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WORK MORE EFFICIENTLY | CASE STUDY

In the distribution of COVID tests, collaboration was key

Efficiency and better data help partners anticipate the need for rapid detection tests.

Insight

The coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to operate differently and adapt quickly—especially in the healthcare industry. For medical products manufacturers like Becton Dickinson and Company (BD), it has also highlighted the advantages of having a collaborative distribution partner that is comfortable with change.

“Pivot, pivot, pivot; that’s the name of the game these days,” says Karen Longo, channel management vice president at BD. “When we’re looking to work with a distribution partner, we’re looking for a company that is going to provide a high level of service to our end customer. We need to see a willingness to collaborate and partner on improvement opportunities, and we look for distributors with strong values that align with ours—distributors that are flexible, solution driven, efficient and can adapt to market changes.”

During the pandemic, Medline has helped BD distribute its BD Veritor™ Plus System for rapid detection of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to Health & Human Service facilities (primarily nursing homes) quickly and efficiently. Medline is also keeping extra inventory on hand to ensure availability for BD healthcare customers. Team members at Medline and BD communicate with one another at every level of the organization. Longo connects across all of Medline’s distributed products and lab divisions to access all levels of leadership, including division presidents and department leaders, as well as individual distribution centers and functional and tactical teams. Kevin Booth, director of supply chain relations at BD, says having a dedicated supply chain manager—a point person Medline can reach out to anytime there is an issue with supply or products—is a best practice for BD. So is proactive communication, which allows both organizations to find efficiencies and prevent potential issues with distribution.

Organization

Becton Dickinson and Company (BD)

BD is a global medical technology company that is advancing the world of health by improving medical discovery, diagnostics and the delivery of care. BD leads in patient and healthcare worker safety and the technologies that enable medical research and clinical laboratories. The company provides innovative solutions that help advance medical research and genomics, enhance the diagnosis of infectious disease and cancer, improve medication management, promote infection prevention, equip surgical and interventional procedures and support the management of diabetes.

Challenges

  • Ensure the availability of the BD Veritor™ Plus System for rapid detection of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to Health & Human Service facilities (primarily nursing homes)
  • Prevent unexpected distribution disruptions

Actions

  • Shared inventory levels through EDI transactions allows BD visibility into how many days’ supply is available at a specific distribution center.
  • Harnessing data helped the organizations identify ideal transport solutions.

Results

Work more efficiently:

  • Medline developed a program that allows BD to ship fully loaded, wrapped pallets of a specific product line directly to its distribution centers.
  • Having products immediately available to ship to customers is a significant time saver.

Challenges

The relationship between Medline and BD dates back to 2006, though the ever-evolving collaboration has reached new levels in recent years. Both companies have learned a lot from working together through this crisis, says Kevin Booth, director of supply chain relations at BD. Most recently, Medline has helped BD distribute its BD Veritor™ Plus System for rapid detection of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to Health & Human Service facilities throughout the country. The challenges during the pandemic have been clear:

  • Ensure the availability of the BD Veritor™ Plus System for rapid detection of COVID-19 to providers
  • Prevent unexpected distribution disruptions

In order to face these challenges head on, teams conduct weekly cadence calls to focus on operational and tactical issues, and quarterly business review meetings to focus on issues, such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and industry trends. “Together, we examine what the data tells us,” Booth explains. “That leads us to ask, ‘What if we try this? What if we try that?’ With these ongoing discussions, we can identify opportunities and get them up and going.”

“We’ve become more agile and quicker to react. It’s brought out the best in both organizations, as people extend themselves and do whatever it takes to get the product to where it’s needed.”

Kevin Booth

Director of supply chain relations at BD

Actions

As part of the plan to get product out as quickly as possible, Medline developed a program that allows BD to ship fully loaded, wrapped pallets of a specific product line directly to its distribution centers. Products are not handled multiple times, which is more efficient and reduces product damage. When they arrive, the fully wrapped pallets are put on a rack in the distribution center—ready to go when needed.

Having products immediately available to ship to customers is a significant time-saver. For example, BD can now use a series of “milk runs” to build several smaller orders on one truck. The truck goes on a run, stopping at the first Medline distribution center, then the next one, and so on—all on a scheduled delivery. “If we allowed these smaller orders to go out independently, it could take up to seven to 10 business days,” Booth says. “By sending product out on a dedicated truck, the lead time to get a product to a distribution center may be cut in half, sometimes even better.”

Harnessing data also helped the organizations identify situations where it’s more efficient for BD to use Medline’s private fleet of trucks instead of common carriers. Their findings led to co-loading and backhaul programs that further increase operational efficiency. Planning ahead and preventing unexpected distribution disruptions relies on the same open communication and information-sharing. “If Medline is closing a distribution center for the holidays, for example, they advise us,” Booth explains. “We expect some orders to come in off schedule and we plan for that.”

Medline shares inventory levels through EDI transactions so that BD knows, down to the SKU, how many days’ supply is available at a specific Medline distribution center. If a review of the data finds lower-than-desired levels of inventory, BD will increase order buying. Medline may also participate in conversations with a BD customer, such as a large hospital system, to provide additional insight. “Those three-way conversations are paramount because we can share information and get visibility to where our product is in the supply chain,” Booth explains.

“We have high levels of engagement and transparency from a supply chain perspective. Both organizations really work together for our mutual end customers.”

Karen Longo

Channel management vice president at BD

BD International outbound sortation lanes and shipping dock in Covington, GA

Results

The success of the BD-Medline relationship relies largely on alignment at the top levels of leadership. Senior leaders in both organizations share three-year strategic plans at least a couple of times a year, Booth says. “If there’s a change in the network or a new distribution center, this information is readily available and shared. We plan together.” Though the relationship has evolved over time, it has only become more collaborative, Longo explains.

Future opportunities for the companies include using data to better anticipate customer demand and business continuity planning. “Our team is working closely with the planning teams in the business units to look 30, 60, 90 days into the future, to see what demand will look like,” Booth says. “We then provide these signals to our planning team in the manufacturing plants, so they can integrate that intelligence into their production planning process to help ensure the readiness of supply.” Medline is also helping BD develop a business continuity plan to manage distribution through natural disasters and other emergencies such as the global pandemic. “We’re taking time to walk through those what-if scenarios,” Booth says. “For example, what if a distribution center is impacted by a natural event and is down for a few days? What can we do to ensure we keep the product flowing for customers?” All in all, both companies are striving to work efficiently together, no matter the disruption.

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