatrix barcode and product identification tagging technology across its manufacturing sites nationally to deliver globally unique identification of products at a bundle level.

By using this identification technology, InfraBuild can demonstrate the compliance certification and sustainability credentials of a large volume and wide variety of products, plus ensure certainties of cost and reliability of on-schedule delivery directly to site. It can also reduce the impact of construction projects on communities by accurately scheduling and minimising truck movements to sites. It does all this with a scrupulous attention to safety for the workforce and the general public.

InfraBuild spoke to Enzo Blonk, GS1 Global Director for Technical Industries, and Bonnie Ryan, Senior Manager, Trade, Transport and Heavy Industries at GS1 Australia, to find out about the evolution and implementation of GS1 barcodes and the benefits they bring to complex supply chains in Australia.

Q: GS1 introduced barcoding to Australia in 1979. How has the adoption of the technology progressed since then to reduce complexities in supply chain tracking? 

A: The Australian market has consistently grown in its use of standards-based identification and barcoding technologies since the inception of GS1 Australia in 1979. Today, more than 17,500 companies across over 20 industry sectors use GS1 technologies to facilitate improvements in their supply chain processes to aid better visibility and tracking of goods from origin to destination.

Q: How does the ability to show the provenance of goods aid with adherence to product certification standards and contribute to safety? 

A: There is an increasing appetite for industry to demonstrate traceability of the supply chain. The ability to demonstrate the provenance of goods across a range of categories, including food, pharmaceuticals, building products and safety-critical parts and components that are installed in critical infrastructure assets, provides an opportunity to mitigate risks associated with consumer safety and security. Having systems that provide a secure audit trail of critical events is a key risk mitigation strategy for both industry and government.

Q: GS1 standards are user-generated by different industry sectors. Do the logistics needs of one industry differ substantially from the needs of others – or are there commonalities? 

A: While there are differences in the manual handling requirements of different product categories, including industrial products, dangerous goods and perishables among others, and these impact on the logistics needs of these categories, there are definite commonalities in terms of needing to get product from one place to another. Hence visibility requirements can indeed be leveraged across a range of sectors.

Q: Do SME supply chain partners face different challenges adopting GS1 standards compared to large partners? What issues do they face with aligning their information management systems? 

A: Although there are some challenges for SME partners as they often don’t have large or sophisticated in-house IT resources, technology advances over recent years with increasingly cloud-based solutions and SaaS offerings has levelled the playing field between large and small organisations in terms of available and affordable technology capabilities. Typically, though, SME partners will adopt GS1 standards largely as a result of compliance versus larger organisations that have a more proactive, strategic approach to their adoption strategies.

Q: The Australian Railway Association (ARA) recently confirmed it would adopt GS1 open global standards for identifying and marking components used in the rail sector. What does this mean for Australian rail? 

A: This decision has significant benefits for the Australian rail industry; ultimately, it will lower the cost base of the entire sector while also contributing to improved safety and service for its customers. The rail industry stands to improve the effectiveness of its overall asset management task by moving from reactive maintenance processes to more predictive maintenance of assets and business/safety critical components. This will have a positive impact on cost-to-serve and asset-optimisation outcomes.

InfraBuild recently took part in a pilot study as part of the Australian Logistics Council’s Supply Chain Standards Working Group – alongside other companies such as Toll Group and Nestle. We asked InfraBuild Customer Service and Fulfilment Manager David McNeil what specific processes InfraBuild covered in the study and what findings were revealed.

A: The pilot studies to determine the impact of adopting GDS-based technologies to track freight along a supply chain had two elements: the delivery of bundled steel rod and bar products; and the transportation of processed steel from our downstream businesses – InfraBuild Steel Centre (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel Metalcentre), ARC and InfraBuild Construction Solutions (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel Reinforcing) – to delivery sites. Demonstrable benefits were revealed. Twelve months after the start of the study, cost reductions of 11.5 per cent were recorded, realised by improving efficiencies in communication, optimising load planning and eliminating paper-based documents. An associated benefit was a reduction in the usual number of processing errors. During the trial period, InfraBuild was able to automatically validate invoices from transport suppliers, reducing administration time and eliminating manual input errors.

The consistent through-the-business implementation of GS1 product tagging is delivering significant dividends for customers in the error-free delivery of material, freeing up valuable resources and delivering savings in time and cost across multiple touchpoints in the supply chain. GS1 and its extensive global experience has been a critical contributor to this success.

For more on the InfraBuild pilot study that tested the impact of adopting GDS-based technologies to track freight supply, and the benefits that were delivered to InfraBuild customers, see GDS Improves Freight Supply Chains.

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