Ten Software Options to Consider for your DC (Part II)

The Distribution Factor

Helpful Information and Ideas for the Distribution Professional

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Sam Flanders, President 2WMC

As the weather warms up, seasonal spring and summer businesses brace for their busy seasons. This month, we continue reviewing various software options that a DC manager can consider.

The video of the month looks at an alternative to paper or RF scanner picking that can improve speed and accuracy.

My operations spotlight focuses on some simple ideas for making your facility more "employee friendly".

Finally, I look at some simple human transportation options for larger DCs.

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

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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, 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 needs. 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:
Top 10 Customer Service Failures in the Distribution Center

Video of the Month:
A new twist: take the shelving to the picker with an automated system

Operations Spotlight:
Void Fill Options - Part I

Technology of the Month:
Pallet Storage Options

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Volume II, Number 3
March 23, 2007


Feature Story: Ten Software Options to Consider for your DC

DC Software Choices

This month's feature article is the second part of a story started last month. Last month, I covered five simpler options. This month I will cover five more, including some of the more complex software choices. These systems are very powerful, but they come with higher deployment risks.

Part II - (continued from last month)

This story will provide an overview of a variety of software systems that can be used in your Distribution Center. Software systems vary from very simple systems that can be made fully functional in a day, to systems that require very careful planning, and can take a year or more to get working.

Software can provide tremendous benefits to an operation, but as an operations manager, you need to select a solution that is manageable, and that your staff and your company's departmental resources can readily support. Don't hesitate to get extra help if you think your staff will be stretched too thin.

To help you get insight into the relative complexities I have included a simple risk ranking system (Negligible, Low, Medium, High, and Watch Out!).


Warehouse Control Systems (WCS) (Medium Time/Medium Risk)

If you don't have one of these, you probably don't need it. The exception would be if you have automation and conveyor that is not currently synchronized with order processing. A WCS can help route orders and feed information in real-time to order execution systems, manifest systems, and labeling or manifesting systems. Most frequently a WCS is proposed as part of a new integrated conveyor and equipment installation. Expect a system like this to take several weeks to several months to deploy.


Warehouse Management System (WMS) (Long Time/High Risk)

A WMS is a system that controls the flow of data and materials within the 4 walls of your distribution center. A WMS normally will manage inventory in each storage location as well. Because the WMS interacts with your main business systems (inventory and receiving), the implementation can be more complex than with other systems mentioned previously. As a result, careful planning is required to minimize implementation risks. WMS systems take several months to even several years to perfect. This one can be a "Watch Out" choice if your operation is non-standard.


Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP)
(Very Long Time/Very High Risk/Watch Out!)

ERP systems are intended to take over a large number of business functions. Because they are by design so intertwined with your business, they are the most complex to deploy in a business that is already operating with another solution. Many ERP systems have weak warehouse modules that sometimes lack important features such as lot control, order batching, and other common distribution functions. The transition from a legacy system to a new ERP system is almost always with some bumps, and in the most severe cases, the problems can be significant. Very careful planning is required, and you should be diligent in your review of potential suppliers. Implementations take many months and sometimes many years.


Manifesting Software (Moderate Time/Lower Risk)

Manifesting software is often provided directly by your preferred parcel shipper. You also have the option of purchasing a 3rd party system which can "rate shop" among all the shippers, and also provide you detailed information on the shipper's performance. These systems can flag overcharges and shipper service failures. They can also track packages being shipped via multiple shippers in one place, and provide simple access to your customer service staff. Risk is low since you can usually run in parallel with your existing system while validating the new one. Systems can be deployed in several weeks to a few months.


Transportation Management Systems
(Moderate Time/Lower Risk)

Transportation management systems do for LTL (Less than Truckload) and Full Truckload shipping, what manifest software does for the parcel carriers. These systems can rate shop based on load size and commodity class, to find you the best rate and/or the fastest delivery. Risk is lowered since you can usually run in parallel with your existing system while validating the new one. Implementation times are relatively short - weeks to a month or two..

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Video of the Month: Voice Directed Picking

Voice directed order selection is rapidly becoming an industry standard in distribution centers, and is regularly replacing bar code scanner terminals. Voice got off to a slow start in warehousing in the mid to late 90's, and was first deployed in grocery operations, where order selectors needed both of their hands free to pick and place full cases of products. Since then, applications have been written to do every type of picking, including small item and single piece picking. Voice can even compete effectively with sophisticated conveyor systems when applied to smaller orders. The appeal of voice is that pickers find it easy to learn and easy to use. There is nothing more natural than having a conversation - we do it every day.

