Top 10 Opportunities in Your Distribution Center

The Distribution Factor

Helpful Information and Ideas for the Distribution Professional

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Looking for ways to Improve your Operation - Take a look at this Issue!

Sam Flanders, President WMC

Thanks for your continued interest in my newsletter! This month I want to focus your attention on some strategies that can save you money and improve your center's performance. I also have a couple of great technology stories: PTL and A-Frame.

We've finally got some cold weather here in NH after a very mild Dec, Jan, and Feb. I guess it is time to go skiing!

Click the Graphic Below for Info

A unique two-day forum on optimizing layout, process and technology for streamlined distribution center operations.

Chicago - September 14-15
San Diego - September 28-29

Sam Flanders, 2wmc

Now is your chance to advance your career or business by getting two days of focused distribution education!

Come join me for an interactive two-day learning experience that you won't be able to find anywhere else!

Save 15-50% on Labor!

At WMC, we are experts in helping our clients save money. We do this by listening carefully to our client's desires, and then recommending compatible solutions. Unlike many systems and equipment providers, including some who call themselves consultants, WMC has nothing to sell you other than our experience. We work exclusively for you and represent no other system or equipment provider.

We evaluate low or no cost solutions first, and then show you what you can do before you invest in capital solutions. We then show you the true value of those capital solutions by evaluating only the additional savings that they may provide - a step often skipped over by salespeople.

We understand all types of order selection systems, including voice directed picking, pick to light, carousels, AS/RS systems, sorters, A-Frames, and RF scanner based systems. We can help you figure our which solutions are best for your operation.

Give us a call today (603) 868-6767.

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A Look Ahead to Next Month  

Feature Story:
Out of Parking Places? What do you do now?

Video of the Month:
Automatic Invoice to Order System

Operations Spotlight:
Measuring and Motivating your Associates

Technology of the Month:
Batch Carts (multiple technologies)

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WMC to Participate at NCOF 2006

WMC's president will return to speak at the National Conference on Operations and Fulfillment 2006 in Orlando, Florida April 10-12. Sam Flanders will give three speeches including:

  • Monday, 10:00 - 11:15 am Order Selection A-Z: "Choosing the Best Order Picking Systems and Strategies"
  • Tuesday, 11:00 - 12:15 pm "How to Cut Costs BEFORE you Spend a Fortune"
  • Wednesday, 9:40-10:50am The Last 100 Yards: Improving the Output of your Packing and Shipping Area

Click HERE for my speaker BIO

Click the NCOF graphic?above for complete details of the show.

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Volume I, Number 2
February 24, 2006


Feature Story: Top 10 Opportunities in Your DC

If you are like most DC managers, you are always looking for new ways to cut costs and improve performance in your distribution center. Like many things in life, simple solutions are not always obvious, and we get used to things the way they are. You owe it to yourself to carefully review the list that follows, and figure out if there is anything you can do for each point. If you follow through, and are able to deploy just one of the changes listed in this article, you can save 1,000's of dollars per year.


Set Goals and Measure Results - Your people can?t improve if they don't know what you expect. Set quantitative goals for each production area of your facility and objectively measure performance. You can start with general area goals, such as orders per hour for the packing area, but ideally you want to measure performance down to the individual work function and finally to individual performance tracking.


Cut Down your Walking - Find ways to reduce footsteps in your facility. Pick more than one small order at one time, or pick single line orders together. Arrange stock so that you walk less, and pass more pick faces in a shorter distance (using, for example flow rack).


Make Performance Fun - Give your people an incentive to achieve a particular result - and it doesn?t always have to be cash. For example, give out movie tickets to the team if they achieve a difficult milestone on a heavy order day.


Compress your Storage - Look over your storage areas and identify opportunities to store things more compactly. Consider creating more locations where there is space, or using totes or custom boxes to better organize loose materials.


Make the Picker?s Job Easy - Make sure that your location labels are easy to read and not worn out. Highlight location information on your pick lists so that it stands out from the rest of the line information.


Get rid of fixed work assignments - Establish methods to permit workers to ?float? from one area to another based on dynamic demands. Use supervisors and team leaders to actively manage assignments.


Make the workplace clean and bright - Don?t underestimate the value of good, bright lighting, and a clean facility. Make it a priority.


