How a Client is Solving Write-Offs, Via Technology and Frequent Physical Inventory Counts

A multinational materials company that manufactures and distributes cement, ready-mix concrete, aggregates and materials including coal, recently approached Stockpile Reports. They were searching for a solution to reduce write-offs, time, and costs associated with inventory measurements across multiple sites.

Technological advances are now shrinking the time needed to perform company-wide physical inventory counts from 3-5 weeks down to 3-5 days. Measurement methods include the iPhone, drone, and airplane.
Technological advances are now shrinking the time needed to perform company-wide physical inventory counts from 3-5 weeks down to 3-5 days. Measurement methods include the iPhone, drone, and airplane.

The materials company had been performing inventory counts on multiple sites and regions. They’d hired an expensive third party survey team, who’d utilized a truck-mounted laser for measurements. Using a truck-mounted laser was accurate, but the costs associated with the surveys only allowed for physical inventory measurements to be performed once yearly.

During the rest of the year, team members kept a perpetual inventory by performing self-reported monthly estimates of material on hand. They estimated these amounts monthly, and sent the totals to the Finance Department.

As a result of not using current, accurate measurement data, the company had been experiencing major write-offs every year. This also corresponded with large financial swings.

Stockpile Reports was engaged to perform monthly physical inventory counts, utilizing a mix of measurement technologies. These included using iPhones, drones and planes. It was determined that using a combination of collection methods was the most appropriate solution. The location of material’s company sites are wide-spread across multiple states in the US. Each site also varied in material types, safety, stockpile placements and stockpile sizes.

The Solution for Write-Offs

Since the materials company has a company drone, a portion of one location is now measured monthly via drone for tall coal piles. This is in a high-traffic area, making it unsafe for ground measurements.

Bunkered material and smaller stockpiles are measured monthly with iPhones using internal labor. This is to spot-check incoming deliveries, and also ensure that outgoing deliveries meet production expectations.

A physical inventory count is conducted quarterly at all locations on the same day if weather permits, using Stockpile Reports’ flyover service. This is providing a running perpetual inventory for the company.

The Savings

The client recognized immediate costs-savings. There is no third-party labor needed to implement Stockpile Reports’ solution. The time-savings enables the company to perform company-wide measurements regularly. For example, the average time required using internal labor and Stockpile Reports’ flyover service was only 20 minutes per each site. Internal labor used for piloting a drone for site measurements averaged about 45 minutes per site. The average measurement by iPhone was 3-5 minutes per stockpile and bunker.

The materials company has successfully accelerated physical inventory counts, and are now performing monthly measurements. Measuring often, regularly, and accurately is the key to inventory control. They are making data-driven material handling decisions, and are greatly reducing financial write offs.

This blog post is a continuation of  “The Case for More Frequent Physical Inventory Counts” and last week’s entry “Controlling Swings in Inventory with New Technologies.

We are always happy to share our success stories. Contact us for more details about how we can assist your company and reduce write-offs.

 

 

 

How Pete Lien & Sons Improved Worker Safety by Measuring Stockpiles with an iPhone

Pete Lien & Sons engaged the Stockpile Reports’ service as a means to improve the accuracy of their stockpile measurements while maintaining employee safety.

Safety first: A worker at Pete Lien & Sons using an iPhone to measure stockpiles safely.

Previous methods of stockpile measuring had limited accuracy. This was due to the need to walk on stockpiles with data collection equipment, which the company does not allow. Other systems that do not require accessing stockpiles were considered, and ruled out due to the additional hardware, data processing time and training costs that would be required for multiple users. Using an iPhone as a measurement tool provided a safe and accurate way to measure stockpiles without the investment in additional hardware equipment, technical processing, and extensive training.

About Pete Lien & Sons

For over a half century, Pete Lien & Sons has provided construction materials for communities across South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. The company’s commitment to customer service and product quality has helped it grow from its humble beginnings to a large scale, multi-state operation with over 400 employees.

Throughout the history of the company, Pete Lien and Sons’ core business has been mining, primarily limestone, followed by sand and gravel. The company currently has mines in Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The company is a major supplier to concrete plants, road contractors, and homeowners.

