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Streamline and Simplify to Improve Distribution Center Operations

Don't overlook low-hanging fruit and practical improvements

Distribution Inquiry

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You’ve heard this pitch before: If you just implement this software, or that machinery, or hire my consultant, or buy into this other program, you’ll realize amazing gains. You’ll be more productive; more accurate; you’ll work less hours. Things will be great.

You may really need to expand your facility, or install expensive new WMS software or add high levels of automation, but it’s always worth checking on process or facility layout changes before you take the plunge. What are some areas you should consider?

Consider existing assets

Analyze your inventory, processes and work flows

  • How are zones set up? Are workers walking too often vs. picking orders too often?
  • Automation is critical for many companies and will yield results when correctly analyzed and implemented. Often, you can automate a particular step in the process rather than an entire facility and achieve excellent results for a fraction of the cost of full facility automation projects.
  • How long has it been since product slotting was revised? Have the SKU counts changed? Are SKUs in flux in terms of picking frequency?
  • Look at ways to classify product for more efficient storage and accessibility. Are sales trends pushing more of a certain product line and causing other lines to recede?
  • Consider a lean analysis to help you reduce work and create efficiency.
  • Look at the little things: is the facility clean, bright and easy to work in? Are there plenty of trash cans near packing areas so people don’t waste time dealing with debris?

conveyor system

You need more space. Must you expand or move?

  • Before you move to a larger building or expand your current one, you should squeeze more from your current square footage. New facilities are far more expensive than optimizing space in an existing footprint.
  • Consider layout strategies that may not require much new equipment, but take your existing storage racks, packaging machinery, conveyors and other equipment and change the layout as needed. Add power conveyors in areas where product flow is slow.
  • Install mezzanines and work platforms to utilize vertical space. You can move storage, rework, returns and many other functions into your existing cube.

Plant ergonomics matter more now than ever

  • Workstations should be adjustable if you’re running a multi-shift operation, so that workers of different size can work without excess reaching, bending, and other contortions that will result in lower productivity (and possible injury).
  • Conveyors shouldn’t require pickers to reach over rollers, or bend to deal with totes or cartons.
  • You should always strive to make floor-level picking easier and more ergonomic.

Results are the ultimate benchmark

When you get down to it, adding expensive automation or software, or moving to a new facility may be the right answer. You may need to take those steps because they are the right fit for your needs. But consider alternatives such as process changes, plant design, lean, 5S, or smaller scale automation may help you realize gains before you need to take those steps.

warehousing audit request

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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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