Ask the Experts ? Your Associates - Encourage your team to provide ideas on improving their day-to-day job performance. No one is better qualified based on experience. Provide incentives for good ideas, and recognize good ideas publicly. Make sure you say thank you!


Find and Fix Bottlenecks - View your facility as if you were a stranger and look for areas where work is inefficient. Crowded aisles or packing areas, workers competing for a particular location or area of floor. Figure out how to overcome these problems.


Tell a ?Good News? story every day - Complaints outnumber compliments 100 to 1. Try finding a piece of good news ? a happy customer, someone who helped out in a pinch, a strong team effort, and compliment that person or group. Let your people know that they are appreciated.

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Video of the Month: Order Filled in 2 Seconds! - A-Frame

While not suited for every pick environment, the A-Frame is one of the fastest picking devices in existence. The best product for an A-Frame stacks compactly, supports replenishment of multiple units at once, and is regularly shaped, such as packet, or box. A-Frames can pick extremely quickly, and are therefore good at handling peak demand periods that may otherwise overwhelm a picking operation.

Not all products are well suited for an A-frame. Since product must be stacked, the best items are both light and thin (stacking dimension). Products that are too heavy will not dispense well, and products that are too tall will limit how many units can be stacked, and increase replenishment demands. In addition, some items such as bottles may be harder to replenish since they cannot be lifted as a stack.

The labor spent on an A-frame is not in picking, but rather in replenishment. It is critical to keep the products replenished before an individual stack runs out. If all product is depleted, all of the orders that require that item will be shorted, or the A-frame will need to be stopped. For fast moving items, more than one stack may be needed for a single SKU.

Video Courtesy: Knapp USA

Requires Flash

Clicking the graphic to the left will open a new window an play your video.

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Operations Spotlight: Packing and Manifesting

The packing area is very often one of the highest labor content areas in the distribution center. Here are a few self-help tips to follow when reviewing your packing and manifesting function:
  • Take some time and watch a packer do their job. Are they taking a lot of steps? Are they bending and reaching a lot? How many keystrokes do they need to perform on an average order? Are they waiting for screens to appear or paper invoices or reports to come out of the printer? How often are they replenishing their supplies? How are products delivered to the packer - is the flow uniform and easy for the packer to handle? How does the work flow from inbound order to finished package? Is this a smooth path?
  • How does work flow at the pack station? Is there enough room for the job to be done? Could the workspace be more efficient if another shelf level were put on the table surface to hold a monitor printer or other packing tool? Would a monitor arm or keyboard drawer help?
  • Can in-line systems such as pillow or paper dispensers be utilized? How about an in-line taping machine? How would your layout need to change?
  • What types of bottlenecks occur in the packing area, and why? Is there any way to mitigate the bottlenecks using supervisory management, or additional resources?

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Technology of the Month: Pick to Light

Photo Credits:

Siemens Dematic
Working Machines
Pick to Light or "PTL" is a name given to an order picking technology where order line requirements (quantity and other information) are displayed on an electronic display device. The device normally has an LED or number display, as well as a button or set of buttons to indicate pick completion or exceptions. Pick to light is easy to use and very accurate, because the picker presses a button underneath the product when they select the item. PTL is also hands-free since it does not require a scanner or paper.

Pick to light is most commonly set up on flow rack, with a light module placed under each flow rack lane. One or more bays of flow rack are configured into zones, and are operated under control of one or more pickers. Usually one picker works within a zone at a time, although some newer systems permit up to 4 pickers to work concurrently in a zone. Orders flow from zone to zone either automatically, or by scanning a bar code on an order tote or box. Pickers look for the illuminated lights/quantities, pick the items and place them into the tote or box.

Pick to light is very fast, with rates ranging from 200-800 lines per hour. It is also highly accurate. PTL works best in larger order environments, and fast moving or dense pick areas. In an ideal environment, the picker will bring an order or tote into their zone, and several lights will be lit up on their flow rack bay indicating picks for that container. The ability to visually identify multiple pick locations at once helps the picker to pick at a very fast rate of speed, because they are able to anticipate their next picker while working on the current one.

PTL can also be used in put systems, on AS/RS systems, and on pick carts. New features are being investigated by forward looking companies. I?m looking forward to a time in the near future when PTL can be used in conjunction with voice systems, RF scanners, or other pick technologies, leveraging off the best features of each technology.

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