How YOU can Make a Difference in 2007!

The Distribution Factor

Helpful Information and Ideas for the Distribution Professional

Subscribe to the Distribution Factor!

Sam Flanders, President WMC

The New Year is Here! This month's feature story focuses on how to get the most out of 2007 in your Distribution Center!

This month's video looks at automated technology for creating shipping cartons.

My operations spotlight looks at the key elements required to create the very best workforce possible.

Finally, I look at a variety of portable terminal technologies and how they are used in the DC today.

Mark your Calendar!
THE Premier National Conference on
Small Order Fulfillment!

Click the Graphic More Information and to Register!

A unique three-day conference covering customer service, logistics, and streamlined distribution center operations.

Chicago - April 30-May 2, 2007

Come see us at NCOF!
(click an item below for additional info)

Full Presentations:

The Last 100 Yards:
How to Cut Costs and
Improve Output in
Your Packing and Shipping Area
(Monday 1:45-3:00 pm)

Working Smarter in Your DC
How to Save Money
Without Spending a Fortune
(Tuesday 1:45-3:00 pm)


Picking Strategies
(Tuesday 7:30-8:30 am)

Packing Strategies
(Wednesday 7:20-8:10 am)

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Free Material Handling Resources!

Click the icon above to be taken to our White Paper page. This page has 4 different white papers of general interest to those who manage order picking operations. There are two white papers on general order selection: strategies and equipment, and there are also papers on carousels and voice directed picking.

Click on the icon above to be be taken to our material handling resource locator guide. This guide is interactive, easy to use, and driven with an icon-based interface. Using it, you can quickly locate information on systems, software, and equipment. Each area provides links to vendors as well as a brief description of each technology. Try it out and bookmark it for future reference!

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Save 15-50% on Labor!

At WMC, we are experts in helping our clients save money. We do this by helping clients select solutions that meet their specific requirements. 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 out 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:
10 DC Software Options (Part I)

Video of the Month:
Man Up Truck (aka Stock Picker)

Operations Spotlight:
10 Ways to Improve Inventory Accuracy

Technology of the Month:
Facility Lighting

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Volume II, Number 1
January 19, 2007


Feature Story: How You Can Make a Difference in 2007!

Making a Difference in 2007!

This month's feature article will give you my thoughts on how to get the most out of your operation, and formulate a plan for improvement in 2007.

Well, 2006 is now becoming a memory and the New Year is upon us.

Many of you are asking yourself: "How can I make the biggest positive impact in 2007?"

The options are always varied and endless. In this story, I will give you my perspective on where you should invest your own mental energy and the energy of your team, by asking some specific and focused questions. I'll describe the areas that I believe are generally most important:


Where Were your Greatest Bottlenecks in 2006?

Think about your experiences last year. Especially think about those difficult days. Where did you encounter the greatest bottlenecks, and what effect did those bottlenecks have on a) your customers, b) your quality, and c) your labor utilization. For any areas that had a significant negative impact, document the problems that were encountered and your understanding of why they occurred.


Did any of your systems reach a breaking point in 2006?

Think about both your manual and software systems. Did you push any systems to their limit, did you not have enough capacity, or did the existing systems simply not have enough horsepower to keep up with your current operating level. Again make a list and briefly identify the problems you encountered. How do you expect these systems to perform during your busy periods this year? How long do you have to make changes before the busy period hits?


How Does Your Facility look for Space in 2007?

Do you have enough room to do the job efficiently, or is your facility too crowded, causing inefficiency in movement, or in the locating of items? If your aisles have been getting crowded, or if you are hunting for items in an area that has too much stock in too tight a space, make a note of these problems. Are SKUs getting commingled due to space constraints? If you are either adding to the existing inventory or adding brand new items, do you have room to put the new receipts without impacting the efficiency of your facility? Are the storage locations you are using appropriate for the stock being moved?


How is your Team positioned to Handle 2007?

Does your existing team (management, supervisors, and floor associates) have the expertise to handle the new challenges you anticipate in 2007? Do you have any weak spots or areas that you would like to see change in? Now is the time to consider improvements in staff, as well as in supervision and training.


What External Factors Does your Operation Face in 2007?

Are there outside forces that are causing you to reevaluate your operation or consider changes. These may include: competitive pressures, changes in product lines, factors impacting your facility, or corporate directives for increased savings. How are you going to address each of these forces?


Form Your 2007 Battle Plan: Prioritize and Attack!

Creating the list is key. Once you have the list, you want to prioritize and sequence items for action. In prioritizing, consider a) ability to produce increased savings, quality, or service improvements, b) the time, money, and people required, and c) the potential impact and the potential risk of addressing the particular challenge. You may want to prioritize some "low lying fruit" first in order to rapidly achieve a result and gain momentum with your staff. Beyond that, you need to look at both time and money for each initiative. Don't hesitate to consider adding staff, or hiring outside resources when internal resources are too tight.

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Video of the Month: Automated Carton Erectors

Automated carton erectors can help to provide a steady stream of empty cartons to a manufacturing or order selection operation. Machines come in many varieties and can produce from 10 to 40 cartons per minute. This month's video shows a couple of different machines in action.

