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About the Author

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

February 6, 2013

Receiving Speed and Accuracy Are Key DC Performance Factors

Update Receiving by Deploying AIDC Material Handling Technologies

Receiving and putaway are where the flow of materials and information join and must be swiftly and accurately routed downstream in synchronization with one another.

Holste Says:

One of the many benefits of automating receiving is that it forces planners to methodically think all the way through the process step by step to figure out ways to minimize the time from the receiving dock to the customer.
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Proper identification of items not only speeds up the receiving process it is the key to improving inventory and order fulfillment accuracy. It has been a long-standing practice for product vendors to apply a UCC14 bar code to the outside of shipping cases. This is a 14 digit SKU level carton identifier that includes the UPC. With this bar code receivers can electronically identify SKU content. This makes it easier for shippers and receivers to accurately account for goods they are handling.

By adopting Automatic Identification & Data Capture (AIDC) technologies, the first speed-bump (paper shuffling) on the path to greater speed and accuracy can be eliminated.

An automated receiving and putaway operation begins with employees on the dock who are equipped with bar code scanners and RF terminals. RF terminals mounted on the lift trucks used in receiving and putaway will further expedite receiving and put-away.

For maximum efficiency, all the data collected electronically must be managed electronically. Even the most basic Warehouse Management System (WMS) can do so readily. From the receiving operation, the WMS processes data from bar code scanning and RFID units, identifies and records receipts by SKU, updates inventory, assigns storage locations and directs putaway.

Even with WMS capability internally, your facility's receiving operations need to be linked externally by electronic means to upstream members of your supply chain. With Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) links to inbound shippers and transportation companies, the receiving dock will know ahead of time what's due when, and in what quantities. With the type of EDI transaction known as an Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN), dock managers can preplan how they'll handle the inbound materials flow for highest efficiency.

Update Material Flow Systems

Several of the exhibitors at the recent ProMat 2013 show offer AGV systems that when integrated with a WMS can automatically move pallet loads from receiving to storage locations, picking areas, and/or crossdocked to shipping.

In addition, distribution centers can deploy a receiving conveyor system that can further automate and streamline loose case receiving. For example:

  • Receiving cartons are manually placed onto a powered conveyor (that extends into the receiving trailer) where they can be transported, automatically scanned, and electronically assigned to an outbound order/shipment or to palletizing for or staging or putaway.

• A customer specific SSCC/18 bar-coded shipping label is automatically printed and applied to each carton.
Note: The use of automatic printer/applicators expands on the benefits that material handling equipment provides. While automatic printer/ applicators are by no means a new technology, advances have been made that yield higher throughput rates over a wider range of package sizes.

• The material handling conveyor system routes the cartons to the shipping sortation system.

• The shipping label is scanned and the product is sorted by customer and/or shipment and routed directly to the shipping dock where it is taken from the conveyor and palletized or floor-loaded directly into the shipping trailer.

• Loose case product that is not needed immediately to fill orders is conveyed to the shipping sorter where the cases are scanned (UCC14 label) and automatically sorted by SKU to palletizing stations for staging or putaway into inventory. Here robots can automate the pallet building operation.

With the above level of automation, checking and inspection of case goods or full pallet loads can be limited to random audits.

The technology appears to be moving from lasers to camera imaging systems. While at ProMat 2013 SCD reported on a line of high speed “Imaging” bar code scanners. To see a short video clip of our report click the link - “Cognex Offers Line of High Speed, In-Line Imaging Bar Code Scanners”.


Final Thoughts

As scanning/imaging technology continues to evolve new and improved methods are being develop that are capable of greater speed and accuracy while expanding on the range of objects that can be successfully scanned.

One of the many benefits of automating receiving is that it forces planners to methodically think all the way through the process step by step to figure out ways to minimize the time from the receiving dock to the customer.


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