Colonial Chemical Solutions is a less-than-truckload chemical repackaging and distribution company specializing in cleaning solvents, water treatment chemicals and food additives. Based in Savannah, GA, the company operates additional locations in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Frustrations Fueled by a Legacy System
Colonial’s existing asset tracking software system could not effectively manage the company’s fleet of chemical totes. According to John Larkin, Warehouse Manager for Colonial, “We basically used it as a check in, check out system. It was slow and didn’t have good reporting tools. Getting the information we needed was difficult.”
Colonial is subject to a multitude of U.S. government regulations, and the company is required to keep accurate records of container contents and lot numbers as well as retest dates and results. Most of the compliance activities were handled by manual processes with various spreadsheets and hard copy binders, leading to insufficient controls with limited real-time reporting. Every time a container’s contents changed or it was retested, Larkin would manually record the information on the tote’s documentation. As business grew, Colonial frequently purchased new totes to accommodate demand. Larkin completed a set-up sheet for each one, manually recording the serial number, tracking number, retest date, and other key information on a physical sheet of paper. “I could easily spend an hour and a half every day completing tote-related paperwork,” he said.
It’s common in the chemical industry for the sales representatives to coordinate the return of empty totes with their customers. Because of the inherent errors associated with manual tracking procedures, sales reps often did not have accurate data to locate the overdue totes. This was a source of constant frustration.
The final straw came when the company planned to expand beyond its single location. The legacy asset tracking software couldn’t scale to manage multiple locations, which would prevent Colonial from ever gaining better control over their totes. That’s when they found TrackAbout at the ChemEdge trade show. “Our goal was to find a system that would provide broader, deeper and more efficient tracking capabilities,” said Larkin. “TrackAbout offered the best combination of functionality, technology and value. And it had the flexibility and the scalability we needed to support our expansion.”
Collecting Critical Information
TrackAbout is a cloud-based asset tracking software solution to track and manage portable, returnable, reusable equipment. Through various modules, the system offers specific features required by chemical companies including container location tracking, retesting and maintenance tracking, refilling control, lot traceability, product analysis, certificate of analysis, shelf-life control, bulk delivery, point of delivery and more.
With TrackAbout’s Core Tracking module, employees use TrackAbout asset tracking apps on smartphone, tablet or rugged handheld devices to initialize totes into the database by recording key attributes – such as serial number, barcode number, manufacturer, manufacture date, retest date and ownership.
Each time a tote is filled, TrackAbout records what chemical is in the container, as well as the lot number. This information populates an inventory report so that sales reps can see exactly what’s in stock and where it’s located. It also makes regulatory compliance easier. And in the event of a recall, the location of all affected lot numbers can be found in a matter of seconds.
TrackAbout’s ability to operate simultaneously on multiple device types (rugged handhelds, smartphones and tablets) was a huge advantage for Colonial. Delivery drivers already used smartphones, so the company avoided the expense of purchasing additional rugged handheld devices, saving thousands of dollars. TrackAbout’s smartphone asset tracking app offers fast, continual barcode scanning through the device’s built-in camera and saves the data in offline mode until a cellular connection is available. During delivery, drivers use a smartphone to scan the barcode on each tote, mark them as delivered and secure an electronic signature for proof of delivery. This information is available, if needed, to resolve customer disputes or retrieve empty totes.
TrackAbout’s Maintenance and Dynamic Forms modules work together to collect information about the work performed on a tote. This includes external visual inspections and internal inspections and pressure tests, retest dates, cleaning, repairs and eventual condemnation. All of this data becomes part of the tote’s digital historical information record which is stored indefinitely and available for instant recall.
While it’s only been six months since Colonial went live with TrackAbout, the company is already seeing improvements in efficiency and productivity.
“We’ve eliminated paper documentation,” said Larkin. “Everything is stored in the cloud through TrackAbout, and we can easily access the information we need for compliance purposes. And those new tote set-up sheets are a thing of the past. All the critical information about our totes is captured so much faster by TrackAbout. I’m more focused on business operations now because I don’t have to spend time managing paperwork.” Larkin added that Colonial was able to reposition one office worker to another area in the plant.
“The best thing about using TrackAbout is that our sales team has the information they need to get the totes back,” said Larkin. “It’s easy for the reps to check a report to identify which totes have been out the longest and then coordinate with the customers and our drivers to pick them up.” Because the totes are coming back faster, Colonial is utilizing their existing fleet more efficiently. “We’re not purchasing as many new totes, but I’m not able to quantify that at this early stage.”
Larkin commented, “We’re very happy with our TrackAbout system and we’re looking for other areas where it can help us. Tracking our forklift maintenance and our monthly fire extinguisher inspections are up next.” He added, “We’re confident TrackAbout will continue to meet our evolving needs as our business continues to grow.”