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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Along with the cost of a gallon of gas, your transportation costs are rising (but fuel isn’t the only reason)

November 14, 2007

It’s more immediate of course, when the cost at the pump jumps, but rising fuel costs are a reality in your shipping operations whether you are pushing product to customers or bringing it into your facility. We’ve all seen the fuel surcharges and continually-rising freight rates.

According to Operations & Fulfillment, labor developments may have just as much impact over the next few years. Over the next 5 years, the latest UPS contract amounts to a $9 per hour labor cost increase, which will certainly make its way downstream to shipping charges. Developments in other companies such as FedEx and labor negotiations across the shipping and freight world mean that even if fuel prices stabilize, it’ll cost you more to ship and receive products.

Curt Barry’s article at Operations & Fulfillment recommends some of the steps you can take:

  1. Look at transportation in the context of the total supply chain efficiency. (see Curt’s article for tips).
  2. Institute vendor compliance policies, include routing guides for inbound carriers. Do not permit vendor-controlled freight.
  3. For high returns businesses, use return services.
  4. Join an inbound freight consortium with contracted carriers and negotiated best rates.
  5. Do your homework. You have to understand your volume and shipping characteristics, etc.
  6. Consider a freight consultant, which can reduce costs 15% to 25%.

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Benchmarking Warehouse Performance…What do You Measure, and How?

November 8, 2007

For about $110 (or half that if you’re a WERC member) you can buy the Warehousing Education and Research Council Manager’s Guide For Benchmarking. The book details different kinds of benchmarking, why you should benchmark, how to pick appropriate metrics & measurements, and analyze your company’s performance. It’s also got techniques for communicating to get the results you need. The group’s website describes it like this:

“As competition grows for dollars, time and resources, the demand to improve performance takes on greater importance. WERC developed this Guide to Benchmarking to help you unleash the power of benchmarking for your organization. You’ll read about the different kinds of benchmarking, why it’s important to benchmark, how to choose the right metrics, how to analyze your company’s performance, and techniques for communicating to get the results you need. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll learn how to develop a benchmarking strategy specifically for your operation.”

It’s a relatively short, 44-page read. It’s appealing to me because we stress performance measurement at Cisco-Eagle, and the metrics are perhaps the most difficult aspect of that. Get them defined correctly and everything else should fall into place.

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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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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 SalesForce.com 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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Are You Loading Pallet Rack Beams Near to Rated Capacity?

October 23, 2007

pallet rack loading diagram

It’s easy to understand the idea of pallet rack beam capacities. They’re listed, mostly, in a per-pair style and common in the 5,000 pound range so that you can rack a couple of 2,500-lb. pallets on a 96″ span. That’s probably the most common pallet storage setup in the world. But if you’re not loading pallets correctly, you aren’t getting your full capacity rating. This article on beam loading methods explains it in detail, but the basic story is that if your load does not fully overhang or rest on the tallest part of the beam, you aren’t getting the full capacity because you’re not using all the steel and your load isn’t setting flush in the horizontal space.

Loads that rest on decking or pallet support put more pressure on the thinnest vertical section of the beam, in the ‘step’. This can diminish beam capacities. I’m not saying you can’t load racks this way (people do it all the time) but that you need to check out the capacity of the beams when they’re loaded on the step, not the full beam.

Read the article. It tells the story better.

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Cisco-Eagle safety white paper recognized by Material Handling Industy of America

October 23, 2007

cover of safety brochureThis is an honor that I’m pleased with because one of the things material handling, when done right, does best is to make industrial facilities safer. When you are storing and handling heavy, bulk products, the way you do that has the potential to make the operation more dangerous (if you do it wrong) or safer (if you do it right). Companies that make a conscious effort to emphasize safety should start with the way they store things. That’s not the end of the safety story, it’s the start. But it’s an important start.

The The College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE) through MHIA awarded us third place for a white paper we published last year on material handling and safety — “15 Ways Material Handling Can Make Your Operation Safer”. There are more than 15, of course. There are probably as many ways as there are storage methods. And there are ways to enhance safety with simple products like guard rail and rack enclosures that also help operations in other ways.

You can get the PDF of the paper through the link above. You can also check out our index of materials handling safety related articles and resource links.

The award was a nice thing. To have placed with people like Modern Materials Handling and FKI was very gratifying for us. Thanks to Mike Ogle, CICMHE and MHIA for putting the awards together. It’s the second time we’ve placed. Maybe in 2009, the next time they run it, we can win!

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