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Spreadsheets vs. Software for Product Slotting

What method should you use?

Automated Systems Inquiry

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?

Product Slotting is the intelligent location of product in a warehouse or distribution center for the purpose of optimizing material handling efficiency. Sometimes called inventory slotting or profiling, it identifies the most efficient placement for items in a warehouse or other picking area. Basically, it helps you place the most important, highest-volume products in the most accessible slots. It helps reduce travel time and walking, as well as making the most frequent picks easier and quicker.

Slotting in a picking area is basically working smarter. But what do you use? As with most decisions, the answer will be based on your needs and situation.

Factors for Slotting Software

inventory analysisSlotting software tends to benefit larger operations with multiple locations and a complex inventory profile.  It can be purchased as part of a WMS or WCS, or as a standalone software. Some vendors offer it in software as a service configurations. It’s even offered by some companies as a mobile app.

  • Software, which includes offerings from dozens of vendors, is obviously more powerful — you can do more with it — but it also features a steeper learning curve. What software brings to the table is that it can model more complex problems, item activity, and situations.
  • Slotting software is excellent in terms of its ability to evolve alongside changing needs.
  • Slotting software is constantly improving. Some packages offer 3D modeling, simulation, and other advanced features.
  • Many slotting software packages offer ongoing analytics. With spreadsheets, you may have to update and analyze. It’s not quite “fire and forget”, but slotting software packages often work behind the scenes, and can be set to deliver information frequently with little effort.
  • For multiple locations, and higher volume picks, slotting software tends to be more effective.
  • Slotting software may have expensive, ongoing updates. These updates may bring new capabilities along with their costs.

Factors for Spreadsheets

Many distribution operations are smaller, or medium size. They stock a relatively limited number of items (5,00o or less).  These kinds of warehouses will almost always see improvement from slotting optimization, but can they afford the types of higher cost software packages? A relatively Excel spreadsheet may work best for these types of companies. Rather than ongoing analysis, they can periodically utilize a spreadsheet a few times a year as needed to ensure intelligent product storage strategies.

  • Many slotting problems don’t require the deep analytics and complexity of dedicated software.
  • Spreadsheets can be said to be “Pareto”, in a way — that they can solve 80% (or some significant fraction) of the benefits of dedicated software does, but at 20% of the cost and effort.
  • Spreadsheet systems are fast, and don’t have nearly the learning curve.
  • A spreadsheet is flexible; you can build in business rules and models based on your specific needs. You get to name the parameters rather than conform to the rigidity of some software systems. You can build in package or product dimensions, slot sizes, capacities, weights, pick volumes, item activity, and other factors as you interpret them.

Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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