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You Might Have a Bad Warehouse If... You pick cartons from the bottom of the stack

By Kate Vitasek | 09/28/2009 | 7:22 AM

Sometimes folks try to find the simplest, most convenient solution to their problem. While on one hand we see way too many instances of "analysis paralysis," the following anecdote, which came to us from the esteemed Tom Speh, Senior Director of MBA Programs at Miami University, shows there are times when no one seems to be doing much thinking at all.

Some time back, Tom had occasion to visit with a distributor we will call "Nameless, Inc." A typical shipping order for Nameless was one case of this, two cases of that, and so on. Full pallet orders were less common. Tom observed pickers at Nameless would frequently pick their shipping orders directly from their bulk storage area which was stored using a "Block Stacked" method with one pallet stacked on top of another (example photo below).


Now block stacking is not necessarily a bad practice when used properly. But Tom's example below shows how NOT to use block storage.

This particular warehouse had pallets stacked up to 28 feet high. Tom saw when order pickers came to a location with product stacked more than one pallet high, the order picker would often pick their product out of the corner of the stack on the lowest pallet (it was a lot faster this way of course!). Tom didn't have a real photo, so I've tried to simulate this practice of picking from the bottom of the stack with the graphic below.

Carton Pulled from Bottom Demo

As you might guess, the company had lots of damage in the warehouse as whole stacks of product would often tumble down once you have picked several cases from the lower pallet.

To fix their damage issue, the company issued a new policy where the folk lift driver would go get a second picker, and ride him up to the top of the stack on the forks so he could pick off a couple of cases from the top pallet. They stopped the damage problem.... however labor costs were a bit extreme!

How might Nameless have addressed this better? For one thing, we believe this is a case where they should have implemented a "Forward Pick Area" as shown below, where cases of product are placed close to the shipping area and can be easily picked whole or perhaps even broken down further for picking of individual units. We will discuss that more in one of our other blog entries.

Forward Pick Area example

For a space constrained facility where there may not be room for a separate picking area, consider using the lowest rack spaces down each aisle for storage of broken pallets and do the carton picks from there, moving a full pallet down to that area as the cartons are consumed. This is shown in the following picture.

Correct Storage Example

Keeping this area low can also enhance performance through elimination of the constant raising and lowering of the lift.

One other tip... Locate the case pick area on a shelf that is waist or chest high. This will provide improved ergonomics and reduce the potential for injuries related to bending or reaching. The Warehouse Education and Research Council recognizes the best practice is to have all pick/pack areas laid out ergonomically to reduce employee fatigue and injury.

For those wanting to learn more about picking operations, we recommend the following resources:

  • One quick way to sense check your picking area to determine if it is efficient is to check your lines/orders/cases/pallets picked per hour against industry benchmarks. The "best practice" warehouses typically have a units picked per hours of nearly double that of the median warehouse. You can find this and additional benchmarking information in the latest DC Velocity / WERC Study "best practices make (nearly) perfect" in the April issue of DC Velocity.
  • Read the section on Picking and Packing Processes in the WERC "Warehouse & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide" available from the WERC Online Store.
  • WERC members should review the paper on "Storage Media Selection" in the Research area of the website under "Equipment."

I'd love your feedback - and would love your help in sharing more bad warehouse stories to help educate the profession of what NOT to do. If you've got an example of a bad warehouse practice, send me your story and photo(s) to [email protected]. If I feature your example in one of my blogs, WERC will send you a free copy of the WERC Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide ($160 value). Your submission can be anonymous if you like so you don't get your boss or company in trouble! I'll be collecting examples all year and the winner will receive a free warehouse assessment by Supply Chain Visions, a $10,000 value. The runner up will win a free conference registration to the WERC conference ($1,375 value).

Thank you Tom Speh for your bad warehouse story! We'll get a copy of the WERC Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guides in the mail to you as a thank you for sharing your wisdom and fun!

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The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek is a nationally recognized innovator in the practice of supply chain management. Vitasek is founder of Supply Chain Visions—a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. She is also a faculty member at the University of Tennessee's Center for Executive Education. A prolific writer, Vitasek has authored the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' best-selling mini-book series, Supply Chain Process Standards, and has contributed to other management books as well. Along with Karl Manrodt of Georgia Southern University, she co-leads WERC's popular annual benchmarking study.

About Steve Murray

Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a Principal Consultant and Chief of Research for Supply Chain Visions, a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. Prior to joining Supply Chain Visions he held a variety of functional and management roles in the distribution and manufacturing sectors, including 15 year managing an IT consulting firm. Steve has been instrumental in development of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professional's "Supply Chain Management Process Standards", the Warehousing Education and Research Council's Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmarking & Best Practice Guide" and the WERC "Warehouse Certification Program". He is lead auditor for the WERC's Certification Program.


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