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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

September 30, 2015

Logistics News: Accelerating DC Performance with Integrated Technologies

For Shippers looking to increase Sales Volume – Speed & Accuracy are Critical Performance Factors

Holste Says:

...Order fulfillment operations are most efficient when integrated with a WMS so that the various devices communicate in real-time to optimize DC operations.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

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


Regardless of market sector or physical size, DCs can take advantage of order fulfillment solutions that are available to provide improvement in two key areas – speed and accuracy. Well established technologies like RF, pick/pack-to-light, and voice directed picking can be easily integrated into an order fulfillment system to accelerate performance. This is especially important for shippers that are trying to grow their sales volume because an integrated system solution allows companies to move away from departmentalized thinking towards viewing the operation as one entity. This is made possible with real-time communications between the host, the WMS, and the material handling system, which is essential for companies that wish to expand their customer base and accelerate performance.

Benefits typically include:



Optimize material handling resources – people and mobile equipment


Increase inventory turns through improved cycle times


Shorter order processing times


Minimize non-value-added travel through batch-order picking and/ or goods-to-person strategies


Improved order accuracy to 99.9%.


Ability to more easily integrate multi channel marketing initiative into the order fulfillment mix.

Challenges to System Integration Still Exist

As mentioned above, order fulfillment operations are most efficient when integrated with a WMS so that the various devices communicate in real-time to optimize DC operations. Today, most system providers support the major industry standard integration protocols. However, shippers who have older equipment and software systems, or who are considering a “do-it-yourself” approach, may face several challenges, such as:


Multiple Vendors – The logistics services industry is fragmented and there are many different equipment and software vendors worldwide, many with their own custom protocols for system integration.


Multiple Business Flows – System equipment, control and software design can affect a wide range of business processes from order acceptance, processing, shipping, and billing. Without standard integration protocols, custom code must be developed, tested, and then proven on-site.


Integration Complexity – Integration often involves interfacing not only with other systems, but also with low-level components or material handling devices like a carton sealing machine using PLC commands.


Absence of Standards – Because each vendor interface is unique, a robust, easily configurable WMS integration is essential for a compatible and smooth running system operation.

Unfortunately, these issues (multiple vendors, a lack of messaging standards, etc.) often results in having to build custom integration between sub-systems and/or automated equipment, which increases startup time, project complexity and cost.

To eliminate the custom-build layer, companies should consider vendors that support standard or universal protocol as part of their solution. This will make it possible to connect directly from the ERP/WMS to the material handling system and enable the company to reduce its total cost of ownership and benefit from a more flexibility deployment.

Communication standards are constantly improving with more robust integration layers becoming common across leading ERP/WMS and material handling solution providers. This will result in less need for third party control systems, less complexity and lower cost options. All of which is good news for shippers looking to become more competitive and increase sales volume.

Final Thoughts

From time-to-time shippers need to re-think their commitment to manual DC operations. Adaptable material handling technologies are available that will rejuvenate an existing operation while maintaining the uniqueness that differentiates a business from its competitors.

An excellent place to start looking and learning can be found at MODEX 2016 April 4 – 7, 2016 in Atlanta, GA.


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