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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

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.

February 15, 2017

Sorting It Out : Shippers Operating in a Quick Response Environment Need Real-Time Information

In Cliff’s 400th Column, he Discusses why Business Managers Cannot Wait for an End-of-Shift Report


No doubt we are living in a world of real-time information flow. There’s an accident on the highway and immediately the location is emailed and texted messaged to drivers, or better yet, downloaded real-time into their GPS so they can avoid the congestion. Not long ago I had a conversation with a logistics executive who manages a 450K sq. ft. DC. He mentioned that he is somewhat frustrated that he has to wait until the end of the shift for an operations summary report to learn how they performed. It’s all good information to have, he said, but by then it’s not relevant - its history and it’s too late to do anything about it.

However, with real-time performance displays, managers can see whether they are hitting the numbers incrementally throughout the day, and if not, what areas are falling behind. This then allows management to adjust operations by using the real-time information to balance demand with the resources in the facility to quickly get back on track.

Holste Says...

With real-time performance displays, managers can see whether they are hitting the numbers incrementally throughout the day, and if not, what areas are falling behind.

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For example – A worker performs a put-away or stock move. Using a mobile handheld computer, he scans the bar-code label on the product he is moving, and the system recommends the optimal location for the product to be placed. The worker can select that location, or override it and place it in another location at his discretion. He scans the bar-code of the destination location to ensure that he has placed the item in the correct location. The WMS (Warehouse Management System) is immediately updated as to the status of the goods in real-time, and even knows when goods are in-transit, being moved from one location to another.

Meanwhile, the WCS (Warehouse Control System) monitors the sortation lanes to determine where to send cartons before sorting them, i.e., they may need to go to the product sequencer buffer if building store ready pallet loads (See: Sorting it Out – Product Sequencing – The “Smart” Way to Build Mixed SKU Pallet Loads).

In another example – if the WCS senses heavy throughput at a particular shipping lane, additional operators (equipped with voice units or RF terminals) are dispatched to that lane to head off congestion and delays.

This ability to reallocate work “on-the-fly” also applies to filling unexpected and/or expedited orders – an imperative in today’s DCs. The WMS allocates inventory and organizes picking waves at the beginning of the shift based on the orders that have been received into the system. But then, sometime well into the pick cycle, an order becomes a higher priority than was originally planned, or a new order, that must be shipped today, shows up. Sound familiar? No problem – with real-time order processing, the system can internally reprioritize the remaining orders to accommodate the new or expedited order without interrupting other operations.

In still another example – in DCs where the number of active products exceeds the number of available picking slots, real-time information can be used to manage a dynamic pick face strategy. In this example selected products are stored in a mini-load storage system to maximize cube storage space then delivered as needed to an open pick location. In this way, one picking location may be used for several products on an as needed basis.

Real-time Control Extends Beyond the DC

Using real-time point-of-sale (POS) and store replenishment systems, store managers can see that they are about sold out of a specific SKU in one store, while there is a surplus in another store. Now instead of getting on the phone to manually arrange a transfer from one store to another, they can do it on-line. The surplus will be sent immediately back to the DC where it will be received and crossdocked to the next truck going to the store that needs it.

Likewise, with visibility into the contents of containers coming into port along with real-time inventory levels in DCs and stores, retailers can postpone the pre-allocation of inventory on a cargo ship until it arrives at the dock, then crossdock it to the store based on demand.

Final Thoughts

Increasingly, businesses operate in a demand-driven world. That in turn is driving the requirement to operate in real-time along with the development of processes that are enabled by real-time. Upgrading to real-time mode should be high on the priority list for every shipper.


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