Material Handling Experts


Information on the products and techniques to better store, handle, and move products in your facility.

Getting lean (but not mean) in your warehouse operation

December 30, 2007

cover for lean warehousing book

Sure, we’ve heard all the talk of lean manufacturing, but what about lean warehousing? I’ve been in facilities that have straightened production lines in pursuit of lean principles, and those lines included storage factors and materials handling, but I’ve never seen it specifically done in a distribution operation. Many warehousing operations have probably applied aspects of lean in the warehousing process, but how many have, from top to bottom, implemented a lean warehousing program?

The original concept of lean was designed for mass production of identical or similar items, so a straight conversion to warehousing, where volumes aren’t massive or standardized, isn’t a given. You can’t apply the science of lean exactly the same way, but you can definitely apply it.

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Cross Docking: Is it Right For Me?

December 5, 2007

This article is the first in a series of articles on the subject of cross docking.

Basic cross docking illustrationJudging by the number of inquiries we receive relative to inventory management in distribution, a look at cross docking practices seems to make sense. This will be the first of a series of briefs on cross docking, how and where it works, and a look at some best practice ideas that might be useful to those of you in the distribution business (of all sizes). I’ll also be providing you links to some excellent online references for more information.

Most everyone is familiar with how those like Wal-Mart took the cross docking model, and essentially redefined supply chain efficiency. The results achieved are well-documented. For those of us involved with mid-size organizations, a compelling case can be made for considering cross dock principles in our distribution centers. If you are able to move material from receiving dock to shipping dock, and bypass storage, consider what you gain. Costs associated with holding inventory, protecting it, insuring it, picking it, counting it, and so forth.

Although the “cross docking” term is well ingrained in our supply chain lingo, it is important to understand the concept also applies elsewhere in our distribution centers (more on that later), notwithstanding what you call it. Let’s begin.

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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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Recently uploaded conveyor videos for your viewing pleasure

December 3, 2007

We’ve been busy adding video in various areas of the website, focusing first on conveyors.

There have been quite a few added in recent days. It’s all embedded in web pages (no media player needed!) so it’s easy to view and not worry about having the right player. The videos tend to be the first thing you’ll see when the page loads. Just click ’em and they play at your convenience.

In no particular order, here they are:

There will be lots more added in the next few weeks. Also, we have added case study videos heavy on conveyor. That includes Excel Beef and ATC Logistics at the moment. More of these coming as available.

To watch, just click the video screen that loads on each page. You can pause by clicking again.

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Educational and training opportunities for warehousing and distribution professionals…

November 19, 2007

WERC (the Warehousing Education and Research Council) does some great work.The group offers a terrific online research library with tons of links to web pages and PDF’s on everything from case studies to equipment analysis to facilities issues, people, processes, metrics and tons more. Another excellent resource is always WERC’s annual conference (May 2009 in Chicago) as well as local conferences like the ones we have attended in Dallas the last couple of years. The national event has Stephen Covey, author of The Speed of Trust this year.

Its self-study guides are good, and inexpensive at $14.95 for members and just $29 for nonmembers, with detailed information on personnel, processes, and more.

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Is supply chain sustainability more than a marketing ploy?

November 12, 2007

“Being a good steward of the environment and in our communities, and being an efficient and profitable business, are not mutually exclusive. In fact they are one in the same.”
— Lee Scott, CEO Wal-Mart, Twenty First Century Leadership, October 24, 2005

Whatever you believe about the issues surrounding climate change, sustainability, and all things “green”, there are certainly people paying attention, and if your business serves consumers, they may be paying attention to the way you conduct business, from the way you make things, handle them in your operations, ship, and handle them.

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Is the midwest the best location for your distribution center?

