Network of Hope Food Bank Case Study
The Network of Hope Food Bank serves communities in Western Pennsylvania. Their premier location in Butler, PA provides a food shopping distribution experience every other week. As the food bank grew, the team needed to spend a significant amount of time determining the quantity and type of food distributed each week. Additionally, with approximately 156 shelf locations, keeping track of the location of each type or category of food became more difficult. Robin Pikur, managing director, turned to TallyFlow to help her keep track of inventory location, usage and levels.
Network of Hope
Problems to address:
Finding food on the shelves - In order to be efficient at pulling items from the shelves, and in knowing where to put them back, volunteers need to know where to find the food items.
Knowing quantities of shelf items and quantities of distributed items - To have the correct number of boxes of each type of food, the food bank staff needs to know which items were distributed and in what quantity. They also need to know how many boxes are on the shelf so they can order the correct amount for the next food distribution. Ordering too many of one item causes premium shelf space to be overused. Ordering too few items means that the food bank will run out of items that people need. Inventory tallies can be reported to donors and used to keep the right foods and quantities in inventory.
We discussed using barcodes or RFID. Due to the close proximity of items on the shelves, and the volumes of food being distributed, we determined that a barcode system was the best option both from a cost and use-case perspective. RFID is useful for coarse location and large quantities of inventory items. Barcode is useful for smaller quantities of items or close proximity to other items. (RFID scans can bleed over into adjacent areas.)
The Solution: TallyFlow Tracking Software
TallyFlow is an asset tracking system that helps companies answer important questions about their assets. These include what, when, where and how many, among others. TallyFlow uses barcodes, RFID tags or Bluetooth beacons to track assets or inventory items. Reports may be generated by categories, zones or events.
The food bank receives food each week from multiple sources. As the food arrives, it is placed on the shelves by the carton. For example, a carton of tomato soup may include 24 cans. Robin’s volunteer team enrolls the items into TallyFlow by scanning relevant barcodes. Enrollment uses three barcodes:
Zone - the location where the food is placed on the shelf
Category - the type of food that is going on the shelf
Item - a per-item barcode that uniquely identifies each case of food
Robin worked with the TallyFlow team to create a list of food categories that would be used in the inventory system. The food categories are used on site only when enrolling items into TallyFlow. Once the individual item barcode is associated with a category, that association is kept until the food is distributed.
Categories are used extensively in reporting. Reports show where items of various categories are located on the shelf, and the number of items in each category.
Each category is represented by a QR Code value, such as “cat:Fruit-DriedCherries”. The “cat:” prefix tells TallyFlow Mobile to treat the barcode value as a category, rather than a zone or item number.
We divided the food storage area into 52 different zone locations or “zones”. Each of these locations is represented in TallyFlow as a zone: 1A1, 1A2, … 3H1, 3H2. The number of zones allows the volunteers to both strategically place the food on the shelves, and know where food of each category is stored. Each zone has a QR Code. The QR Code value is used by TallyFlow to store or retrieve the location of food items. For example, the QR Code value may be “zone:1A1” which tells the TallyFlow mobile application to treat the barcode value as a location.
Each item has a different barcode to uniquely identify each box. Uniqueness is required to track the location of each box. Some categories of food may be stored in multiple locations. Knowing these locations is a crucial factor in having efficient workflows.
Prior to the arrival of the food at the facility, Robin, the managing director, will generate a list of food categories that are arriving. TallyFlow generates the relevant QR codes to allow the workers to quickly scan the codes when adding boxes of food to the shelves.
As the items come into the food bank, unique barcode stickers are placed on each case of food. The volunteer staff must know if food of the same type is already on the shelves to attempt to put it in the same or a nearby location. Once the location is determined, the volunteer will scan the zone: barcode and the cat: barcode, then the item barcode. These will associate the item barcode with the category of food and initial location. The food category will obviously not change, but the location may change multiple times before the food has been distributed.
Before items are pulled from the shelves, it is important to know the location of the items. The TallyFlow > Categories by Zone report informs Robin of the location of each item. Robin forms the pick list. As part of that process, she notes the location of where the volunteers will find the food of each category, and importantly, where they will put any surplus items back on the shelf.
A volunteer will scan the “zone:Foyer” barcode to indicate that a box has been removed for the shelf and is ready for distribution. Then he or she will scan each of the item barcodes to logically move them in TallyFlow from a shelf to the foyer area.
At the end of the food distribution, items that were not fully distributed need to be placed back on the shelf. The process for doing this is to update the location of the item. A volunteer will scan a location barcode, then scan the barcodes of the items that are returning to that location.