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You Might Have A Bad Warehouse If... You Feel Like Indiana Jones When Picking Product

By Kate Vitasek | 06/14/2010 | 5:56 AM
It may be fun to act like Indiana Jones and go on an expedition for that perfect treasure, but if that treasure you are after is an order you are trying to fill or a slot you are seeking out for a replenishment I am probably safe in suggesting you might have a bad warehouse.   I have seen put-away operators who were forced to dismount their fork trucks and in a few cases actually climb the racks (fortunately the racking was only 2 levels high) taking precious time to arrange and re-arrange product to fit. Then the process was reversed when order pickers needed to pull product from inventory to replenish the pick racks. They had a hard time finding the right SKU and pulling the correct quantity. Workers at these warehouses were frustrated with the process, but there was just not enough space and far too many SKUs (stock keeping units) to fit in the stocking locations.

3A Multiple SKUs in a location-image-1 The photo on the left and the photo on the right (click on photos to enlarge) show  3A Multiple SKUs in a location-image-3 multiple SKUs on a shelf. Each of the shelves shown in the photos on the right and left were recorded as single warehouse locations or slots in the company’s warehouse management system and each cardboard bin was a unique SKU. 

If the two examples above don't make you cringe, I've got another example for you. The photo below shows a single cardboard bin with multiple SKUs. Incredibly enough there were bins within bins and multiple bins on a single shelf. Again, this company’s inventory management system only recognized the shelf as a location. When the order picker gets to the right slot – they have to visually sort through the boxes to find the right item, which can (and most often does) lead to picking errors.

  3A Multiple SKUs in a location-image-2

While these photos represent a company that was fairly orderly (all the boxes were placed neatly in the rack), we frequently see storage areas where SKUs flow over into nearby locations or where the location is not well defined, such as when pallets are stacked in a “bulk” or “overflow” area.

So what can a company do when faced with such a challenge?

  • Best practice is to have a single SKU to a stocking location, to have all locations clearly labeled and defined, and to track inventory by a unique location.
  • Some near term options might be to split up a larger location into smaller (like the above company did by using the smaller cardboard bins on the shelf) – but to assign each smaller location its own slot in your inventory management system. This would mean placing a location slot label under each cardboard bin so there is a one to one relationship for a SKU and SLOT.
  • A longer term solution would be to optimize your cube by aligning your storage equipment to your product profile. For example, a better approach for the company in the third photo might be to use carousels to increase the density of their storage area since the product in each cardboard bin was relatively small.

Good location management will pay dividends in reduced labor costs and improves accuracy. For more benchmarking information read the sections on Slotting and Storage and Inventory Control in the Warehousing Education and Research Council’s “Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide” available from the WERC Online Store.

With today’s warehouse management systems there is really no reason why most any size business can’t use some form of location management system. There are the major players such as Highjump, Manhattan Associates, RedPrairie and SAP (and many more) as well as a number of new “on demand” WMS systems, such as SmartTurn and SnapOnDemand.

Many consulting firms can help with a warehouse organization. Fortna, Forte and enVista are three really good boutiques that are known for sorting through warehouse operations problems for companies.

I really love your feedback - and love your contributions to share those bad warehouse stories to help educate the profession on what NOT to do, and maybe what to do if you’re not doing it.

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 (a $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 2011 WERC conference (a $1,375 value).

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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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