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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

July 22, 2015



Logistics News: Can A DC Have High Picking Rates With Low Picking Productivity?

Understanding Rate Verses Productivity


Holste Says:

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Understanding system operational characteristics is essential to being able to correctly measure performance and evaluate improvement opportunities.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations

Sorting It Out: System Providers Offering More Modular & Scalable Solutions

More


Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A company’s ability to improve its profit margin over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker. However, it can be a misleading metric especially when evaluating a specific function such as order picking.

 

One of the most important rules of rate measurement is to measure everything against the actual time used for the specific task being measured. In other words – if you want to measure picking rate of a specific picker, you have to ignore all non-picking time. On the other hand – if you want to measure picker productivity, you would have to include all time spent to complete the task.




It is critical that labor rates are measured against the time actually worked. It requires a stopwatch and incremental digital counter. While this makes for a more complex measurement, it provides a much clearer picture of the true rate of the worker. It is also a good indicator of wasted or (more optimistically) available time throughout the day.

Another way to look at it is - if due to system generated idle time order pickers are only picking between 240 and 360 minutes out of a 420 minute workday, while that would correctly translate into picking productivity on a spreadsheet, it would generate an inaccurate statement of picking rate.

The following examples help to explain how performance can change based on how it is measured.

 

Inconsistent Flow of Work:

 

Pickers cannot pick at high rates if they don’t have enough orders/volume to keep busy. This drought creates lost time, which cannot be recovered. The lack of constant work could be the result of IT issues, a lack of orders in process, or even a deficient routing system for passing orders from pick zone to pick zone. Deliberately spreading available work over the workday is a bad plan as it breads inefficiencies.

 

The best way to track this is to document the number of orders present in each pick zone throughout the day in short time increments (5-minute intervals). Although it sounds tedious, this is an exceptionally important measurement because it directly verifies the effectiveness of the order routing and starting operation. If full batches are not available on a constant basis, pick rates will not reach their maximum. Changes should then be made to move more orders into the zones.

 

Organization of Operations:

 

Typically, DC systems operate in sporadic bursts of work with time left over in between. It’s a kind of hurry up and wait situation. This is most common in wave picking operations and is referred to as the bell curve effect. Sometimes this can be corrected by overlapping waves. However, you can’t fill that time appropriately if you don’t know when and how long it is. So the first step is to measure this over a period of multiple days so you can see those busy versus slack time windows.

 

If wave overlapping is not an option – try filling the gaps with other tasks, which may mean combining different tasks in the same time frame (picking and replenishment, for example). Or, consider deploying an automated continuous order picking system that will direct pickers to replenish active pick locations during slack time windows.

 

Accounting For Peaks:

 

It is not uncommon for an entire day’s work to get compressed into a few hours due to response commitments or shipping requirements. If work is condensed into a specific period of the day, then measure the rate for that time period and the number of people working concurrently; this gives you your average peak rate per person. You can then use that rate and the peak window to plan the rest of the operations for the day, which may mean different labor assignments during peak and slack times.

 

Performance Audit

 

An effective way to determine how productive your DC systems actually are is by doing a Performance Audit. A performance audit can help you zero in on productivity drains, evaluating such areas as picking, conveying, and sorting rates. Whether you utilize internal resources or hire an industry expert, a comprehensive performance audit will analyze systems from both an operational and functional standpoint, including a final report detailing recommended adjustments.

Final Thoughts

Labor productivity and labor rate are two very different measurements. Understanding system operational characteristics is essential to being able to correctly measure performance and evaluate improvement opportunities.

 

Recent Feedback

Great article. I am a little suprised not to see BNSF in the mix while I understand their financial mode/operation is a little different. 

That would only give a complete perspective with all the players in the pool.


Srihari
Senior Consultant
Infosys
May, 22 2016

Surprised to see Home Depot fall off the list; thought they were winning with Sync?


Mike O'Brien
Senior editor
Access Intelligence
May, 26 2016

Using the right tool for the right job has always been a best practice and one of the reasons, we feel, that RFID has never taken off in the DC as exponentially as pundits have been forecasting since 2006. While these results may seem surprising to those solely focused on barcode scanning, the adoption of multi-modal technologies in the DC makes perfect sense for greater worker efficiency and productivity.


