Material Handling Experts


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

WCS vs. WMS: Complimentary Roles

March 16, 2014

sortation system

A warehouse control system (WCS) directs “real-time” activities within warehouses and distribution centers. They act as a traffic regulator for warehousing activities, with the mission of running material handling systems (and in some instances, the activities of workers). A good WCS system provides a broad, yet consistent interface for material handling systems like conveyors, carousels, palletizers, sorters, etc. On the other hand, a warehouse management system (WMS) is more focused on broader activities, people, and processes, such as shipments and orders. WMS usually doesn’t reach downstream into the automated equipment itself. A WMS is more about controlling human interactions to fulfill or receive product.

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Spreadsheets vs. Software for Product Slotting

October 15, 2013

spreadsheet for inventory slotting analysis

Product slotting is something that you must do as your inventory profile, customer requirements, and other factors evolve. Sometimes, it’s a simple job; people have been known to do it in their heads. Others utilize spreadsheets of various complexity. Beyond that, you can get into dedicated slotting software, consultants, or comprehensive WMS/WCS.

What are the considerations when it comes to deciding what method you’ll use to slot your warehouse or forward picking area?

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Industrial Security: Does Surveillance Increase Productivity?

September 5, 2013

Order picking in a warehouse

Most companies who implement surveillance programs and other security measures do it because they want to address employee related theft. In industries like warehousing, it’s a common problem,  and it costs up to $15 billion in lost inventory every year. It’s been known for years that companies with excellent security measures can also expect to be more productive, but that’s always been correlation, and the two haven’t been linked by cause. That may have changed based on a recent study.

“Cleaning House: The Impact of Information Technology Monitoring on Employee Theft and Productivity,” takes a look at how firm investments in technology – based employee monitoring impact both misconduct and productivity. The study makes a persuasive case that pilferage is an issue that hinges on management style more than individual ethics.

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Industrial Automation and The Flexibility Problem

August 22, 2013


Earlier this year, Food Logistics published a provocative article, “Automate or Die”.  Do you have to automate? Of course not. But it brings to mind a good question: where is the point of acceptable ROI for automation projects? When does it make sense? What aspects are potential pitfalls?

We’re  inside warehouses, distribution centers, commercial operations, and manufacturing facilities every day. We don’t see full scale automation in all — or even most — of these operations. We’ve even seen some companies who have automated go back to picking with carts. We’ve seen others thrive due to their automated projects. The point is, you certainly won’t “die” if you don’t automate. But that doesn’t mean that you should not automate some or all aspects of your operation.

In some cases, we try to make the case that automation isn’t needed. In others, we try to help these companies understand when a capital investment in automation equipment and/or software will save money, increase productivity, reduce problems, and improve their business. It’s not  something that you can do from a distance.  It requires a command of the facts on the ground, in the servers, and throughout the supply chain.

So, the question is, why automate? 

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Top 12 Distribution Center Metrics

June 29, 2013

Busy distribution operationAs it has every year for the last decade, DCVelocity Magazine has surveyed its readers and members of WERC to  find what industry professionals believe are the top metrics for a successful operation. This is instructive for most operations, and worth taking a look.  The full survey can be found here.

The top 12 metrics, and (category)

  1. On time shipments (to customers)
  2. Internal order cycle time (customer)
  3. Dock-to-stock cycle time, in hours (inbound operation)
  4. Total cycle time (customer)
  5. Order picking accuracy (quality)
  6. Lines picked and shipped per hour (outbound operations)
  7. Lines received and put away per hour (inbound operations)
  8. Percentage of supplier orders received damage free (inbound operations)
  9. Average warehouse capacity used (capacity)
  10. Order fill rate (outbound operations)
  11. Percentage of supplier orders received with correct documentation (inbound operations)
  12. Peak warehouse capacity used (Capacity)

Not everything on this list necessarily applies to every operation, but they are all worth some reflection. It’s worthwhile to have the questions posed, as we all fall victim to the “forest and trees” syndrome. 

Related: How to benchmark your warehouse operation

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Merging Warehouse Operations: The Pitfalls

May 28, 2013

merging an industrial operation is difficult

Merging two formerly separate industrial operations can be more difficult, expensive, and time consuming than creating an entirely new plant. After all, even in the best of scenarios, it’s almost always easier to start with a blank slate. But in these days of consolidations and cost cutting, this can happen to almost any company.  Planning and open communications is the key in general, but there are specific issues you should be aware of.

What are some pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?

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Alternatives to New Facility Construction

March 14, 2013

New facility planning

There is nothing inexpensive about a new facility.

The cost of real estate (or lease costs), new equipment, people, regulatory compliance, and potential downtime add up very quickly, even for a relatively small operation. But reconfiguring your current operation has its own challenges. You have to deal with operating in a construction/renovation environment, the potential that the redesign won’t serve your needs through future growth, new equipment, and more. It’s a difficult choice.

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