Smooth Operator - May 2006
"Chaotic, wasteful and error-prone." That's how Joe Carlson, operations manager for Crosslink Orthopaedics, describes the system Crosslink used to manage its supply chain. "If you picture an office with multiple desks covered in stacks of paper, with people running all over the place, talking on the phone, and you add a soundtrack of screaming and general hysteria, that sums it up pretty well."
Crosslink, an agency of Stryker Orthopaedics, one of the world's largest medical device companies, provides kits for doctors performing joint replacement surgeries. Crosslink often finds itself in complicated situations in which doctors will use, on average, four parts of a kit that contains anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces, returning the rest after the surgery is complete.
"The before picture is one of a paper-driven supply chain and sales management system, with every bit of information recorded manually on paper," says Carlson. Essentially, a surgeon would place a call to his or her local Crosslink sales rep and request, for example, a kit for a hip replacement surgery. The rep would write down the basic info and call the order in to Crosslink's warehouse facility. The warehouse received the orders over the phone and wrote them down. These orders were eventually transcribed onto a paper form and sent out so they could be picked up and prepared for shipping to the surgeon.
Once the surgery was complete, the doctor returned the kit's unused parts, which were then inventoried. Each kit, however, always needs to be complete, so Crosslink would need to find out exactly which parts had been used and then place a parts order to Stryker to replenish the kit for reuse. "Typical faxes had errors, or didn't come through, or got picked up and put on the wrong desk, were unreadable or had to be re-verified over the phone. There was lots of slippage in the power train."
Stryker sends an average of 20,000 to 40,000 replacement parts to Crosslink every day, which then need to be placed into the proper kits. "What we got was, one rep says this, another says that, or it didn't get written down properly, or errors were made in the transcribing process. There was no visibility of what came in and went out the door past today's work unless you wanted to go through every stack of paper on all the desks in the office," says Carlson. Every aspect of the supply chain process had a manual check-in that tallied the parts, catalog numbers and lot codes against paper lists. "Now imagine we have anywhere from 60 to 100 surgery events per day to manage and you see the problem we were dealing with."
Crosslink knew it needed to provide its sales force and technicians with real-time inventory control to keep track of complete kits on hand as well as the location of parts in the order fulfillment and return process. "The solution we wanted was to use the technology available to catch up with the times, to cut down on the number of times info is entered into forms, to make the whole process error-free and to improve visibility for everyone from the warehouse to the customer service rep to the surgeon on where everything is," says Carlson.
Carlson's team was introduced to software developer Objectware and charged it with designing a custom application that could be used to simplify Crosslink's processes. "We examined every step of the process and charted out all the things the solution needed to support and what we needed the software to do," says Carlson. "What we ended up with was a solution that provides a tool to the sales reps to communicate more specifically the time, the place, the who, the type of case and what type of material he needs, and he only enters the information one time and everyone can see it. No more transcribing errors."
Using Treo 650s with wireless data connections enabled via Verizon Wireless and Cingular (depending on which areas the reps service), Crosslink sales reps use Web browsers to access and use the application and perform every operation needed to place an order. The rich client allows reps to use the application whether they are online or not, and once a connection is found, the data is automatically transmitted back to the central server. On the sales reps' end of things, they can now "schedule surgeries from the field and be more reactive to traumas," says Carlson. "It allows the reps to provide data accurately and quickly get things on the calendar."
The sales reps aren't the only ones seeing a vast improvement in their workflow. Workers in the warehouse were also equipped with Treos outfitted with Socket SDIO scanners. Now, every kit is marked with bar codes, and when they are shipped, warehouse workers scan them and all the information regarding that kit and where it is headed is automatically populated in the application and reflected on the server. "The scanning technology has been a boon for us," notes Carlson. "We can scan all the data straight into our application, and invoices are generated automatically. Everything is recorded electronically and the warehouse now has visibility of the cases that are coming up and can prepare ahead of time instead of rifling through stacks of paper. We can also control our inventory much more stringently and can always see what's actually available in the warehouse. The scanning feature reconciles the number of orders and helps us replenish kits appropriately. This has had a dramatic effect. It used to take a full day to replenish the kits and earmark all the parts, and now that's down to two hours. Getting the scanner was huge in this process in cutting down on errors and getting the lot codes right. Scanning reduces errors by 10,000 percent. Being able to rely on a device instead of people creates the reliability of the data out in the field, speeds up the time and improves productivity."
On the customer service side, they can see the orders as soon they are scanned and know what implants were used. "Boom, it's visible in seconds to the customer service people and they can order the replacement from Stryker, which saves six to eight hours of time lag," remarks Carlson.
As a result of embedding the mobile solution into its sales and supply chain processes, Crosslink has greater visibility into what the sales managers are doing, the reps can see the inventory, the warehouse workers know what they need to fulfill and the customer service people know what needs to be ordered and billed.
"It's a much more rational system being used," says Carlson. "The paper shuffle and the chaos are gone. We have the ability to plan ahead, our headcount stayed flat even though sales grew by 20 percent in 2005 and errors are now a rare event instead of a daily occurrence. That was an immense accomplishment."