Current Safety Standards To Be Met

Pete Lien & Sons’ priority is to provide a safe and healthful workplace for employees which is accomplished in part by maintaining compliance with both federal, and state laws and regulations.

Accidents cost much more than money. In addition to lost productivity, increased insurance premiums, medical bills, workman’s compensation, and, in the most tragic cases, death benefits, the company loses the respect of the local community, and morale among employees.

Inventory is an important tool that an operation uses to measure success and plan for the future. Any additional accuracy in the measurement process improves their ability to monitor their progress and make decisions that will improve efficiency. The benefit of obtaining more accurate inventory data may inadvertently incentivize operations staff to walk on stockpiles with survey equipment, even if it is not a company approved practice. Pete Lien & Sons recognized the potential conflict, and began a search for a tool that would assist in eliminating it.

Why Stockpile Reports Was Selected

Stockpile Reports is the only available service delivering accurate stockpile volume, tonnage and pile locations using an Apple® iPhone® device. The patent-pending Stockpiles App provides real-time feedback and guidance for the user on-site. Results are typically available within hours after data is uploaded to the servers. Upon completion of processing, users may then login to stockpilereports.com and view the tonnage and volume results via a site report and a corresponding stockpile report.

Collection features encoded into the Stockpiles App are built-in to enable companies to promote employee safety and MSHA regulatory compliance.

Safety benefits from measuring with an iPhone include:

  • Less time workers are exposed to hazardous conditions on-site. Typical collection times per pile each average between 1-4 minutes.
  • Minimizes the possibility of having to return for subsequent data collection by communicating in real-time user errors while recording, via Smart Collect audio and visual notifications.
  • Using the iPhone as directed circumvents the need to climb piles as done by traditional GPS data collection.

Training the Team

Pete Lien & Sons’ GIS Technician downloaded the Stockpiles App onto an iPhone and was assigned an administrative user account and password to access the client portal on StockpileReports.com.

Site, product data and tonnage conversions were entered into the Stockpile Reports system with a list of sites and users.

Personalized training sessions online were conducted with instructions for beginners on how to measure piles with an iPhone, similar to online assistance as provided to all clients.

After completion of online training, the GIS Technician coached internal team members on how to measure with iPhone. Stockpile Reports then made a company visit to South Dakota and assisted the team with advanced training. The service was then rolled out to all of Pete Lien & Sons’ sites.

Results/Impact of Safety Partnership

Since the inception of the partnership agreement, over 350 stockpile measurements have been safely made from stockpiles across the states of Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado.

There were zero stockpile measurement-related accidents at Pete Lien & Sons’ locations while using the iPhone.

The majority of stockpiles measured were in the 0-1000 ton range, with an average time to measure of 2:17 with an iPhone. Piles with a range of 1000-3000 averaged less than 3 minutes per measurement, at 2:59.

“Our employees at Pete Lien & Sons are our most valuable resource,”said Danielle Wiebers, Manager of Environmental Safety and Affairs. “We’re able to train any employee equipped with an iPhone to take measurements safely, accurately, and in less time. We are confident not only in the accuracy of the results, but also for the safety of our team. It’s a win-win for our company.

Download the complete case study here.

For more information about how the Stockpile Reports system can help your company reduce risk and be more productive, please read this blog post.

Stockpile Reports’ benefits add up to better decision-making with lower risk, faster inventory turns and lower operating expenses.  Contact us to find out how your business can benefit from utilizing our service today.

Say Bah, Humbug to Safety Shortcuts

A sobering statistic states that the construction industry is the most dangerous industry. Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. The leading safety hazards on site are falls from height, motor vehicle crashes, excavation accidents, electrocution, machines, and being struck by falling objects.

Don't take an unnecessary shortcut to save time when measuring. Using an iPhone to measure stockpiles is fast and accurate-- and compliant with safety standards
Don’t take an unnecessary shortcut to save time when measuring. Using an iPhone to measure stockpiles is fast and accurate– and compliant with safety standards

Taking a shortcut on safety to save time or steps during work is not ‘safe’. If you take the occasional shortcut while working, break that habit now. Make the right choice every time. If work is done properly, it will be safe, productive, efficient, cost-effective, and of high quality— without risking injury due to a well-intentioned shortcut.

