Transforming a STEM program’s inventory management system
Based in Green Bay, The Einstein Project leases specialized kits to educators; kits designed to give students hands-on learning experiences for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Under the leadership of Executive Director Kelly Ellis, the non-profit impacts some 5,000 educators and 65,000 Pre-K to 8th-Grade students in Wisconsin each year. It’s a complicated operation that, by 2015, was in dire need of an inventory-system overhaul.
The Einstein Project’s staff fills more than 2,500 STEM kit orders annually. Each leased kit contains between 50 and 200 individual items — both consumable and non-consumable — all of which are picked and packed by hand. At the end of lease periods, teachers return the kits — which are then inspected, replenished, restocked, and made available for lease again.
Further complicating inventory-management considerations, educators are required to attend certification-training courses before taking receipt of their kits.
Inefficiencies. And more inefficiencies.
First, STEM kit orders came in by fax. A staffer would then make three copies of each order — one for each person maintaining Einstein’s three separate databases for tracking and managing its inventory. Every order, and every tracking record, was manually entered.
Information regarding teacher-certification status for each kit ordered was entered into one Access database. A separate Access database was used to track the inventory of individual items and kits across 50 different science and engineering titles. Tracking which kits were available at any time was managed in an Excel spreadsheet — which, like the other two databases, was prone to human error, often out of date, and not connected to the other databases.
Fun for everyone. Not.
“Our systems couldn’t talk to each other. Orders took weeks to process. Tracking teacher certification status was difficult. And managing the entire process was far too time-consuming. Not just for our staff, but for our educators as well,” explains Ellis.
Through mutual contacts in education, Ellis learned about the WIMS for STEM system (WIMS = Warehouse Inventory Management Solution) — and reached-out to 2B Solutions. She knew the system needed customizations to suit their specific needs. And given her non-profit’s tight budgetary constraints, she knew she would need help to pay for them. “We were very fortunate. A community funding group covered the cost of WIMS for STEM. And the 2B team was willing to deliver a custom solution for us.”
A system built to order. And to place orders.
2B Solutions tailored the system to the Einstein Project’s exceptionally challenging inventory management model. Custom solutions ranged from creating a unique product catalog structure and incorporating handheld barcode scanners to streamlining how staffers pick, pack and track inventory. Now, when a kit goes out, a single scan adjusts inventory numbers, marks its order complete, and removes that kit from availability.
2B Solutions also developed a web-based portal for The Einstein Project — enabling educators to log-in through the organization’s website to view kit availability, place orders, download resources and more. “This is my favorite aspect of the whole system. Our teachers really appreciate the online portal — which saves them the hassle of having to call us with questions during our office hours, or using fax machines to order their kits. Now they can do everything when it’s convenient for them. It’s been a huge benefit for everyone involved,” Ellis says.
Results exceed expectations
In just the first year, WIMS for STEM helped The Einstein Project reduce inventory costs by approximately $45,000. “We’re also saving the equivalent of one full-time employee in administrative work. We have new insights into trends and performance. We’re spending more time expanding our community reach. And, most important, we’ve made it much faster and easier for teachers to provide students with a more engaging and effective STEM education.”
Fulfilling the mission
“As a nonprofit,” Ellis notes, “it’s critical for us to demonstrate our impact on the community. Our supporters want to know we’re making a difference, and serving as responsible stewards of their donations. With the ongoing help of 2B Solutions, we’re now in a better position to do that than we ever have been. Their understanding of what we do, and how we function, cannot be overstated.”