Saving Labor in your Distribution Center

The Distribution Factor

Helpful Information and Ideas for the Distribution Professional

Subscribe to the Distribution Factor!

Get the most out of your operation. This issue looks at ways to save labor!

Sam Flanders, President WMC

I hope that you can come to NCOF this year - being held April 10-12, 2006 in Orlando Florida. For more information and links to the conference web site, see the information directly underneath!

2WMC to Speak 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 speaker's BIO

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

Back to top

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. This is an important step, that is often skipped by companies that provide equipment or software. We then show you the true value of those capital solutions by evaluating only the additional savings that they may provide.

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.

Back to top

A Look Ahead to Next Month

Feature Story:
Successful Change - Baby Step to Success

Video of the Month:
Horizontal Carousels

Operations Spotlight:
Tracking the Pulse of your Operation

Technology of the Month:
WMS Systems

Back to top

Ask a Question
Give us your Comments

Win a shirt!

  • Have a question?
  • Want to ask an expert?
  • Have something to say?

Click the question mark above to be taken to our feedback page. If your question/comment is chosen for publication, you will win a shirt!

Back to top


Click Here for Web View
Can't see it All? Display problem?
Click Here for Printable Version

Volume I, Number 3
March 31, 2006


Feature Story: Out of parking places? What do you do now?

There are many reasons that operations managers decide to look for ways to save labor. Running out of parking spaces is one of the more urgent problems. Of course, there are several ways to deal with the problem (aside from expanding the parking lot): 1) Add another shift, 2) improve the efficiency of your operation, 3) have your employees carpool :-).

Focus on Process Changes First - Improvements in labor efficiency can be made through process changes, through the purchase of new material handling equipment, or both. I always recommend to clients that they figure out what process changes they can accomplish before they invest in capital-based solutions. This way they can evaluate the true value of the equipment.


First, you need to look at your operation with a fresh set of eyes and find areas with 1) excess travel, 2) unnecessary movements, 3) constrictions or bottlenecks. Focus in particular on your picking and packing areas - these are likely to be the areas with the most people.


Second, look for ways to reduce travel: 1) put your fastest moving items in one place near the dock, 2) batch two or more orders together to cut your walking significantly, 3) better yet, group all your one line orders together, pick them in a single batch, and then pack them out at a special pack table (set up to print the packing list or invoice by scanning each item), and 4) condense and organize your storage better(less walking saves time).


Third, consider grouping orders for efficiency. For example group orders for a particular family or area of the warehouse together. Group similar sized orders together so that you can fit them together on a multi-shelved cart as densely as possible. You may be able to create a batch pick list on paper without any fancy new software – the trick is to add the “put to” location on each line, and then simply sort all picks in walk sequence.

Next Consider Equipment and Software - Beyond simple process changes, there is equipment. Equipment falls into several categories: Powered vehicles, Storage Equipment, and Order Picking Systems and Technology.


Powered Vehicles: You may consider a pallet jack or man-up vehicle to speed up picking. Pallet jacks work well for heavy and bulky items. Man up vehicles can help with selection of items where you may have used a ladder in the past, or where you had to drop a pallet to make the pick, and then put the pallet back. Man-up equipment can also help speed replenishment.


Storage Equipment: Consider flow rack if you have space to deploy it. Consider totes to compress storage of smaller items or even put very small items into compartments. Consider using shelving or modify your pallet rack into flow rack or shelving to create more dense storage.


Order Picking Technology: Systems exist to speed up order picking and fall into 5 major areas: 1) order batching only with paper, 2) RF scanner terminals, 3) Pick to Light, 4) Voice terminals, and 5) AS/RS (Automated Storage and Retrieval) equipment.

All have advantages. If you have a lot of fast moving items and they are picked with very few steps between picks, consider pick to light. Voice is a newer technology that improved rates over older RF scanner-based systems, and it works well when you take steps between your picks. If you are short of space, consider an AS/RS system, which can save space while improving labor efficiency. AS/RS Sytems also reduce or eliminate walking, improving your pick rates.

Back to top

Video of the Month: Automatic Invoice to Order

Invoice or packing list printing is often the slowest part of the pack operation (in operations where the invoice or packing list is not printed ahead of time). One way to speed things up, is to either affix or insert the invoice or packing list automatically in your packing area. A great advantage of waiting to print the invoice or packing list is that any shortages can be correctly indicated on the printed document with a neatly printed format.

