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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

May 27, 2015

Logistics News: Looking For Easy Ways To Increase DC Productivity

Tapping into the Full Potential of your Systems Capability

Holste Says:

By looking for inefficiencies, productivity improvement opportunities can be found in most 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


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time order fulfillment operations such as receiving, stock put-away, picking, and shipping can become sluggish and/or outdated. 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 costly and/or disruptive changes:


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 or shipping. 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.


Serial zone item picking is a popular order picking method where tote boxes or cartons are transported from one picking 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, 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 eliminating idle time.


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 voice technology or through handheld RF terminals.


Final Thoughts

By looking for inefficiencies, productivity improvement opportunities can be found in most operations. Process 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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