How One Public Works Team Took the Guesswork Out of Their Snow Season
City of Asbury, IA
Resource management is important to any public works operation. In this case study, the City of Asbury, Iowa, is not only saving money and reducing data-entry time, but they're also improving the accuracy of their salt inventory throughout the snow season.
Every year, City of Asbury Public Works Director Blaine Telford would estimate how much salt remained at the end of the snow season. Using this best guess, Telford would gauge how much salt the city would need to order the following year. He would also determine just how much salt would need to be stored off-site in the event the city's salt terminal was full.
What seems like a small challenge can get pretty expensive. The city would need to rent the extra storage space for any excess salt—which is charged monthly. To cut costs and save taxpayer dollars, Telford and the rest of the public works team need to use up as much of the inventory during the snow season to minimize the square foot costs for storage during the off-season.
"We previously had a couple of issues with salt tracking," says Telford. "First, we never knew how much salt our storage shed held. Which meant we never really knew how much salt we should be ordering. Second, since we didn't know how much was in the shed we didn't know how much to order for the next season."
To start the fall season off with a clean slate, the public works department began by hauling leftover salt from the previous year out of the city shed. From there, the Asbury crew placed the salt back into the shed, measuring how many front-end loader buckets it took to refill it. That provided a more accurate representation of the amount of material on hand, and the team used this same system to track any new loads of salt added into the mix.
In the end, the city estimated that they had 700 tons of salt in the shed. From there, the public works director was looking for an easier, more streamlined way to accurately track what was coming and going.
"On days where staff hauled salt, load tickets would be handed to me at the end of each day. I manually entered that info into a spreadsheet to track what we had at the shed and in storage at the terminal," says Telford. "It really wasn't that hard—it was just a hassle to keep up on and somewhat 'clunky.'"
Looking to increase efficiency and accuracy, Telford decided to use their Cartegraph work and asset management software to track salt use as a first-in, first-out resource during snow removal. The director creates a single snow event in Cartegraph for all drivers to add their hours, equipment usage, and materials into before their tasks are completed. The amount of material used and associated costs for each event then roll up into an all-encompassing seasonal work order to help with future budgeting and proactive inventory ordering.
When crew members enter the "bulk road salt" resource into a task, they simply record how much salt they used in their own truck during that event or task. From there, Cartegraph automatically subtracts that amounts from the total bulk road salt resource. Now, the department has a real-time inventory, without relying on paper or spreadsheets.
"We started keeping track of amounts of snowfall and ice, and will be able to compare 'bad' years to 'good' years to see if we really use anymore salt from year to year," adds Telford. "Having the ability to do this without file folders and paper or looking through filing cabinets is a game changer."
Greater accuracy for ordering salt leads to better cost control. Since streamlining their salt inventory workflows with Cartegraph, the department has been saving the city thousands of dollars annually.
"Having all the information literally at your fingertips with the click of a button is an excellent resource, "says Telford.
With improved inventory control, the department is minimizing off-site storage needs by approximately $1,200 per year. On top of those savings, real-time resource entry allows Telford to eliminate spreadsheet entry and focus his time and talents on higher-priority projects. The enhancement saves him 45 minutes per snow event, ultimately giving him back several hours in a single snow season.
Telford offers some words of wisdom for other public works teams looking to make the move to mobile or improve their snowplowing or deicing processes.
"I think one of the things for people to consider is that there will be some extra effort on the front end to get a new system established. Once you achieve that, it's smooth sailing so to speak," he says.
"The end result really is streamlining our workflows, and increasing our accuracy and trust in the salt inventory process," Telford says. "The other day, I was able to look at the bulk road salt on hand and order for the upcoming season with confidence and much less effort. As time progresses, I'll be able to look at past years and see what our averages are, taking even more guesswork out of the equation."
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