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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.

June 28, 2017

Sorting It Out : Keeping Older DC Systems Up-to-Date is an Ongoing Challenge

Avoiding Operational Obsolesces in Times of Rapid Change


Distribution Centers equipped with material handling systems that have been in operation for 5 to10 years are most likely at the point where they need to be updated. It is very likely that the company’s business model has undergone several changes since the system was originally put into operation. New marketing channels may have been developed and new product lines added. No doubt customer order profiles have changed; order fulfillment times have decreased while the demand for value added services (VAS) has increased.

Holste Says...

When faced with evaluating and updating an existing material handling system operation, especially for the first time, companies interested in a do-it-yourself approach are well advised to bring onboard an industry expert.

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In addition, big changes may have take place in the products being handled by the system. These product changes include:

  • increased population of small light weight cartons;

  • increased use of stretch-wrap material (in place of cardboard cartons) that may not have a hard bottom surface suitable for transporting on powered roller conveyor systems;

  • vendor changes to product identification symbologies and label placement.

The current system was probably designed based on a 3 to 5 year forecast. Now is time for an objective evaluation of the systems current service capability and technology upgrades needed to satisfy future service requirements.

While the shortcomings of a poorly performing system are generally easy to recognize, it’s important to note that when material handling systems with a high degree of complexity fail, it’s rarely related to any particular piece of equipment provided with that system. Problems with equipment can most often be solved by replacing, repairing or adjusting components. We will provide some insight into this in our next article. However, problems with out-dated system design, software, and controls, are not so easily diagnosed and corrected.

Determining what needs to be done to update and improve the service capability of an ongoing system operation requires researching current order fulfillment and shipping technologies and understanding how they apply to the current business model. Knowing how to implement those changes and make it all work without prolonged interruptions to the operation requires a high level of system design knowledge and integration expertise.

When faced with evaluating and updating an existing material handling system operation, especially for the first time, companies interested in a do-it-yourself approach are well advised to bring onboard an industry expert. Search for someone who has been down this path many times before. Hire someone who can offer an independent, objective analysis with a broad spectrum of solutions. The person and/or firm you hire must have firsthand knowledge of the material handling industry and direct access to qualified system solution providers.

Final Thoughts

It’s good to remember that customer loyalty has its limits. When order fulfillment operations are no longer responsive, those customers will be search for a better alternative. Keeping up-to-date with marketing and customer service trends through the adoption of appropriate strategies and technologies promotes growth and is the best insurance against obsolesces.

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