Systems exist that can insert the invoice automatically into the box before the package is sealed. The paper can either be inserted loose or it can be sealed in a pouch. The same pouch can also be applied to the outside of the box or dropped into the box, either before or after the box is sealed. Finally, systems exist that can place a packing list under the shipping label so that the recipient can peel away the shipping label to expose the contents.

In order to get the right invoice or packing list with each order, a foolproof association must be made. This is normally done by sticking a sequential bar code (license-plate) on the box or by scanning paperwork that rides with the order (different from the paperwork to be generated). The more sophisticated systems will automatically scan and print the invoice without user intervention.

Video Courtesy: Peripheral Solutions Inc.

Requires Flash

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

Back to top

Operations Spotlight: Measuring and Motivating your Associates

Are you paying attention to your operational performance? To take an analogy, it helps to have a scale when you decide to go on a diet. A scale gives you an objective measure that helps to focus your attention on your goal. Some things you can measure are:

  • Orders per hour (in your pack area)
  • Lines per hour for Pickers (usually correlates better to labor than units)
  • Errors per Day (individual lines or orders that are incorrect)
  • Facility cost per line and per order

There are many other metrics, but these are the ones you may want to measure initially.

  • Associates want to do a good job. Recognition is a very powerful motivator, and you can recognize associate accomplishments in a group meeting, or by posting high performer scores. You can also add a bonus, like movie tickets, sports tickets, or some other prize to the “thank you”. Have a variety of choices so that your associates can pick the things that suit them best. You can reward individuals or teams, based on your understanding of the working dynamics of your people.
  • Measurement can be done manually or though the use of software. You can measure both individual performance and group performance. Initially, it is probably easiest to measure a group such as a picking or packing shift. Just letting folks know that you are paying attention is often enough to have a noticeable effect on production rates.
  • Never focus on just a single performance measure. Always balance both quality and speed, so that you don’t have people working fast, but making mistakes, or producing a lower quality result. For example, if time is the only parameter measured in your packing area, packers may rush through the job and create an undesirable finished presentation.
  • Give consideration to some type of incentive program. Programs range from permanent cash-based programs to one-time bonuses (or prizes) for reaching a particular goal. The program you select depends a lot upon your particular labor situation and your long-term goals. Any longer-term, structured incentive program requires a substantial amount of attention and will dramatically impact your supervisor’s job. You may want to start out with a less structured program that limits the focus to a busy period of the year, or a monthly achievement award for a group.

Back to top

Technology of the Month: The Batch Cart

Photo Credits:

You may be wondering why I’ve named a "Batch Cart" as a technology solution since it is not particularly sexy or automated. You don’t need anything more than a Metro Cart, some human readable numbers, and a specially batched paper pick list to create an effective batch device.

Technology comes into play when you add a scanner-based or voice-based software system to the cart. Alternately, you can opt for the higher-tech pick to light cart. All of these solutions have the major benefit that they support batching of multiple orders together.

In small order environments, which are characteristic of the direct to consumer business, order batching becomes a matter of survival. Pick rates can be increased from 60-70 lines per hour to 200 lines per hour or higher, depending upon the order profile, and the average cubic size of your orders. Generally speaking, the more orders that can fit on your cart, the higher your resulting pick rates.

Batching can be further enhanced when the items being picked are common to several different orders on this cart. Here, the picker stops at a single stock location, dealing out product to many different orders at once. Not only is the travel reduced, but the reaching and putting to orders is reduced as well.

Back to top

Copyright C2006 - Consulting Group, Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this newsletter may be reproduced without the express written consent of 2WMC.

At 2WMC, we respect your privacy. We will NEVER share your e-mail address with any other company for any reason, unless you tell us to. This e-mail was sent to you because we had established a prior business relationship. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, click the Unsubscribe link found at the top of the original email (the newletter in your email inbox that you clicked to launch this copy) If you want to subscribe to this newsletter, click the Newsletter link below, or enter your name in the "Subscribe" box at the top of this page. | CSCMP | WERC | NCOF | Newsletter

Warehouse Management Consultants
a division of the Consulting Group, Inc.
P. O. Box 3126
Portsmouth, NH 03824
Phone: (603) 868-6767
Fax: (267) 295-8156