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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.

November 2, 2016

Sorting It Out : Project Planning Ideas

Developing a Comprehensive Plan is first step to having a Successful Project


At this time of the year, shippers are looking at their operations and considering improvements that will increase shipping capacity, productivity, and grow their business in the coming year. Capital spending budgets need to be developed before improvement projects can be approved. This requires some level of forecasting and planning. Most companies try to forecast and plan for 3 to 5 years out.

The key to having a successful upgrade project is to first develop a comprehensive plan. The following are a few ideas on how to do that:

Holste Says...

By developing a well thought out plan you will have a better understanding of the details involved in implementing the project along with having a good handle on what the real benefits are going to be, thereby improve your changes for project success.

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Create A Current Facility Arrangement Layout

Start by measuring every physical aspect of the building, including the yard around the building, the dock doors, building columns and grid, offices and employee facilities, material handling equipment and system layout, rack systems, mezzanines and anything else that take up space, noting clearance heights and fixed in place obstructions (e.g., power panels, battery charging area, fans, ceiling heating and air conditioner units, drain downspouts, lighting, piping, emergency exits, etc.).

This information is then fed into an AutoCAD system to plot the current facility arrangement, from which you can calculate the facility’s useable cube capacity. By the way, don’t be surprised if you find (as in some extreme cases) that as little as 25% of building cube is being used for product and the rest is aisles, dock space and otherwise unused air space.

Evaluate Vendor Packaging

The idea here is to determine how well the product(s) that are received into the DC from suppliers (external and/or internal) fit into its carton. There is often an excessive amount of air in vendor cartons. Logistics companies can gain considerable storage space savings in total footprint of their facility by requesting or specifying more conservative carton sizes and/or configurations. Don’t assume that you have no influence over this important aspect of the supply chain.

Also, look at the pallets and cartons to assess how well the cartons fit on the pallets and the pallets fit in the racking. While in the racking system - check for honeycombing, and the amount of partial pallets stored in full pallet locations.

Assess Your Customers’ Needs

Another good approach is to step back and look at the building as if it were empty. Then consider what’s best for your customers. For example, think about how product should be sequenced and loaded onto the trucks to facilitate unloading, staged to make that loading scheme possible, packed to facilitate that staging, picked and staged for packing the order, and so on? In other words, go step by step back through the process to conceptualize the optimal flow based on your typical customer order profile and value added service requirements.

Operations Analysis

Some shippers look at product movement in term of dollars, instead of how often each item is accessed. Movement data should include sales of units, pieces, cases and pallets in order to identify the volume and item peaks and valleys. In this way you expose the true physical nature of the business i.e., how often you have to go to a particular stock location.

If the business is comprised of multi-channel sales activity, customer order profiles should be analyzed to determine whether orders typically comprise one line item, 100 line items or 1000 line items. Today, most order fulfillment centers are a hybrid of large and small orders. This is often where you have the greatest opportunity for bottlenecks and pick/pack slowdowns and therefore, it is one of the most important areas to optimize in an upgrade project. By re-slotting your inventory – locating stock items to reduce travel time and increase velocity – shippers can go a long way towards improving facility efficiency. If you compare an efficiently slotted DC with an inefficient one, most experts agree that you could see a 25% to 30% improvement in productivity.

Crunch the Data

The output of all this data is the basis for the upgrade plan. This plan should run the gamut from re-slotting the facility all the way to re-designing the flow, tearing out existing equipment, systems, outdated controls (hardware & software), and installing new systems where required, or perhaps adding a mezzanine in the free space over the receiving/shipping dock, and so on. It’s not uncommon for a company to consider several upgrade plans at once, and evaluate what makes the most sense economically and operationally, as well as short term and long term benefits.

Develop a Phased Implementation Plan

By breaking the project into phases, you are better able to avoid the unexpected domino effect where one change sets off a chain reaction affecting the whole operation. Using appropriate project management programs, you can create a detailed phase by phase implementation plan, assigning resources to each step, and determining the linkages and interdependencies between steps. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, a full-time, vendor independent, Project Manager may be required.

Final Thoughts

By developing a well thought out plan you will have a better understanding of the details involved in implementing the project along with having a good handle on what the real benefits are going to be, thereby improve your changes for project success. However, no matter how well you plan, problems invariably arise. Be sure to let your key customers know upfront what you are planning and what the expected benefits are. That way they can plan for potential hiccups and there will be fewer unpleasant surprises.

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