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Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

August 15, 2012

DC Productivity Improvement Opportunities Abound in Older Operations

Looking For and Eliminating Productivity Losses

Maintaining a high level of productivity in older DCs is a never ending challenge for operations managers. Over time order fulfillment operations such as receiving, stock put-away, picking, and shipping can become routine. The prevailing wisdom is – “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. However, that should not preclude eliminating or reducing systemic inefficiencies that impact on productivity.

The following are (3) often overlooked ways to increase efficiency and productivity in an existing DC without making equipment or major process changes.

Holste Says:

By looking for and discovering inefficiencies in routine processes, productivity improvement opportunities can be found in even the most well established operations.
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1. In the receiving operation forklift truck drivers transport pallet loads from the dock to empty pallet storage locations in the warehouse. Typically this put-away operation is directed by the Warehouse Management System (WMS). When the put-away operation is complete, the driver returns to the dock to pick-up another load.

However, before the driver returns to the receiving dock for another load, productivity can be increased by enabling the WMS to direct the driver to a nearby pallet location to retrieve a load that is required in picking. The retrieved load can then be temporarily staged in a more convenient centralized location. By combining storage and retrieval in the same cycle, the lift truck equipment and drivers become more efficient and productive.

2. Serial zone picking is a popular discrete order picking method. Order picking containers are conveyed from one zone to the next. One of the productivity challenges in this picking method is maintaining a level workload in each zone. If there are too few orders pickers may become idle. On the other hand, if there are too many orders in a zone congestion occurs and orders move more slowly from one zone to another, potentially starving the downstream zones.

Zone picking productivity can be improved by holding back single line orders and using them to fill lulls in the flow of multi-zone orders. When there are no, or very few, multi-line/zone orders entering a zone, the WMS can release single line/zone orders thus eliminate zone picker idle time.

3. In another picking method, pickers move along the face of a flow rack or down an aisle of bin shelving. Their efficiency can be improved considerably by reversing the sequence of locations for the next order to be picked so that the return trip is used productively. Most WMS packages can do this with little trouble, especially when picking is directed by wireless terminals.

Final Thoughts

By looking for and discovering inefficiencies in routine processes, productivity improvement opportunities can be found in even the most well established operations. Singular improvements of this type may seem small at first, but when taken all together they can boost overall system performance at little or no cost.


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