We can’t stress safety awareness enough, especially during the holiday season and as rainy, cold, wintry weather arrives! If you are in Australia or in warmer climes, there is still no good reason to ignore safety guidelines. Your coworkers, managers, customers and especially your family will appreciate this.

The Stockpile Reports system can help you reduce risk and be more productive.

Safety benefits for employees include:

  • Promotion of Employee Safety and MSHA Regulatory Compliance: Collect stockpile data quickly by walking around stockpiles while using an iPhone. Use the resulting Site Reports to plan, position and manage stockpiles more safely. This reduces employee exposure to hazardous conditions, and there is no reason to climb on a pile for measurement.
  • Increase Productivity: Measuring stockpiles using an iPhone only takes minutes. Read our average stockpile measurement speed by tonnage.
  • Greater Consistency: Collect stockpile data using best-practice processes at every mining, quarrying, rock crushing and aggregates distribution location, every time.

Safety benefits extend throughout the entire company:

  • Quarry managers and plant supervisors who want to safely optimize the profit performance of their mining, quarrying and rock crushing operations.
  • CFOs who want to increase inventory turns while decreasing operating expenses and risk.
  • Construction aggregates sales managers who want to sell every ton of inventory while decreasing stock-outs.

Construction and Safety Tips

Here are a few reminders of how to reduce risk on-site. They include:

  • Always wear appropriate protective equipment: use hard hats, eye protection, and protective footwear
  • Only use the appropriate tool for a specific task.
  • Reduce your risk of strain and of falling by practicing good posture and balance at all times.
  • When operating tools, vehicles, or other heavy machinery, be vigilant for your own safety and that of the people surrounding you.
  • Stay alert, and look where you are walking
  • Observe speed limits

More great tips and information can be found here from the Compliance and Safety website. State mining organizations, associations and societies resources can be located online here. Another great resource with domestic and international safety links is on the Construction Site Safety Wikipedia site. In the United States, The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have safety requirements to help prevent injury and accidents.

Stockpile Reports’ benefits add up to better decision-making with lower risk, faster inventory turns and lower operating expenses.  Contact us to find out how your business can benefit from utilizing our service today.

 

Prepare for the 2014 Holiday Season

The month of December presents a great opportunity to boost company operations and performance before the year’s end.December calendar

It is holiday season, but that doesn’t mean your company can’t be productive! Your business can prepare for missed measurements due to weather events and holiday time.

December has measurement challenges unique to this month: weather changes, travel, short work-weeks, and shortened attention spans due to holiday celebrations and planning. These challenges are shared for businesses located in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Some of our team members will be traveling to Australia to meet with clients later this week. The weather is warm and sunny ‘down under’. Although it’ll be a pleasant change from the cold temps in the US, we’re there to assist our clients and help them prepare for 2015.

Safety on-site is important year-round, but especially so in the holidays. A great advantage of using an iPhone to measure stockpiles is that the user doesn’t have to walk on piles to gather data. Using an iPhone is also quick and accurate– benefits for workers and for business. A shortened month doesn’t mean safety should be sacrificed for productivity— there’s no need to rush or cut corners.

Australia MapOur service enables you to measure and manage 100% of your stockpile inventory volume in under 24-hours. Get started this week. Read a recent blog post with tips on how to measure during winter if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of you located in the Southern Hemisphere, view our tips on measuring stockpiles on sunny days. Neither snow nor sun should stop your company from measuring or auditing current inventory.

There are less than 30 days remaining in December, so get out there and measure! Management and finance teams will appreciate having timely data and use that to plan for 2015’s site operations. Utilize our service’s suite of measurement options and reports now.

If you have questions about the best measurement method for your site, please contact us. If you are a current client, visit the Customer Help area.

Measuring Stockpiles in the Rain

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 2.01.49 PMCan customers measure stockpiles in the rain?

