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Small Manufacturers’ Coalition: Keys to Success

October 26, 2011

Manufacturing - motors at an automotive plant

The American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC) released their Next Generation Manufacturing Study in 2011, identifying key trends affecting the industry and steps U.S. manufacturers can take now to be successful in the next generation. Some of the findings are fairly predictable, while others may surprise you. In particular, you have to consider people at all levels. Are your key players likely to retire or take other positions over the next decade or so? How can you prevent that? What can you do to further develop them?

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Improving (and proving) warehouse productivity

October 11, 2011

warehouse worker

In the last two decades, smart companies have identified the warehouse operation as a profit center, not a cost center. This is far from universal, but it inches toward that every day. No longer are warehouse managers considered box-hustlers – at least not in smart companies. Many are utilizing varying levels of automation. WMS is standard for larger operations and is making its way even to single-building, midsize and smaller ones.

Very few operations of any size rely completely on muscle, clipboards, carts, and spreadsheets these days; automation, at least in areas, has come into its own. But do you need to radically change your operation (and spend the capital that comes with that change) to boost warehouse productivity?

Some no-nonsense steps:

  • Evaluate warehouse processes. Is each part of the process logical? Process mapping can be done without expensive consultants, either by hand or with relatively inexpensive software. The discussions you’ll have with various department heads and people on the floor are often worthwhile by themselves. Look for gaps in the process you can plug. If packers point to picking issues that cause them problems, you have a place to start.
  • Create a plan – and stick to it. Identifying issues isn’t enough by a long shot, of course. Companies who identify issues and then fail to plan and execute based on them are only talking improvement. Execution is the key.
  • Be determined; bullheaded. Once you’ve identified, planned, and executed a process improvement, you should be able to understand its effect on the operation. If the result of our hypothetical issue between packers and pickers is that packers are better off, but order picking bogs down (or becomes less accurate), we haven’t achieved anything.

Spending money

But you can’t always attain significant increases without capital expense. You may need to implement robotic palletizing, enhanced WMS, etc. “Productivity gains” mean little to CFO’s or other upper level managers, though. They’re interested in dollars – how many were spent, how many were saved, and how fast the investment returns its value to the operation.

ROI isn’t simple math

Do you know your company’s definition for ROI? If you don’t know what it is, find out. It varies throughout companies and industries. A simple line item of my cost of $X saved $Y may not be good enough. In many firms (including Cisco-Eagle) the standard is to also compare that expenditure to what else could have been done with the money, including letting it drop to the bottom line. Prove your idea will pay off better than alternatives.

Can you show that a new conveyor system or picking system costing $600,000 will reduce labor costs enough to pay for itself within a reasonable time? Sometimes this is easier than others. If the system helps you reduce headcount by 10, and each person earned $30,000 per year, you get a rough idea of what you are faced with. But if the system simply allows you to keep up with growth, your justification scenario is easier. Can you also prove that your new idea is going to pay off better than, say, letting that money drop or better than an IT overhaul or other alternatives?

Posted in Automation, Robotics, ROI, Warehousing| No Comments »

Pack Expo 2011 Still Going Strong

September 28, 2011

Pack Expo 2011 - Cisco-Eagle

If you’re in Las Vegas for the show, please come by and visit us. We’re displaying the AisleCop Warehouse Pedestrian Safety Gate System, Fanuc Robotics, and talking Seegrid Robotic Trucks, Conveyor Systems, Steel King, and more.

Posted in Automation, Conveyor, News, Pack Expo, Safety & Ergonomics| No Comments »

Come see Cisco-Eagle at Pack Expo 2011

September 22, 2011

AisleCop warehouse pedestrian safety system

If you’re planning on attending Pack Expo 2011 next week (September 26-28),  come see us at booth #S6522. We’ll be demonstrating the AisleCop™ warehouse pedestrian safety system and a full range of automation and material handling solutions. Come by and meet us!

We’ll also be exhibiting at the North Texas WERC Council 10th Annual Warehousing Resource Convention at the Grapevine, TX Convention Center on October 12.

Posted in News, Pack Expo, Safety & Ergonomics, Warehousing| No Comments »

Preventing Energy Leaks at the Dock Door

September 20, 2011

Loading dock door
Any operation with dock doors faces an uphill challenge when it comes to preserving the climate inside. In particular, air-conditioned and heated facilities must face the reality of losing large volumes of treated air when trailers must be loaded or unloaded. Managers will be asked to scrutinize every expense, and the loss of climate controlled air can be a significant expense.

So how can you minimize air and energy loss?

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Posted in Cross Docking, Docks & Shipping, Safety & Ergonomics, Sustainability, Warehousing| No Comments »

Hand Carts vs. Pallets for Retail Distribution

September 19, 2011

Pallet and order picking carts for retail distribution
Retail distribution facilities have multiple options for shipping product to store locations. They can send full pallets which must be unwrapped, unloaded, and stocked at the store location. They can send packed carts that can easily be rolled onto store floors and stocked at the point of sale. What method works best?
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Posted in Cross Docking, Docks & Shipping, Material Handling, Order Picking & Fulfillment, Supply Chain, Warehousing| No Comments »

Material Handling Consultants, Integrators, Manufacturers

August 1, 2011

Designing a material handling system

We are often asked who should “run point” when a client determines it is time to either upgrade an existing facility, or consider a new location to meet their supply chain requirements.  How might they move forward with professionals who will provide a solution without a product bias, or a pre-determined template.
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Posted in Automation, Manufacturing, Material Handling, News, Warehousing| No Comments »

Warehouse & Order Fulfillment: Hiring Good People

July 19, 2011

Warehouse manager

Finding qualified candidates for warehouse production work isn’t easy. This is particularly true with supervisors who understand how kitting, ticketing, and storage operations. You want people who know the work, and who can supervise and motivate your employees. Qualified candidates are often the kind of people who aren’t online perusing jobs. They aren’t going to temp agencies. It’s a unique and difficult situation for warehousing operations. Quite often, they must be bilingual to supervise an increasingly Spanish-speaking workforce.

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Picking to Cartons vs. Picking to Totes

July 14, 2011

Order picking on a conveyor with carousels

In a pick-to-tote operation, you have the advantage of a dedicated packing function. Since totes can be “one size (or a range of them) fits all”, your pickers can easily pick and organize totes as they navigate the system, either on conveyor or in carts. They aren’t thinking of anything but getting the pick right. Trained packers at the end of the line cartonize the orders, often using state of the art packing stations and consolidated equipment & materials. This means that you’ll have at least two employees (the picker(s) and the packer) touching each order, and that the packing group will need more square footage.  What if you decided to pick directly to cartons, eliminating the totes and reducing or eliminating the packing group?

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Posted in Automation, Conveyor, Docks & Shipping, Material Handling, Order Picking & Fulfillment, Pack Expo, Space Saving, Warehousing| No Comments »

Proper Storage and Handling of Prescription Drugs

June 21, 2011

warehouse storage - pharmaceutical

When it comes to storing controlled substances, in particular prescription drugs, the warehouse and bulk storage aspects are important for pharmaceutical, hospital central supply warehouses, or retail outlets. This is an area where many people who should not have access to medication may find easier opportunities for pilferage. The FDA offers some guidelines on how to operate securely, and within regulations. State licensing laws will typically reflect the minimum Federal requirements, but may exceed those, when it comes to the storage and handling of prescription drugs.

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Posted in Docks & Shipping, Industrial Shelving, Material Handling, Order Picking & Fulfillment, Pallet Rack, Security, Warehousing| No Comments »