May 13, 2011 | By Jackie Roembke
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Novus International Wins IT Award

The American Feed Industry Association presents the first-ever Information Technology Innovation Award for the AIMS system.

In early 2011 the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) launched its first-ever Information Technology Innovation Award to recognize the AFIA members creating technologies meant to tackle the issues impacting feed, pet food or ingredient manufacturers.

Novus International was awarded the honor for its submission of AIMS®, a vendor-managed, remote inventory monitoring system for feed ingredient bulk liquids. The system provides daily inventory management of Novus’s ALIMET feed supplement and SANTOQUIN feed preservative bulk liquid ingredients at all customer locations across North America via an advanced telecommunications system.

The selection committee, comprised of representatives from AFIA, AgGateway and Feed & Grain magazine, chose Novus' AIMS technology as the winner because of its a customer-focused application with the potential for global implementation. 

"The award is meant to showcase what the feed industry is doing to address the needs of a growing population — and Novus International is making strides in this direction," states Joel Newman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association. "With the projections suggesting that 70% of agriculture's ability to feed the world in 50 years will be based in new technologies, [AIMS] is an example of IT-based technology that will help Novus and its customers continue to grow in the future."

On behalf of Novus International, AgGateway made a donation to the Global 4-H Knowledge Platform Project. This project develops a system to connect 4-H partners worldwide to promote the 4-H model to create sustainable livelihoods and improve economic security for young people around the world.

“We're really excited and proud to be recognized for IT innovation,” says Kevin Mowery, Novus International, Inc.’s director of operations. It’s key to keep the industry globally competitive — the use of IT is just one example of it — but it speaks to the future sustainability of the feed industry in the United States.”

Mowery adds: “We’re really excited about about receiving this honor, and we appreciate AFIA, AgWay and Feed & Grain’s sponsorship of the award."

About AIMS technology

The original AIMS system utilized a network of bulk storage tank sensors at customer locations throughout North America to monitor product levels, forecast customer demand and automatically order product replenishment. The sensors were tied to Novus headquarters via telephone land lines and cellular phone communications networks, but it was limited to receiving just one daily report from each customer location and was hindered by telecommunications problems associated with rural telephone networks that disrupted reporting from customer sites.

“The AIMS System was introduced in 1993, and it has gone through incremental improvements as technology changed,” Mowery explained. “However, over the course of 20 years, electronic measuring and communication technology progressed. We had developed a new combination of sensing devices and RTU that was significant enough to justify the standardization across all customers on the same platform for level management and communication technology.”

Between 2009 and 2010, Novus upgraded the AIMS infrastructure by incorporating the latest satellite communications and remote monitoring technology throughout its bulk liquid product supply chain. The new system utilizes satellite communication capabilities to connect to a network of customized Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs), featuring submersible differential pressure sensors for automated bulk tank level measurement and reporting, at each of more than 500 customer locations across North America.

“The new system has improved the reliability of the Novus supply chain and upgraded the telemetry system to a sustainable technology platform,” Mowery says. “This upgrade has yielded specific and measurable improvements to Novus’s liquid feed ingredients business operations.”

The new platform is internet based, which improves the reliability of the data collection system and reduces data collection cost. It also provides precise, dependable and instantaneous inventory readings for any customer 24/7, plus a back-up power supply and a local display of tank inventory.

“While it was good by industry standards, it wasn’t where we wanted it to be and the upgrade in infrastructure increased reliability by 99%,” Mowery says. “Having more reliable, modern equipment in the field has also reduced our maintenance costs.”

Improved logistics

The upgraded AIMS system also includes satellite communications with Novus’ fleet of more than 20 dedicated delivery trucks nationwide to automatically track locations, routes, deliveries and customer billing activities. The logistical efficiencies created by these enhancements provide superior bulk liquid delivery operations with an added ended user benefit: AIMS allows Novus to monitor customer inventory without customer involvement.

“The main benefit is that [AIMS] makes feed ingredient supply more like a utility — the ingredient is there when they need it, they don’t have to spend time and resources monitoring it, and they pay for it at the end of the month,” explains Mowery.

Since the liquid product is a small component of greater scope of ingredients, Brenda Kochanny, regional merchandising manager at Cargill’s Coralville, IA-based animal nutrition division, notes how the AIMS provides “one less thing” for the logistics managers to have to worry about.

“It’s so easy because all the guesswork and monitoring is eliminated from our responsibilities,” she says. The regional office serves eight feed mills in the upper Midwest supplying feed products for 10 or more animal species — four Cargill feed mills benefit from the AIMS system.

“Our customers can redirect the energy wasted on supply concerns and instead bring value to their customers,” Mowery says. “Most readers don’t feel like they add value by monitoring of ingredients, they add value by delivering finished feed when their customers need it with documented quality and reliability.”

Sustainable delivery

An additional benefit to AIMS, Mowery notes, is the benefit for Novus customers is the additional service it allows them to bring to their customer with economically condusive less-than-truckload (LTL) bulk liquids deliveries.

Kochanny mentions how helpful the AIMS system has been for supplying bulk ingredients to its smaller operations. For example, Cargill’s Big Lake, MN operation has a tank is filled to Cargill’s specification. The mill doesn’t require a tank full because of the working capital and we don’t require large amounts of the liquid product and wants to avoid holding large containers of the liquid ingredients.

The sustainability characteristics of the system and technology allow customers to use bulk liquids without requiring maintainance and storage of containers, drums or totes. Customers now can avoid the costs of container disposal, as well as benefit from environmental impact of consumption of less non-renewable resources used in containers manufacturing or adding to land fill waste.

“The only way we can economically provide the sustainable service to customers is to optimize the deliveries to deliver bulk to LTL customers,” Mowery says. “Everyone would like to reduce the amount of containers in supply chain, but the challenge has always been how to do that while still servicing customers who traditionally can’t take 50,000 lbs of material at one time.”

"From a logistics, working capital and inventory management perspective, AIMS has been a great advancement,” Kochanny says. “Even though it can be difficult to manage with the lower inventories we want to carry, but they came to the table with a solution that we still could use the products, they could get them to use at the quantities we want when we need them. It’s just a great customer solution and Novus has always been a great partner."

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