Click Picture to Play
Above: A High Speed Carton Erector
Video Courtesy:

PSI Engineering

Requires Flash

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

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Operations Spotlight: Finding and Retaining the Best Associates

I visit a lot of distribution centers in my job. It is easy to tell the difference between an ordinary facility and an extraordinary one almost as soon as I walk through the door of the distribution center. In almost every case, the extraordinary centers are distinguished by the quality of their staff. As a manager of the distribution function at your company, you may still have a question as to how important the quality of your staff is to getting the job done. My view is that the better your people, the less money you spend per transaction, even if the average hourly rate is higher. In addition, the quality of your deliverable also increases, meaning improved customer satisfaction and fewer returns. This story will focus on some things you can do to find and retain the best associates.

Take the Pick of the Crop!

  • Pay and Benefits -Above Average Associates want a Competitive Package - There is no doubt that pay and benefits are a factor in recruiting the best employees. Employers offering careers in distribution have a lot of competition, often just down the street from their facility. When deciding between jobs, pay and benefits can play a significant factor in an application's decision process. By offering a wage or benefit package that is a bit higher than the average, you have the ability to interview higher quality applicants. If you are able to get a top performer, the extra few dollars you pay per hour may equate to a 50% or greater improvement in overall performance, and the result will be a net savings for your company.

  • Recognition and Achievement - Good People want to do a Good Job - If you are going to embark on a journey to recruit better associates, it is important that you realize that good associates want to do a good job. If you don't already have systems in place to evaluate and measure performance, this should be made a priority. Truly great associates want to know how they are doing, and they want to maximize their performance. Without a feedback mechanism, you may not be getting the most out of these people. In fact, you may unknowingly be creating an environment of frustration for them. By creating a measurement and feedback mechanism, you not only provide a way to maximize the performance of your top achievers, but you also begin to establish a culture for other employees. Beyond simple recognition, you can also consider incentive programs ranging from movie tickets to a pay-for-performance cash incentive plan.

  • Excellent Supervision, Training, and Communication - The best facilities have supervisors and team leads who understand that it is their primary job to support their people. New associates are paired up with someone who can help them learn the job and get questions answered quickly. Supervisors and leads are not afraid to get their hands dirty and help out during crunch periods. The focus on quality, performance, and achievement is communicated from the starting gate, and new associates are given the tools to succeed right from their first day. Associates must feel comfortable bringing a problem or concern to their supervisor, and they should be encouraged to bring ideas for improvement forward.

  • It's More than a Distribution Center - Your associates should believe that they are not just employees working in the company's distribution center. They are a critical link in providing your company's goods to your customers. By focusing on their job, and doing it at the very highest level of their ability, they are enabling your company to be more competitive, and maintain happy and satisfied customers. By doing so, they help to create an environment of stability and continuing competitive benefits and wages.

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Technology of the Month:  Portable Terminals

Portable terminals and scanners have been used in the warehouse in some form since the 1970's. Each year, we see improvements in technology in the areas of size, performance, and battery life. RF technology has finally matured to the point where it is both economical and highly reliable. Now, in addition to terminals and scanners, voice technology has come into the mainstream. This story will look at some of the newer developments occurring in the area of portable terminals and scanners for distribution.

Windows or Web-Based Terminals

With the introduction of Windows CE* and Windows Mobile* operating systems, more and more vendors are changing over to and standardizing on these operating systems. The benefit of having a standard operating system is that, for the first time, you get to choose the vendor that you prefer, based on price, features, service, and reliability. If for some reason, you want to change vendors, the conversion is a much less risky and time-consuming task. Aside from the Windows family of products, some software vendors are now developing software applications that can operate on any web-enabled device. This means that you are no longer restricted even to the Microsoft-based products. The freedom of choice caused by the introduction of open platforms is driving fierce competition, lowering prices, and increasing features and performance for everyone.

* These are registered trademarks of Microsoft

Windows Mobile Scanner/Terminal
Truck mount touch screen running on Windows CE

Courtesy Psion Teklogix

Photo top: 
Courtesy Lightning Pick

Photo bottom: 
Courtesy Symbol Technologies

Back of Hand Scanners

An innovation that has been with us for some time are scanners that no longer need to be gripped in a person's hand. Instead, the scanner is integrated into a glove or similar device, often worn on the back of the user's hand. By moving the scanner to the back of the hand, the operator has increased dexterity, and is able to grab items using both hands. By eliminating the grabbing of the scanner in the material transaction, a slight time advantage is gained on every transaction.

A recent improvment is that bluetooth technology has eliminated the need to connect the scanner to a larger transmitter, often worn on the hip. In some cases the transmitter is built right into the wrist unit. The removal of the wire means fewer equipment failures and better mobility.

Light Driven Portable Displays

Another innovation that has been around for some time are portable light driven displays that can direct work such as order selection or replenishment. Most commonly the displays are sold by pick to light vendors and mounted on carts, and controlled by RF communication. The displays direct both picks out of storage, as well as the puts to specific order locations on a cart. In some cases, a portable terminal is used to display the next item of work and the lights are used to show the placement of the item to an order.

Photos Right: 
Courtesy Daifuku America

Voice Headsets Replacing Screens and Keyboards

Voice headsets go the back of hand scanners one better - they completely eliminate the need to point and shoot by replacing the scan with a "check digit" read by the operator. At the same time the earpiece of the headset directs the operator to the next item of work, rather than having the operator focus on and read a display. The combination of "hearing" the next transaction and the voicing of the confirmation "check digit" can shave seconds off of many warehouse tasks. In addition the hands free / eyes free environment can improve safety, accuracy, and performance.

Photos Right: 
Courtesy Vocollect

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Warehouse Management Consultants
a division of the Consulting Group, Inc.
P. O. Box 892
Durham, NH 03824
Phone: (603) 868-6767
Fax: (267) 295-8156