Julie Leonard
Marketing Director
Inovity
Jun, 27 2016

The IoT Platform in this year's (2016) Hype Cycle is on the ascending side, entering the "Peak of Inflated Expectation" area. How does this compare to the IoT positions of the previous years, which have already peaked in 2015? Isn't this contradicting in itself?

Editor's Note: 

You are right, Internet of Things (IoT) was at the top of the Garter new technology hype curve not long ago. As you noted, however, this time the placement was for “IoT Platforms,” a category of software tools from a good number of vendors to manage connectivity, data communications and more with IoT-enabled devices in the field.

So, this is different fro IoT generally, though a company deploying connected things obviously needs some kind of platform – hoe grown or acquired – to manage those functions.

Why IoT generically is not on the curve this year I wondered myself.

 

 


Carsten Baumann
Strategic Alliance Manager
Schneider Electric
Aug, 19 2016

I agree totally with Mr. Schneider.

I have always lived by "put it in writing" all my work life.  I am a firm believer of the many benefits of putting everything in writing and I try to teach it to as many people as I can.

This "putting in writing" can also be used for almost anything else.  Here are some general benefits (only some) of "putting in writing":

1. Everything is better understood between parties involved.  There are lots of people types who need something visual to improve their understanding.
2. Everyone can read to review and correct anything misunderstood.  This will ensure that all parties concerned confirm the details of the agreements as correct.  This is further enhanced by having all parties involved sign off on a hard copy or confirm via reply email.
3. Everything has a proof.  Not to belittle the element of trust among parties involved, it is always safest to have tangible proof of what was agreed on.
4. There will be a document to refer to at any time by any one who needs clarification.
5. The documentation can be useful historical data for any future endeavor.  It provides inputs for better decisions on related situations in the future.
6. This can also be compiled and used to teach future new team members.  "Learn from the past" it is said.

There are many more benefits.  Mr. Schneider is very correct about his call to "put it in writing".






Jo Ann Tudtud-Navalta
Materials Management Manager
Chong Hua Hospital, Cebu City, Philippines
Aug, 21 2016

U.S. companies are reshoring and foreign companies are investing in U.S. locations to be in close proximity to the U.S. market for customer responsiveness, flexibility, quality control, and for the positive branding of "Made in USA".

Reshoring including FDI balanced offshoring in 2015 as it did in 2014. In comparison, in 2000-2007 the U.S. lost net about 200,000 manufacturing jobs per year to offshoring. That is huge progress to celebrate!

The Reshoring Initiative Can Help. In order to help companies decide objectively to reshore manufacturing back to the U.S. or offshore, the nonprofit Reshoring Initiative's free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator can help corporations calculate the real P&L impact of reshoring or offshoring. http://www.reshorenow.org/TCO_Estimator.cfm


Sandy Montalbano
Consultant
Reshoring Initiative
Aug, 24 2016

 Good article!  I am sending this to my colleagues who work with me.  We have to keep this in mind.  Thanks!


Robert
Transportation Manager
N/A
Aug, 30 2016

SCM is all about getting the order delivered to the Customer on date/ time requested because happy Customers = Revenue. Using the right tools to do the right job is important and SCM is heavily dependent on sophisticated ERP systems to get right real data info ASP.

I've worked in a DC with more than 400,000 line items and measured the Productivity of Pickers by how many "picks" per day.

I've learned that one doesn't have to remind Germany about your EDI orders.


Ian Jansen
Mr
NHLS
Sep, 14 2016

Challenge - to build and sustain effective relationships at the level of the organizations that are responsible for effectively coordinating and colaborating in an otherwise highly competitive environment 


Don Benson
Partner
Warehouse Coach
Sep, 15 2016

Of course we all need to up our game. We need to move with the times, and always be one step ahead of what the future will bring.


Jade
Admin
Fulfillment Logistics UK Ltd
Oct, 02 2016

Thanks for the article, but I know there's a lot more to this issue than just the pay rates. Please check out my blogs on the subject at www.zipxpress.net.


Mike Dargis
President of asset-based carrier based in the Midwest
Zip Xpress Inc. (at ZipXpress.net)
Oct, 03 2016

Lora, great article! I agree that companies choose the 'safe' solution more often than not. My solution is a bolt-on for legacy ERP's and we even face challeneges of customer adoption. Most like to play it safe and choose an ERP upgrade, which is more costly, time consuming, and has lower ROI across the board. Would love to learn more about your company, we are always looking for partnerships.

