COVID-19 has put unprecedented pressure on costs and operations. But how do you provide workplace essentials quickly while reducing costs and keeping your workforce safe? One answer is industrial vending, delivering everyday items close to the production line.

Even before the pandemic, almost two-thirds of MRO procurement professionals reported that their number one pressure was cost reduction. In a survey, commissioned jointly by RS Components and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS), 62% said reducing operational budgets was their greatest priority.

Time is money and nothing wastes time more than taking people off the line to search for essential supplies, including PPE for COVID-19. Quite apart from the time taken to get to the stores, engineers can be tempted to take more than they need to guard against future requirements.

“Engineers will tend to hoard stock. They take three of a particular product because they don’t want to run the risk of it not being there next time"Alex Davies, Head of Value Added Services, RS Components

“Engineers will tend to hoard stock,” says Alex Davies, Head of Added Value Services at RS Components. “They take 3 of a particular product because they don’t want to run the risk of it not being there next time.

“They put it in their locker and finish their shift and no one else knows where that stock is. It’s what we call phantom stock. If an emergency arises when that person is off-shift the company typically ends up buying more stock.”

Ad hoc purchases not only push up costs (an organisation that spends £100,000 purchasing MRO products over the course of a year, could also be spending a further £200,000 processing those purchases), they also wreak havoc with inventory control.


Protecting employees

But it’s not just about wasted money. If the item in question is COVID-related PPE, it becomes impossible to ensure that employees are properly protected. Even a trip to the stores may breach social distancing rules.

“In a COVID world, if you’ve got a situation where people are going into the stores and touching everything and walking around in an uncontrolled way on the production floor, it’s just unhelpful in the context of keeping people safe,” says Davies.

The solution, he says, is to bring the supplies to the people, using industrial vending machines. “It ensures that the people who need to be fixing or building things are spending more time fixing and building rather than walking around trying to find parts,” he adds.

“We know that MRO indirect items are extremely important to keeping a business running, but the value of the items is low and businesses can place less emphasis on managing that stock. If you put an RS VendStock® vending machine in the right place and you fill it full of essentials, you are making them available to employees, which will improve productivity.”

Those essentials can be PPE, including COVID items like hand sanitisers and hygiene products, as well as tools like screwdrivers and spanners. RS VendStock® automatically monitors what is being used – and employees gain access using a unique log-in. According to the 2019 Indirect Procurement report, a quarter of all companies surveyed said they were using a vendor managed inventory service for fast moving MRO supplies.

“That means you won’t over-consume, you won’t have issues where people are taking more than they need, because they’re held accountable and all the transactions are visible on the machine,” says Davies. VendStock® tracks every item to a cost centre, automatically reorders it and can be linked directly to a company’s accounting systems.

“If, heaven forbid, something happens to an employee, the business can demonstrate that the right PPE was available, the individual had access to it during their whole shift and took the right PPE"Alex Davies, Head of Value Added Services, RS Components

The audit trail generated by the machine is particularly important in the time of a pandemic, adds Davies: “If, heaven forbid, something happens to an employee, the business can demonstrate that the right PPE was available, the individual had access to it during their whole shift and took the right PPE.”


Every industry could benefit

RS VendStock® is suitable for all types of industry. “Broadly speaking, irrespective of whether a business overhauls trains or makes pies and pasties, engineers will be using a similar set of things,” says Davies.

“It might be that a spanner has to be food-safe in one environment and rail-recommended in another. But there is quite a narrow range of products that is used in each industry, and if you have a high footfall of people consuming these things you can put the machine anywhere it’s needed.”

RS Components recently installed an RS VendStock® solution for a company in the aggregates industry. The installation was tailored to their needs, including traditional vending machines and lockers for larger items.

The lockers are used to hold items that are too large for a vending machine, or are returnable like drills, calibration equipment and power tools, says Davies. “The vending machine allows the customer to put those items in their asset tracker; so, you can put a drill in a locker and, if I want to use it, I can check it out and that machine knows I have got it.”

Of course, says Davies, you cannot put the machines out on the site, so they are located at the access points; employees then pass them as they head out into the operational aggregates area.

RS VendStock® is part of RS Components’ integrated ecosystem which includes RS ScanStock® and RS PurchasingManager® which can be supplied to customers in any situation.

“Over the past 15 years in our industry we have seen people building disparate services,” says Davies. “What we have done with all of our RS Components solutions is to build them in such a way that they all talk to each other and complement one another.”

RS VendStock® provides a big step forward, saving time, money and improving transparency in MRO supplies. As the effects of COVID-19 bite into budgets, this industrial vending solution will empower businesses to control costs, improve efficiency and avoid costly downtime.