A MASSIVE warehouse fire which shut businesses across Melbourne's western suburbs almost 12 months ago was a catalyst for a major upgrade of a computer sales data system at the Western Wool Centre (WWC).
Buyers and brokers returned to the WWC in Bibra Lake last week after the annual three-week national live auctions recess, to a refurbished sale room and upgraded WoolEX sales data recording and authenticating system.
Australian Wool Handlers (AWH), which owns the WWC and the Yennora, Sydney, and Brooklyn, Melbourne, wool selling centres, began trialling live streaming to the internet of Landmark and Elders catalogue auctions at the WWC several weeks before the recess.
Starting last week on a permanent basis from the WWC, those auctions are live streamed as part of a national AWH initiative to allow Landmark's and Elders' woolgrower clients to log on and watch their wool being sold from anywhere in Australia.
During the recess the WWC sale room was reconfigured and refurbished so both the live stream camera and woolgrower visitors in the WWC viewing gallery have a better view of the sale room, new information screens and buyers and auctioneer in front of them.
AWH also added two new large-screen live data displays in the sale room during the recess, with AWH showing WoolEX data from Landmark and Elders auctions and associated information on its own screens for the first time at the WWC.
One screen shows live information as Landmark and Elders auctions progress, including a list of the past 11 and next two lot numbers, greasy wool prices, highest bidders, whether lots were sold or passed in and wool brands, as well as the number of lots still to be sold and percentage being sold.
The other screen displays live statistical information on the last five lots put up, converts greasy wool prices to five forms of clean wool price, the value of wool sold so far, the currency exchange rate between Australia and the United States and some sales data from Melbourne and Sydney centres so buyers can see what is happening there.
Auction data from the Primaries of WA, Wool Agency, Dyson Jones and Westcoast Wool & Livestock catalogues continues to be recorded directly through the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) computer system and displayed live on a third screen.
AWH - jointly owned by Landmark and global logistics and stevedoring company DP World Australia since Elders sold its half share in 2014 - and wool selling industry body AWEX, jointly conduct live auction wool sales at the WWC and Melbourne and Sydney centres.
Their separate computer platforms continue to record sales data from WWC and Sydney live auctions, while the main selling centre in Melbourne now operates entirely off AWH's upgraded WoolEX system.
Prior to the recess, data from WoolEX was transferred to AWEX's system at the WWC and included in the basic information displayed on the AWEX screen.
AWH national wool manager David Mitchell said the WoolEX system at the WWC was now cloud-based and operated from a laptop computer.
"A bomb can hit the Western Wool Centre and we can pick up the laptop and go the showgrounds and set up there and still hold a wool auction," Mr Mitchell said.
"The power can go out during a wool sale and provided the laptop's battery holds out and we've got an internet connection, we can keep selling," he said.
"We're trying to bring wool selling technology into the 21st century and we've invested a significant amount to do it.
"A lot of the technology currently being used dates back to the early 2000s and has been superseded by faster and more powerful information technology that will bring greater advantages to the supply chain into the future.
"We're hoping that in time more brokers will come over to our system."
Mr Mitchell confirmed the computer program driving WoolEX, which was introduced in 2017, had been substantially rewritten to allow it to operate from a laptop and cloud, on the basis of what happened to the Melbourne centre last August.
The centre was forced to postpone a scheduled sale on Thursday, August 30, after chemicals and waste oils illegally stored in a nearby warehouse caught fire when a forklift split a drum open and emergency services evacuated the block because of fears of an explosion.
A toxic plume of smoke blanketed Melbourne's western suburbs, closing businesses and 27 schools and another 27 childcare centres.
The postponement potentially cost the Melbourne centre millions of dollars in turnover.
On the Thursday the Melbourne centre was forced to close, prices at the WWC and Sydney centre bounced back, after a price dip the day before, to near-record levels and the 18 and 18.5 micron price guides and the Merino cardings price guide set records at the WWC.
When the Melbourne centre traded on its own on the Friday to catch up, the market was much more subdued, with buyers having filled quotas from the WWC and Sydney the previous day.
The postponement also caused major disruption to bale tracking and sales data recording systems, with much of the technology automatically set up for Thursday trading, Mr Mitchell said.
"It (Brooklyn warehouse fire closing the Melbourne wool selling centre) certainly reinforced that we were on the right path in looking to upgrade our technology," he said.
The new sale room got the thumbs up from buyers after the first day of trading back from the recess on Wednesday last week, providing some minor teething problems like reflections on the new data screens are attended to.
AWH is the world's biggest wool and independent cotton handler and one of Australia's largest warehousing and specialist logistics companies.