Blaine
blaine.schultz@syncron.com


Blaine
Inventory Specialist
Syncron
Nov, 16 2016

This is a game changer in GE's production and prototyping.  It also has huge implications across the GE global supply chain with regard to the management of their support and spare parts network. 


Bob McIntyre
National Account Executive
DBK Concepts LLC
Nov, 21 2016

I am referencing to the comment that leasing of warehousing equipment (beyond forklift trucks) is a vision for 2030.
Just recently in Europe, such a business model has started, see here: https://next-intralogistics.de/

I am following with a lot of interest, how the business develops.


Kai Furmans
Professor
KIT
May, 22 2017

If we limit the standard on judging or determining the best supply chain to just three calculations it does not tell the entire picture.  Financial performance metrics are valuable as they capture the economic consequences of business decisions.  But supply chain managers make decsions and use organizational resources that impact a company's financial well being.  Where is a firm's earnings over a period of time determined by sales less product costs and general/adminsitrative costs?  Where is the metric for determining the sources and uses of cash from three perspectives - operational, investment and financial?  Where are these supply chain metrics: on-time delivery, lead time, response time to customers, product returns, procurement costs, network distance, inventory carrying costs, forecasting accuracy, sourcing time, etc,.  Without knowing the results of all these supply chain calculations the there must be a question as to the accuracy of the 25 top supply chains.


Stuart Rosenberg
Supply Chain Consultant
First Choice Supply Chain
Jun, 05 2017

I feel this ranking misses the mark in SC. It does not seem to consider a key indicator in days inventory on hand, which is key to determining a SC company's ability to forecast, manage inventory costs and reduce aged stock. In additiion I realize it's difficult to understand what goes into the customer survey, but would I assume specific metrics are being asked. For examples customer's opinion on service level differentiation and the ability to deliver the right product on time, which should then be allocated a bigger weighting than 10%. It would also be interesting to take a view of the above list's SKU portfolio complexity, seasonality and launches/promotions. I would again assume some companies on the list above have a far more complex SC to manage and lead, ultimately requiring a lot more innovation within a SC to stay ahead of competitors, and ultimately satisfy their customers demands.  I understand above metrics are difficult to measure, as mentioned in the article, but they somehow need to be considered to give a true reflection. 


Dustin Calitz
Project Commercialization Manager
Mondelez
Jun, 06 2017

A Very Good Article...

While some feel that lean is a scam that pushes for more out of the personnel and out of the companies through reduction of waste and adding value for the customer, there are several things to remember:

1) Lean methodologies are designed and implemented to reduce time wasting, so this may seem that you are working harder as an employee.

2) Lean methdoligies only work when everyone from the janitor to the owner of the company get involved and back the program.

3) Lean methods are there to make you work smarter not harder, although it may feel you are working harder.

4) YES... Sometimes lean methodologies fail! This is due to project overun or taking on too large a problem and trying to fix it all in one go and not taking the smaller problems that are associated with the large problem and fixing them first. Sometimes fixing the small problems leads to resolution of the larger problem.


Michael Hurd
Lean Consultant
Unemployed
Jun, 10 2017

The Supply Chain technology is not considered a problem because traditionally supply chains are thought to be cost centres unlike sales functions. The tendency, in general, to limit expenses and cost cutting on upgrades for technology and for talent have been hindering progress for the businesses. Supply chains lack real time visbility and above all trust across the value chain (not that the participants are dishonest) rather it's about the cascading effects referred to as the bull-whip effect which causes higher magnitudes of disruptions. 

Supply chain real time information should top the list .

Another problem is that of multi homing as so much data is available across several feeds of IOT/Email/Internet /Mobility/ERP that organisations tend to have issues around finding a single platform to collate them for meaning analysis. 

Blockchain (if deployed appropriately) can be a great solution for solving the issues around the supply chain.


Akhil
Director Supply Chain
skuchain
Jul, 31 2017

Excellent article.  It very much points to the need for Shared Risk / Shared Reward as we teach at Vested.  Suppliers will respond when they are made part of the team, and they have a lot to bring to the game.  The service provider is the subject matter expert in the services provided, and in an excellent position to enhance the capabilities and services offered by the shipper.