Waiting for rain in car
If it is pouring outside, it is best to wait for the rain to subside before measuring your stockpile.

Although darker, drizzly days are depressing for some people, damp weather is no reason to avoid measuring stockpile inventory. Measurements taken with an iPhone in light rain are successful– as long as the person holding it remembers to utilize the same principles relevant to sunny weather.

When recording a video, remember to:

Watch your environment. If you are recording in a busy area, we recommend sometimes going on-site in groups of two. One person can keep an eye on truck traffic moving around the pile.

Wear protective clothing.  Make sure your outer material protects against wind and rain, and you can wear touchscreen gloves. The buttons on the Stockpiles App are designed to be large, and accommodate gloved fingers. Keep your safety glasses or goggles clean and fog-free.

Plan your steps. It is a good idea to walk around the stockpile once, prior to your measurement. Mud, ice and rain can be slippery. Planning your steps ahead helps you avoid puddles and slippery areas. This will also help ensure that as you ‘walk the pile’ your video collect will not be shaky from stumbling.

Move slow and steady. Although the weather may be uncomfortable, don’t rush through your recording. The Smart Collect feature in the Stockpiles App will alert you to jerky movement, going too fast and rotating the iPhone sideways. Listen to the beeps and heed their warnings if you hear them. Although lower light conditions is no problem for improved iPhone 6 cameras, moving slowly and steadily recommended for other iPhone versions.

muddy
A good example of why one should plan their steps. Avoiding puddles and slick areas prevents accidents and ensures a steady video capture.

Invest in a waterproof iPhone cover. There is a big difference between a damp phone and a wet one. Wet iPhones stop working. If you live in an area that reliably gets a lot of rain (such as the Pacific Northwest) you may want to invest in a waterproof cover for your iPhone. When choosing a protective case consider its bulkiness, potential for interference with your phone’s functionality, shock and water resistance, charging capability and available accessories like holsters.

For more worker safety tips, visit Working in the Rain.

Wondering what the weather is going to be like in your area? Visit the National Weather Service’s website.

Stockpiles App Updated for Mining and Construction

iphone 5 and 6
Jonathan and Galen demonstrate the different sizes of iPhone 6 and 5.

This has been a big week for us! We officially announced our newest Stockpiles App update, optimized for the Apple® iPhone®6, utilizing Apple’s advanced iOS 8 operating system.

We are helping construction, mining and aggregates businesses take advantage of Apple’s Focus Pixels and larger landscape display screen, capturing video measurements in lower-light. Stockpile reports are generated quickly within 24-hours, with volume accuracy comparable to LiDAR.

A 3D stockpile reconstruction and contour map from a stockpile measured with an iPhone.
A 3D stockpile reconstruction and corresponding contour map from a measured stockpile.

iPhone 6 Stockpiles App Benefits:

Measurement results are produced and documented within 24 hours, with reconstructed video, photo, date, time, material type, tonnage, who measured and date measured are provided with a corresponding stockpile contour map.

Stockpiles are labeled and displayed as both individual sites on a Google Map and as a separate stockpile report. Users can view changing shape of individual stockpiles and locations on site over time.

iPhone 6 camera brings low-light and focus improvements to help reduce sun flare, movement and late afternoon measurements taken at quarries and construction sites in variable weather and temperatures.

New larger 4.7” landscape view enables users to easily select sites and materials via the App with gloves and view through safety glasses.

Stockpile App’s Smart Collect feature utilizes Apple’s new A8 processor. This enables stockpile measurers to review multiple stockpile videos prior to upload, make rotation or speed corrections on the spot, and be confident that the video captures image details necessary to reconstruct 3D volume results.

We’ve already been using the new iPhone 6 to measure stockpiles this week. We don’t require you to upgrade your current iPhone to version 6 to receive excellent measurement results– our team uses a variety of iPhones on-site.

Try the Stockpile Reports service for yourself and receive customized stockpile and site reports. Simply contact us to get set up in our system by filling out the online form.Your company may even qualify for a limited No Cost trial.

