Another requirement for the industrial market is detailed lot tracking, with reference to a long list of highly specialized product characteristics that are captured at the time of production. A manufacturer may specify strict tolerances for granulation or color in a sugar it orders, for example, or require product that was produced no earlier than a given date. Saddle Creek's personnel need to be able to access such detailed lot information and use it to insure they select product for each customer only from lots that meet all of a particular customer's often highly exacting and particular specifications.
Close coordination with United Sugars, through both personal communications and IT support, enable Saddle Creek to perform these specialized services as a seamless extension of its client's operation.
Through an internet portal United Sugars set up, for example, Saddle Creek personnel can access the producer's lot tracking system to determine which specific lots should be pulled to meet the specifications for an order.
Similarly, Saddle Creek has an internet portal where customers like United Sugars can access its warehouse management system to monitor all activity related to their orders and shipments.
Orders and other transactional data flow automatically between the two companies' enterprise systems. Any special handling instructions required by United Sugars' customers are incorporated in the electronic order transmissions.
Flexibility, good communication, and a focus on solutions are the keys, according to Price, that make the relationship with Saddle Creek and its other logistics providers work so well.
These qualities have been enhanced in the past few years by United Sugars' creation of a Warehouse Council, which pulls representatives from all its contract warehouses together to share ideas, identify issues or problems, and collaborate on ways to solve them.
"Each of these companies has vast experience across a range of businesses. Since their operations typically don't overlap geographically, they've been able to come together and discuss issues and ideas openly," Price says. The program has enabled United Sugars to draw ideas for logistical improvements from a pool of knowledge and experience that is both deep and wide.
"We've been able to identify areas for improvement and root causes of problems, as well as opportunities, that have led to big benefits across our network, from enhanced customer service to lower costs and increased flexibility. Through the program, we've been able to identify and adopt a host of best practices."
The Council typically meets once or twice a year for two to three days at a time, including field trips. Last year, for example, the group visited the Saddle Creek facility and toured a sugar plant. In between there are phone contacts.
"From a third-party perspective, you're always wondering what other 3PLs are doing," Saddle Creek's Harrell comments. "United Sugars has taken this group and truly created a partnership that allows us to share information with each other, knowledge, and even sales leads."