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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Am I Wasting Time: is Cross-Docking a Viable Consideration for my Company?

December 19, 2007

cross docking conveyor system

This article is the second in a series of articles on cross docking

In concept and on paper cross docking looks great, but, what about actual implementation? What kind of return do we get on this investment? The short answer is the implementation can be challenging. However, with planning, a committed team of upstream and downstream participants, and possibly even a pilot program, it can pay significant benefits.

Cross docking does not have to be complicated. Some, even today, execute cross-docking using human-readable paper documentation as the driver. As mentioned in the original brief, cross docking can cover a wide range of distribution activities. In one door and directly out the other is one approach. Many cross dockers also add value in the brief (hopefully) interval between receiving and shipping. Others send product to a temporary buffer in the interval, in many of these cases an automated system (mini-load, AS/RS, etc.) serves as the buffer.

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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: Retailer Improves its Supply Chain

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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: Retailer Improves its 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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If you’re putting in a pushback rack system, you need this free booklet on safe operating procedures and usage

November 27, 2007

pushback rack enhances storage densityTo max out both storage and selectivity, warehouse managers are frequently moving to higher-density storage systems like pushback rack instead of floor stacking or selective racks. Whether a pushback system makes sense for you is something that depends on what you’re storing, how you are accessing it, and what you need to do with it once it’s picked.

Pushback rack systems can give you up to 90% more product storage than selective storage rack systems and up to 400% more selectivity than drive-in racking systems. They’re probably the best balance between selectivity and storage density.

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Don’t Forget The Building Permits

November 21, 2007

building permits are a necessary step in properly executed installations

Many people do not realize that when installing equipment such as pallet racks, mezzanines, shelving, in-plant offices, or many other pieces of common material handling and storage equipment that you may be required to obtain a building permit. If you ignore the building permit process it can cost you money in delays, fines, or even having to remove the equipment being installed until a permit is obtained.

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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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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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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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Hytrol E24™ Conveyor: here’s why it’s a big deal

November 5, 2007

E24 motor boxIf you’ve paid attention to the trade magazines, to this website, or to Hytrol recently, you’ve seen cryptic references to something called “E24”. This week, it’s no longer a secret.

I got to see this conveyor up close a couple of months ago when it was in development at the Hytrol Technology Center, and was sworn to secrecy–which is hard when your job is to tell people about things. Hytrol wanted to have it under wraps until this month and to debut it at their distributor convention. We had the privilege of giving PackExpo attendees a sneak peak at the Cisco-Eagle booth this year, and we were doubly excited after seeing how people reacted to Hytrol’s innovation.

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