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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 16, 2016

Sorting It Out : Depending On Size, Shippers Think Differently About Order Fulfillment Operations

The Amount of Product shipped from a DC Impacts on Processing Methods


If it’s true that regardless of the products that a company is distributing - improving productivity is a common theme, then does size matter when it comes to the processing methods these companies need to adopt? The answer is yes, and the following are a few of the reasons why.

Holste Says...

For many shippers, improving warehouse and distribution center productivity remains a goal, not a reality.

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Boutique type operations, shipping less than 10,000 cases per day, offering unique and/or high end products, typically do a commendable job in shipping their product to customers while offering an array of personalized packaging services. IT, order processing infrastructures and WMS functionality may lag behind in many of these companies as compared to larger more automated operations. At some point these companies hit the wall in productivity gains, and they can no longer squeeze more productivity out of their manually intensive operations.

These type of businesses would benefit from deploying batch order picking and low end automated sorting solutions. They may also benefit from the various Goods-to-Person solutions now available that can maintain their flexibility and uniqueness while improving productivity.

Midsize shippers, shipping in the 40,000 or less case per day range, offering a large spectrum of commodity type products which are typically shipped same day or next day, have a different set of challenges. To compete effectively against their larger counterparts, many midsize companies are considering ways to make their operations more agile to capitalize on their customers’ increasing requirements for smaller more personalized order fulfillment. Their ability to be more agile and responsive than larger competitors with more complex operations is key to attracting new customers.

Presumably, these companies have already deployed some level of material handling picking, sorting and WMS technology. For them the next step may be to invest in a Warehouse Control System (WCS). In addition they should investigate emerging robotic picking technologies that can insure high picking accuracy and speed while reducing cost.

Large shippers, shipping over 40,000 case per day are continually searching for ways to do more with less while lowering their per piece handling. Consolidation of multiple DCs, while cost effective from a square footage perspective, places more pressure on the material handling, controls, and software systems to handle multiple tasks in a high-volume environment. Filling orders placed through multiple channels (e.g., direct, Internet, catalog, distributors, retailers), recognizing the need for robust labor management, and addressing the on-going challenges of slow movers and ever increasing SKU counts and inventory volumes, keeps logistics executives seeking the most efficient order processing and throughput strategies.

For these high volume operations deploying the latest in material handling system technology is a must! They should give serious consideration to advances in Automated Case Picking strategies. Particular attention should be paid to the potential benefits of Goods-to Person methods especially when coupled with ASRS methodology.

Final Thoughts

For many shippers, improving warehouse and distribution center productivity remains a goal, not a reality. Still, industry reports show that a growing number of shippers are taking advantage of a broad range of technologies that enable them to improve order cycle times and throughput. The best opportunity to learn more about order fulfillment technologies can be found at: ProMat 2017 April 3-6, 2017, Chicago, IL.

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