Tips for Measuring Stockpiles on Sunny Days

Sun Flare

June 21 marks the Summer Solstice for the Northern Hemisphere– however, for our customers in Australia and New Zealand, June 21 is also the date of their Winter Solstice.

Our customers in both hemispheres are taking advantage of the available sunshine to make as many stockpile measurements outside as possible. As the days get warmer and longer, this opens up the ability to measure earlier and later, which is much more comfortable to do when Summer temperatures rise mid-day.

However, when the sun is lower on the horizon sometimes our customers encounter sun flare. Sun flare (or glare) might make a photograph look especially artistic for personal use, but flare not a desired effect when making stockpile measurements using an iPhone.

Here are a few field-tested solutions to help you counter sun flare during measurement.

Collect When The Sun Is High

If possible, collect data during the day while the sun is not low on the horizon.  This helps prevent both washed out imagery as well as lens flare.

It can be helpful to shield the top of your iPhone with a hand or other object such as a clipboard (just take care not to have the object interfere by coming into view of the video). Tilting the camera slightly forward or backward if the sun is directly behind the pile from you can be useful, but requires some extra care as you want to ensure that you keep the pile itself in the frame.

Does the Position of the Sun Affect Results?

Lens flare can greatly reduce the quality of your imagery and the accuracy of your resulting measurement.

For customers in the Southern Hemisphere, we’ve found that the best way to deal with the sun during the short months of the year is to keep the top of the pile close to the top of the video screen– even if you cut off the top of the pile for a second or two. This should not impact the results (just avoid doing something like completely cutting off the pile for any extended amount of time longer than 2-3 seconds).

Sun Flare on Stockpile

A good way to practice and prepare for sun flare is to go to the back-side of a pile when the sun is out and low on the horizon– usually early morning or late afternoon. Use your iPhone and experiment by taking short videos using the above techniques. You can then review the video following each practice measurement to better understand the impact these variables have on a video. Observe for instances in which either the sun washes out the video in light and sun rays, or whether the bright sky in the background has made the pile’s appearance to be very dark with hard to see texture. Practice and a bit of patience will really pay off here.

Safety On-Site

Also remember to be aware of your surroundings when you are measuring, especially if you are around moving machinery. Drivers can be blinded by the sunlight. Glare is at its worst when the sun is low, toward the horizon. That typically is the hour or so after sunrise and before sunset.

Most vehicles have blind spots that obscure the driver’s vision. This is especially true in large construction vehicles and haul trucks, but it is also true in smaller vehicles. Mirrors and cameras have been used to minimize the problem, but accidents still occur. Dirty mirrors and lenses, poor lighting conditions, and driver fatigue can cause the driver not to see other vehicles and workers on foot.

The Stockpile Reports team is happy to assist you during these brighter, sunnier days. Contact us if you need more information about how to prevent (or minimize) sun flare.

This is an excellent time of year to measure stockpile inventory. If you are not a current client and are interested in finding out how our system benefits your team, please contact us

Promote Safety and Reduce Risk

In an ideal world it would be easy and perfectly safe to get accurate stockpile measurements. There would be no traffic hazards, no site distractions, workers would have great visibility and the ability to hear clearly, stockpiles would be easy to reach and walk around, and of course the sky would always be blue.

Reduce risk by promoting worker safety.
Reduce risk by promoting worker safety.

Of course, there is no ‘ideal’ worksite or environment.  Construction sites, quarries and other work zones are noisy, busy, and congested areas. Spring and summer weather include lightning, hail, heavy rain and wind. Stockpiles are usually irregularly shaped and located on uneven, rocky or sloped ground. Often there are access challenges or obstructions around the piles.

The construction industry is the most dangerous industry. Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. The leading safety hazards on site are falls from height, motor vehicle crashes, excavation accidents, electrocution, machines, and being struck by falling objects.

In the United States, The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have developed safety requirements to help prevent injury and accidents.

OSHA’s New Initiative: A Focus on Temporary Employees

Host employers now have primary responsibility for employees at their worksites, including ensuring that hazards in the workplace are communicated to the temporary employees independent contractors. Employees must receive specific safety training that is tailored to the workplace.

