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Cross Docking: A retailer improves supply chain

This is the fourth in a series of briefs on cross docking

A recent project for a large retailer in the Southwest provided a good example of how an element of cross-docking might be deployed to reduce the footprint of distribution space required, reduce order fulfillment touchpoints, and shorten the logical pathway for fulfilling orders.

Incoming shipments are anticipated through the use of advanced shipping notices (ASN’s). Stretch-wrapped pallet loads arrive via truck throughout the day. They arrive at doors designated for cross-docking. These doors were selected based upon proximity to the material handling system which takes advantage of the facility layout. Pallets are unloaded by fork truck, the stretch wrap removed, and cases manually inducted into one of several conveyor staging lanes. Each lane represents a “wave” of orders which will be processed either that day, or a specific day later in the week. When a wave is released, it moves downstream, and the individual cases are sorted to a specific shipping lane whose products are destined for a particular store. Other products from static storage positions and non-conveyables destined for the same store are consolidated at this point.

As waves are released, the staging lane becomes immediately available for a subsequent wave. Multiple waves are processed daily. Pallets arrive at the receiving docks with man-readable labels indicating the destination store and day to ship. The individual cases on each pallet are pre-labeled (pre-distribution) with a unique identifier that corresponds to the ultimate destination retail store, the SKU number, and the quantity. When the case label is scanned for the identifier, a lookup into a warehouse control system database occurs, which provides the routing instructions, ie, the correct shipping door. Again, orders can be comprised of cases that are cross-docked from the staging lanes, product stored in static storage positions, and/or non-conveyables. The sortation management system routes all conveyables in the current wave directly to the correct shipping lane.

Order fulfillment occurs in waves, due to a limited number of shipping doors. Most shipping doors are dedicated to a specific destination store, while a handful of other doors will each serve a number of smaller retail stores. This distribution center demonstrates how cross-docking products that are good candidates, can be integrated with order fulfillment of inventoried products to enhance overall distribution performance.

Next month we will look at a scalable, “out-of-the-box” cross docking system, its layout, and cost to purchase and implement. It will include conveyors, controls, and software to support a basic cross docking system. We have taken a modular approach to a systems solution that can truly be modularized. Join us.


This article is part of a series of articles on Cross Docking. Click on a link below to view one of the other articles.
  1. Cross Docking: Is it Right For Me?
  2. Am I Wasting Time: is Cross-Docking a Viable Consideration for my Company?
  3. Cross Docking: What are the facility layout considerations?
  4. Cross Docking: A retailer improves supply chain

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