Mike Ledyard
Vested Program Faculty
Vested Way / University ofTennessee
Aug, 04 2017

As the article points out it is not a lack of technology that is holding back performance but rather a failure to form the right sort of relationships.  As well as the length of such relatiohships, practitioners should consider employing arrangements that incentivise both parties to innovate and deliver levels of performance and profit that neither thought possible.  By far the best model I have come across to achieve this is the Vested Outsourcing model developed by researchers from the University of Tennessee.  See www.vestedway.com for information on the model and case studies that show how others have benefited from creating a Vested deal.


Andrew Downard
Managing Director
AD Supply Chain Group Pty Ltd
Aug, 05 2017

Very informational article. The major focus of logistics is on e-commerce. There is a need to optimize every component of logistics by following the latest trends and technologies. Thanks for uploading this article.


Najma
logistics
threelineshipping
Aug, 23 2017

I have recently co-authored a white paper with my colleague wherein we have looked at 2 fundamental guiding principles  -

1. Always have enough to Sell / Produce
2. Do not have excess to Sell / Produce

These 2 Golden Rules can be the foundation of keeping optimal inventory levels and for organizations to achieve the same. We have looked at a framework which tries to reduce the phase mismatch between Demand & Supply, and tries to bring the shape of the supply curve closer to shape of the demand curve.

We have classified symptoms and underlying root causes for the above "Phase mismatch" and "Curve Mismatch" between Demand and Supply, and then talked about addresssing those individual root causes to strive towards Leaner Inventory levels while maintaining or improving service levels.

So to answer your question, we feel the Companies which have addresed these causes have been able to keep DIO horizontal or even going down, while others have not been able to control rising DIO because of not addressing the root causes.


Sameer Shukkla
Consulting Partner
Wipro Inc.
Sep, 17 2017

You ask why turns are flat or declining despite lots of attention and technology. The answer is, I think, 2 fold: the supply chain environments VUCA (Volatliity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) is on a continuous upward curve and this means that forecast accuracy inevitably declines in parallel - and much of that inaccuracy is hidden by the statistics. For instance a company with, seemingy good, 80% mix accuracy will find that figure is skewed so high by the few high volume / low variability items. 80% of the items will be achieving considerably less than 60% error.

So most item level forecasts used for driving replenishment through an MPS (be it ERP or APS) are simply leading to unbalanced stocks, service threats and continuous expediting / fire-fighting. These schedule interrutions are "variability" that is disrupting flow and, thereby, increasing lead-times, using unplanned capacity and generating excessive (and still unbalanced) inventories.

The replacement in ex-stock supply chains is "enterprise(s)-wide" pull which also uses "push" for extreme/exceptional events. Its other key characteristics are that the supply chain is decoupled and is demand-driven. And now it can be implemented using SAP since they announced they they have co-developed an enhancement for IBP that supports this transformational way of working - up to 50% inventory reduction, requiring less capacity and shorter lead-times all while achieving planned service levels. See https://www.camelot-itlab.com/en/camelot-demand-driven-lean-planning-suite-for-sap/ and https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/supply-chain-flow-what-why-how-simon-eagle/



Simon Eagle
SCM Consultant
Camelot MC
Sep, 17 2017

IoT is without a doubt starting to become a major factor in the profitability of various companies. In the manufacturing sector, we will see it come into the front by the end of 2020 completely. Various sectors have already adapted IoT solutions like the security industry or companies offering BPO Services India. Contact centers not just in India and China but across the world have adapted technology following the principles of IoT. The manufacturing sector is soon going to follow.


John Smith
Research & Development
Octopus Tech Solutions
Sep, 18 2017

I  can speak with some context. While efficiency and tools can reduce inventory, we also see the number of SKUs and new products increasing, and also the number of sales/depot points. This means the inventory in such cases, can start with very high number and with more customization and choices available to the consumer, so there is no end to the long tail of products available within a category. It is unlikely that the slow/dead goods are written off so easily to be not included here.

A larger question, would it be purely an IO problem or also a Demand Planning (Forecast Error) problem? A higher cycle time of service but a better fill rate can improve inventory performance, by aggregation. But a bad forecast can do away all the good work you do in inventory planning.

Do you have numbers for decorative coatings in the list? I did not see something there only for decorative coatings.




