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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

April 30, 2014

Avoid Over Promising & Under Performing

The 2014 Peak Holiday Shopping Season is Fast Approaching!

Holste Says:

Offering guaranteed expedited delivery to entice last minute shoppers can appear manipulative and perhaps deceptive when the promise is broken - no matter the excuses. To reestablish creditability, retailers must provide more realistic expectations for traditional high volume online shopping and shipping periods.
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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


Many logistics professionals are of the opinion that most of last season’s shipping and delivery problems were caused by a combination of extreme bad weather in December and a tsunami of orders placed too close to Christmas. This combination left thousands of customers across the country disappointed and determined not to have that happen to them again. Disappointed (and for some embarrassed), customers blame both retailers (for accepting way too many last minute orders) and parcel delivery service providers for being late. Customer procrastination is not the issue. After all, last minute ordering was hyped-up and on-time delivery guaranteed!

Offering guaranteed expedited delivery to entice last minute shoppers can appear manipulative and perhaps deceptive when the promise is broken - no matter the excuses. To reestablish creditability, retailers must provide more realistic expectations for traditional high volume online shopping and shipping periods.

While there is nothing anyone can do about the weather, retail businesses can become smarter (more conservative) relative to promising the impossible. Two obvious lessons were learned:

First – the volume of last minute online orders can exceed the logistics industries current physical handling capacity.

Second - there is a limited number of pilots and parcel delivery drivers available that can be quickly pressed into service.


DCs Eliminate Speed Bumps

With all of the bad PR focused on last minute parcel deliver issues, the good news got overlooked. Most DCs were able to pick & ship orders on-time – usually by the next day. Of course, this fact is not much appreciated by customers who receive their orders well past the promised date – especially those that arrived after Christmas.

In addition to hiring additional seasonal help to augment the permanent staff, DCs can increase the capacity of their picking and shipping systems by making the following relatively simple improvements:

Central Merge Logic

Driven by demand for higher system throughput performance, system providers have recently developed central merge control program logic that can eliminate most of the slug gap losses. The merge control program contains precise timing and tracking logic, which reflects the distance and travel time between lanes. This allows a downstream lane to continue releasing for some time after an upstream lane has started to release, so that gaps between slugs are minimized on the merge conveyor, and throughput is maximized. As a result, the gap between slugs is reduced to just a few inches regardless of line release sequence, significantly increasing throughput capacity.

Sorting Systems

In large operations, high-speed unit sortation systems often represent the most critical constraint. There are a number of opportunities to squeeze a little more capacity from them:

  • Test different wave picking strategies like limiting the pickers to no more than two active pick waves at a time. This should reduce the amount of cases being re-circulated.
  • Review critical path conveyor speeds, including the sorter, to determine if they can and should be increased.
  • Increase the batch size by putting more orders in a chute (after-sort lane).
  • Bypass sortation with orders that may be completed with a sub-set of popular products.
  • Increase the use of the chutes (after-sort lines) by dynamically assigning orders to them as products appear from picking. An extension of this approach will result in a continuous flow, waveless process that enhances both picking and sorter utilization.
  • Maintain a steady flow through critical capacity bottlenecks such as manifesting and shipping by balancing labor in upstream processes.

Order Fulfillment

Speed picking does not have to be complicated, overwhelming or cumbersome. According to a recent news release from Kardex Remstar, LLC, horizontal carousel systems integrated with their Power Pick Global warehouse management software can increase productivity by 2/3, increase throughput by 500% and increase accuracy up to 99.9% all within a smaller footprint.

A batch picking station can be integrated into the horizontal carousel workstation. Orders are loaded into the software and are sorted for the worker - each order is segregated into a tote on the batch station. The carousels spin to fulfill multiple orders at once. For example, if two orders require the same part, the carousels will spin to that location; the light towers will direct the worker to pick the appropriate quantity for both orders. After picking the required parts from the carousel, the worker simply turns to the batch station and batch lights indicate the correct quantity for each order. Fulfilling multiple orders with one pick increases throughput. With higher throughput, operations can often extend order cutoff times.

Picture provided by: Kardex Remstar, LLC

Final Thoughts

No doubt the need for speed during the upcoming 2014 peak shopping season will equal or exceed the historical peak volumes of 2013. The logistics industry can better manage the enviable avalanche of orders by adopting technologies specially designed for speeding order fulfillment and delivery. Hopefully, over promising and underperforming will not continue to be an industry nightmare.

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