Stockpile Safety Steps

To keep employees safe when working around, and with stockpiles and highwalls, MSHA offers five best practices:

  • Be aware of overhanging material when loading from stockpiles and highwalls.
  • Stay back from the edge and build a berm.
  • Stay clear of draw points above surge tunnels.
  • Always scale the highwall back.
  • Never place yourself between the equipment and the stockpile or highwall.

Construction and Safety Tips

Here are a few reminders of how to reduce risk on-site. They include:

  • Always wear appropriate protective equipment: use hard hats, eye protection, and protective footwear
  • Only use the appropriate tool for a specific task.
  • Reduce your risk of strain and of falling by practicing good posture and balance at all times.
  • When operating tools, vehicles, or other heavy machinery, be vigilant for your own safety and that of the people surrounding you.
  • Stay alert, and look where you are walking
  • Observe speed limits

More great tips and information can be found here from the Compliance and Safety website. State mining organizations, associations and societies resources can be located online here. Another great resource with domestic and international safety links is on the Construction Site Safety Wikipedia site.

The Stockpile Reports system can help you reduce risk. Safety benefits include:

  • Promote Employee Safety and MSHA Regulatory Compliance: Collect stockpile data by walking around stockpiles while using an iPhone. Use Site Reports to plan, position and manage stockpiles more safely.
  • Increase Productivity: Collect data for each construction aggregates stockpile in minutes. Reduce employee exposure to hazardous conditions.
  • Greater Consistency: Collect stockpile data using best-practice processes at every mining, quarrying, rock crushing and aggregates distribution location, every time.

The benefits cut across the entire company:

  • Quarry managers and plant supervisors who want to safely optimize the profit performance of their mining, quarrying and rock crushing operations.
  • CFOs who want to increase inventory turns of construction aggregates while decreasing operating expenses and risk.
  • Construction aggregates sales managers who want to sell every ton of inventory while decreasing stock-outs.

Stockpile Reports’ benefits add up to better decision-making with lower risk, faster inventory turns and lower operating expenses Contact us to find out how your business can benefit from utilizing our service today.

 

Top 10 Business Benefits

Galen measuring a snowy stockpile

What are the benefits of using Stockpile Reports’ online service?

We’ve met with several clients in the field this week, and they have consistently been impressed with how easy the service is to use, and with the quality of their reports.

Of course, we never get tired of hearing that from our customers! However, there is more to appreciate about our measurement system besides how easy it is to use. Your financial team and upper-management may not be able to collect data on-site, but they also benefit.

Here are the top 10 ways:

  • Increase Productivity: Collect data for each construction aggregates stockpile in minutes. Eliminate the travel time required by a full-time, survey team.
  • Greater Timeliness: Receive aggregates tonnage and volume calculations in hours, instead of days or weeks. Implement new, competitive business strategies based on timely data.
  • Greater Relevance: Calculate aggregates stockpile tonnage every day, week or month, instead of every quarter or year. Reduce safety stock.
  • Comparable Accuracy: Aggregates tonnage and volume calculations are comparable to stationary LiDAR and mobile laser scanning.
  • Automatic Audit Trail: Each stockpile has a visual record and timestamped report generated, allowing audit trails to be automatically generated for each stockpile measured.
  • Remote Site Management and Site Accountability: With each report, remote managers can visually inspect the quality and state of each pile to ensure proper site management.
  • Promote Employee Safety and MSHA Regulatory Compliance: Collect stockpile data by walking around stockpiles. Use each Site Report to plan, position and manage stockpiles more safely.
  • Simpler Training: Simply point an iPhone® 4S, iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s while walking and recording imagery.
  • Lower Equipment Costs: Replace expensive LiDAR and GPS devices with an inexpensive iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s device.
  • Greater Consistency: Collect stockpile data using best-practice processes at every mining, quarrying, rock crushing and aggregates distribution location, every time.

Plan for a more efficient, profitable 2014.  Contact us to find out how your business can benefit from our service today.