October 31, 2007

That’s what Todd Yadzi of the 3PL TAGG Logistics thinks, and writes in this Operations & Fulfillment article, “DC Operations Why Midwest is Best”. His basic premise is that operations on either coast slow an entire supply chain down and increase its costs. Part of this comes from the proximity issue (I suppose he’s thinking that you would spend more on a coastal DC’s for each coast than you would for one larger operation in the middle of the country). It makes sense in that land, labor and utilities are less expensive down the center than they are near the larger urban centers. He believes that if you’re shipping from coastal ports to your facility, it still makes economic sense to move product inland due to the higher carrying and transportation costs.

Take that a step (and a few years) further: as the NAFTA corridor matures, you will see areas that align with it receiving larger and larger amounts of cargo, not only from Central America, but from other areas as the Port of Houston capacity grows. This is already happening, and all that growth will travel north from Texas and into the heartland.

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Cisco-Eagle debuts E24 power roller conveyor at PackExpo 2007

October 30, 2007

Cisco-Eagle Pack Expo booth with E24 power roller conveyor demonstration

We met a lot of great people, saw some of the latest packaging and handling technologies, and were privileged to debut Hytrol’s innovative E24 conveyor, which can be seen in the foreground of this photo. It’s a revolutionary powered roller design that eliminates the limitations of conventional powered roller conveyor. It’s got about ten times the life of traditional MDR motors because the motors run only when needed. It also reduces the amount of heat in the process, and lowers maintenance dramatically. I’ll have more information, including video, product specs, and literature loaded soon. You can use 1-3/8″ rollers for the first time in a powered roller application.

We think this conveyor will be great in packaging lines, linking automation cells, machine feeding, in-motion weighing, assembly applications, food processing, and more.

Like I said – keep your eyes peeled, or subscribe to our Material Handling Tips & Info newsletter for updates.

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WMS on demand – is it for you?

October 29, 2007

You’re probably familiar with the software on demand movement. Hosted, web-driven software has been deployed to good success, particularly in fields like customer relationship management (CRM), with being the most famous. It’s good because smaller companies can utilize software that might have been out of reach in the past. You can quickly get a handful of seats and cut the service off, if it isn’t to your liking. It doesn’t require a large IT staff, doesn’t require hardware, or much in-house expertise to use these packages.

The last few years, WMS (warehouse management) software has started to trickle down from gigantic enterprises to mid-size and even small companies because the standard products have gotten better, requiring less customization and less (or easier) integration with back office, inventory, or enterprise systems. Now, it’s taken the next step — toward WMS on Demand. WMS software provider SmartTurn has introduced an on-demand product in the WMS space.

The company’s website claims that its package, which is hosted on SmartTurn’s servers, can handle purchasing, receiving/putaway, inventory control, order fulfillment, shipping, and mobile computing. SmartTurn offers demo versions and a free trial. Since its launch, SmartTurn has garnered more than 50 customer sites, spanning multiple industries including Warehousing, Beverage Distribution, Manufacturing, Retail, Medical Supplies & Devices, and Importers. The appeal is easy to understand: WMS without many of the things people hate about WMS — the increased IT load, the management of technical issues, the servers. In essence, all you have to have is a web browser.

The basic thing to remember when you automate is that automation isn’t really a solution. It’s a way to express processes in a systematic manner.

“By putting in an automated system, you become accurate,” said David Marshall, President and Chief Operating Officer of RobRoy, Inc. His company has implemented WMS, and stuck as closely as it could to standardized software rather than customization. “But you just get bad information faster if bad information is what you already have. An automated system won’t solve that problem. You have to solve a problem, then automate the solution.”

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What is Dynamic Zone Allocation, and why do You Need it?

October 25, 2007

conveyor line dynamic zone allocation

A recent development in conveyor technology is dynamic zone allocation.

Zero and minimum pressure accumulation systems have been around for years, but suffered from variable loads. If you have zones of, say, 24″ and some cartons that are 15″, the smaller cartons have to take up space as if they were the longest load on the system. An animation depicting DZA can be found here.

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