Inventory and Purchasing Specialist Chris Rabe and his team have emerged as Lean SD1 champions as they oversee thousands of parts and pieces of equipment for SD1's Collection Systems department.
These parts include sewer pipe, manhole lids, safety supplies and more, which SD1 crews use to build and maintain our region's wastewater and storm water sewer systems.
When Rabe started at SD1 in 1999 as a "camera truck" crew member, Collection Systems had only recently begun managing a growing inventory. While parts were no longer in piles for members to search through, no one was responsible for overseeing the inventory day-to-day.
Recognizing Rabe’s background in pharmaceutical purchasing, SD1 quickly transitioned him from working in the trucks to supplying parts for the trucks. Operations improved, and crews could systematically find what they needed during business hours. But as we all know, SD1's services are 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Who would help ensure that parts were available for crew members if an emergency occurred after hours?
Rabe did some research and found a cost-effective solution that continues to benefit SD1 to this day.
He discovered Minnesota-based distributor Fastenal, which sells and supplies vending machines for equipment. These machines operate 24/7 and automatically track and curate inventory reports, streamlining purchasing and reducing the need for additional staff.
Collection Systems has been using Fastenal machines, supplies and refill services ever since, ensuring crews always have what they need when they need it. But the benefits didn't stop there.
Thanks to Rabe's team, SD1 recently saved over $56,000 on a single supply order by buying parts through Fastenal.
Asset Technician Tony Fey recently joined the cost-saving effort. As he repairs SD1 vehicles and equipment, Fey compares costs from different companies and shares his findings with Rabe.
For example, they recently found that instead of paying $9.30 for a single stainless steel screw from a name-brand company, SD1 can buy a bag of 100 stainless steel screws from another company for a total cost of $6-$8.
These lower prices allow SD1 to keep more important parts in stock for crew members.
Fey said these cost-saving measures improve the quality of service SD1 provides. “My job is to make sure crew members can go out and do their job every day with minimal issues,” he said. “The better their equipment is, the easier their job is, the better job they do.”
When asked what motivates Rabe to continually search for cost-saving measures, he answered without giving it a second thought. "I'm a ratepayer,” he said. “If I can keep our prices down, that's good for ratepayers and us, and it's good for the environment. I just think it's what you should do."
Director of Collection Systems Michael Stevens said he appreciates Rabe and Fey for having the integrity and vision to lead multiple, successful efforts to find lower-cost alternatives for SD1’s sewer inspection equipment parts.
“Chris and Tony take the bargain hunter in all of us to a new level,” Stevens said, “saving some 90 percent on these parts, equating to tens of thousands of dollars in savings per year, all without sacrificing quality.”