Girish Maniyar
Chief Manager Development Initiatives
Asian Paints
Sep, 28 2017

My opinion is that peaks and valley are just nice graphics to explain.  Smooth responses save the day.   3PLs  just adjust to the climate and the areas of movement of Logistics.    One purpose of the 3PL movement was to adjust to an always changing market.   They will never be fixed and will flex as the logistics changes.   3PL companies have vast knowledge of their business.  Their success is their ability to move up and down as the market flows.  They bring a level playing field to the transportation world that in the past was rigid but looked good on spreadsheets.  Industry graphic personnel like to be able to answer all the changes because they can only see documents.  3PLs see the needs, the issues, the positive changes and the knowledge to know why and when to adjust.   They (3PLs) have smoothed the waves of the past and everybody likes to see the spikes so they know something is there to clearly report on. Smooth sailing is boring but sure gets you where you want to go. 


Reo B Hatfield
Chief Operating Executive
BestTransport
Oct, 20 2017

So the horrific and severe worldwide allocation of electronic components is not an issue?  Don't tell that to the automotive buyers.  It's HORRIBLE.  Lead times out to up to 76 weeks.  Why not write about that?  It's killing us, our customers and the big automakers.   


Catherine Dennis
Supply Chain Manager
Indak Mfg Corp
Oct, 26 2017

I suggest McKinsey to do a bit more research in Prof Gattorna’s dynamic alignment. This article only scratches the surface a tiny bit. Much more to be found reading about the alignment concept.


Huub
Logistics Manager
Shell
Nov, 11 2017

Primarily Vision is required followed by Assigned Focus on objectives.  Or maybe just love for USA.  The market will not find its way unless it's for organic vegetables and RRR.  Two to three years later will take two to three years longer to the end of the decade, and this is viable today.  God bless america from its present distraction.


Joseph George
Farmer
Field Vista
Dec, 07 2017

In My Opinion, the fact that capacity will tighten should be obvious to everyone engaged in the transportation. 
Capacity to move freight isn’t how many trucks or trailers are in the system or what a computer 
program says, it still is truck driver based and poorly-managed companies won’t be able to imporove
this fact.  Investing in people is still most important!

Get ready to pay higher prices for goods and services. I think we could lose 10% of Capacity in many areas. 


Gary Buchs
Owner Operator
Self, Landstar Business Capacity Owner
Dec, 17 2017

After all the ground we have lost in the productive sector and the additional burden that loss of our productive momentum has placed on our society, somebody tell me why so many people are against the actions necessary to restore our vital productive infrastructure! It is like the left enjoys shooting itself in the foot!


Dan
Pres.
Bioptechs
Dec, 20 2017

Great article and thank you for summerizing the predications. 

What does it mean to country like India where the labour is still cheap? Where the logistics cost is still on the higher side compared to some of the developed nations?


Jayaram
Business Development
Raghava Logistics
Mar, 04 2018

 I agree that robots can replace some amount of manual labor in logistics centers.  However as you mention, the labor pool is shrinking.  We need more training programs such as the one provided by the Greater West Town organization in Chicago.   Www.gwtp.org.  (It is a program that your readers should find interesting.)


Herb Shields
President
HCS Consulting
Mar, 06 2018

Thanks for this very informative article.


Billy
Associate
BJO
Mar, 13 2018

Gone are the days when consumers will wait for a retailer to have the product back in stock, those days are done. We live in the "I want it now" society and with Amazon in their pocket consumers can easily "now" it to themself the next day right from their phone.

The importance of product availability is under the microscope at all retailers as an empty shelf equals lost customers, a poor customer experience and entirely abandoned purchases.

We are on a mission at krunchbox to help suppliers fix their product availability and sell thru and improve their buyer relationships, hopefully before their retail partner fines start rolling in and or we see more retailers close.


Doug Murless
Country Manager
krunchbox (www.krunchbox.com)
Mar, 18 2018

You are correct There are government programs to encourage investment at small and mid-size manufacturers, but McKinsey says these programs generally have smaller budgets, less certainty of ongoing funding, and more constraints on their mandates than comparable programs in other countries. Policy makers should examine which existing initiatives are producing the most promising results, then scale up those efforts and commit to them for the long term.


NikhilSingh
Executive
Carmatec INC
Mar, 21 2018
 

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