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Above: A voice headset worn by an order selector
Photo Courtesy: 
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Operations Spotlight: Ten Ways to Create an Employee Friendly DC

How does your facility compare to other distribution facilities in the area? Is it an "Employee Friendly" place? Why should you care? The answer is that an employee friendly facility will generally have a happier and more motivated workforce, and you will have the opportunity to retain better employees than neighboring "unfriendly" facilities. A friendly facility isn't just a benefit for your workers - it will result in better performance and higher accuracy as well. Here are some things you should consider to make your facility a better place:

A Friendly Facility Helps you to Retain Better Associates
A bright cafeteria or break area can really distinquish your facility
Let your associates show some pride in their workplace

  1. Bright Warm Cafeteria or Break Area - Make the cafeteria a bright and warm place, a place where your associates are happy to go for their breaks and lunch. Consider adding a TV, Internet access, and an employee information center.

  2. Skylights - If you are in a warm sunny climate, consider putting skylights in your facility. Natural lighting really brightens up a facility in the day, and skylights can be strategically placed to bring light to areas or aisles that can use it. You can also save on energy costs.

  3. Lighting - An alternative to skylights, and a necessity in freezing or cloudy climates, you can always add more strategic lighting. Bright lighting helps reduce fatigue, reduce errors, and improve productivity.

  4. Outside Patio - If you are in a warmer climate, you can supplement the cafeteria with an pleasant outdoor area.

  5. Easy to Understand Signage - Could a stranger figure out what is going on in your facility in a few minutes by simply looking around? Consider adding signage that identifies functional work and storage area, and that make it easy for a new employee to find their way around.

  6. Weight Room / Treadmill / Basketball - If you have a large staff, consider adding a weight room and or treadmill, or even a basketball court that staff can use during break or after shift.

  7. Easy to Read Locations - Replace or update your faded and torn location labels with some that are easy to read. Also consider changing your location scheme so that it is easy to understand (for example, alternating numbers and letters).

  8. Help New Associates to Learn Their Job Quickly - Make it easy for new associates to learn the ropes. Provide hands-on training and make sure that there is someone to ask questions to. Have documentation that is easy to understand and easy to access.

  9. Tell People How they are Doing - Put up an information board or electronic display that tells you people how they are doing. Update it regularly and thank those folks who are doing a good job. The same information can be displayed on a bulletin board.

  10. Let your Staff Make the DC More Colorful - Give your staff a chance to spruce up the facility with some color. Perhaps have a contest for a theme. Put up some photos, or a banner. In Rochester, NY, I saw a DC where they put up a beach themed environment by painting blue pastels and some seascape images.

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Technology of the Month:  Personal Transportation Vehicles

Move over Segway - there are a many alternative personal transport systems for getting around the DC. The original transport systems in the DC were human-powered bicycles or maintenance tricycles. These were followed by electric powered 4 wheel (golf) carts. Today, you can add the human powered Mousecart and the battery powered industrial tricycle. Costs of a Segway are in the $3-4,000 range.

Above: A Segway making its way down a warehouse aisle.
Courtesy: Segway
Click for Web Site

Above: A modern tricycle

The tricycle was one of the first vehicles used in the warehouse to get around faster. The rear areas of the bike can be used to carry tools or other materials. The trike has the advantage of good stability. Although they are rarely used today, they can dramatically decrease walk times in larger facilities.

The "cruiser" bicycle is another reliable way to get around. It is a little faster but less stable. While I was working in a K-mart warehouse in Corsicana Texas, the cruiser bike was the preferred method of getting to the remote corners of the facility. That facility was about the size of 6 football fields.

Above: A modern cruiser bicycle

Above: The mouse cart scooter

Courtesy: Mouse LLC
Click for Web Site

The mouse cart is a new transport solution that is based on the concept of a scooter. The mouse cart is a "reverse tricycle" and is quite stable. It can carry materials in the front and can travel at speeds in excess of 6 miles per hour (about twice normal walking speed). A mouse cart can actually move faster than a powered pallet jack.

The golf cart is sometimes used in larger facilities to enable management personnel to move more quickly, for first aid, and possibly for providing tours to VIPs. These vehicles can hold 2 or more people as well as a sizable payload.

Above: An industrial golf cart.
Courtesy: Yamaha Golf Car Company
Click for Web Site

Below: A battery powered trike.
Courtesy: American Chariot
Click for Web Site

A couple of companies have introduced the powered tricycle to replace the old fashioned manual bike. These vehicles can travel quickly and can fit through tight spaces (such as a 30 inch door or aisle). They were introduced as a less expensive alternative to the Segway. These vehicles can carry up to 450 pounds, and the battery can be swapped out in 30 seconds. Costs range from $600 up to several thousand dollars.

Below: Another battery trike.
Courtesy: Zap!
Click for Web Site

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