Behind the simplicity of internet shopping lies a complex system of tracking software that allows customers to easily follow the whereabouts of their purchases. Managers at Portsmouth International Port wanted to deliver a similar experience to their customers who grow, ship and buy fruit all over the world.
Portsmouth International Port is the gateway for much of the fresh fruit eaten in the UK, with 60 percent of all bananas sold in the country having come through the port. Mainland Market Deliveries Ltd (MMD) is a specialist importer and handler based at Portsmouth. The company provides shippers with a fully integrated turnkey service, including stevedoring, ship and customs agency, handling, storage and onward distribution. MMD realised that new distribution software could bring big benefits to not only the company, but also its clients all over the world.
The development of a solution
In 2006 MMD made the decision to upgrade its distribution software. At that point it was using two systems – ‘Manpack’ for straightforward distribution of produce and ‘Wizdom’ for scanned pallet tracking. Following a selection process, MMD invited consultants Anglia Business Solutions to implement a new system, and their specialist ‘LinkFresh’ software was deployed.
‘LinkFresh’ is a bespoke adaptation of Microsoft’s ‘Dynamics NAV’ software, combining scanned and non-scanned items into one system. Its arrival provided the foundation blocks for subsequent development, with MMD encouraging all customers to increase the amount of scanned items coming through the port. For the first time there was now full traceability throughout the supply, shipping, handling and delivery chain. The next stage was to develop a web portal to allow customers to fully track their shipments.
The idea behind the system is simple. Barcodes are attached to products the moment they start to make the journey from field to supermarket, and are scanned at every new stage of the process. That means the fruit will be scanned at the port of origin, with shippers doing the same as it moves through warehouses, and onto and off cargo vessels. The web portal allows everyone involved in the supply chain to monitor the progress of each shipment.
Work on the development of the internet-based technology began in 2010, with the system fully released in 2012 after a year of testing. It allowed customers direct access to filtered data on the ‘LinkFresh’ system. Before this web portal became available a series of international telephone calls had to be made or faxes of stock sheets sent. Now live data of stocks and dispatched loads could be viewed online from anywhere in the world; dramatically reducing the amount of time, cost and effort that had previously been required in getting the information.
Realising further benefits
The installation of the ‘Linkfresh/ Microsoft Dynamics NAV’ system was initially very much a port-focused project. However, in early testing it soon became clear that the addition of the web portal brought major benefits to customers too.
Mark Phippen is the distribution manager at MMD Shipping Services Ltd. He explains the added value that clients have gained from the system: “The advantages are numerous, smoothing out the entire supply chain. The tracking system gives shippers realtime information about where their fruit is. This reduces waste by making sure the shipments can be collected at exactly the right time, helping to keep fresh produce in perfect condition. There is a reduction on wasted journeys, with HGVs only being dispatched when produce is ready for collection; this ultimately means a reduction in Co2. It also helps to ensure full advantage is made of empty space in trailers, reducing the overall number of lorries on the roads allowing the whole process to run more efficiently.”
Mr Phippen continues: “There is also the benefit of traceability – something the industry now demands. The system gives growers the certainty that their fruit has left MMD and is travelling to the ripening centre, and it allows the supermarket to trace the fruit back to the farm of origin, which can be important if there is a problem with the produce.”
Portsmouth International Port understands it is the only UK maritime destination for fresh fruit and vegetables to offer such a system. This is a major consideration for large global companies who rely on the efficient supply chain. All have been impressed when shown the live information available directly to them. As well as encouraging new business it has also helped MMD maintain current customers, attracted by the bespoke technology.