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You Might Have A Bad Warehouse If... Your Directed Put-Away Needs Direction

By Kate Vitasek | 07/26/2010 | 7:30 AM
“Mom, where’re my blue socks. Mom, I can’t find my shoes. Mom…” What did your mother always tell you as you hunted for “missing stuff”? Mine would say, “If you put it where it belongs you would be able to find it when you want it.”

3B Directed Putaway-image-1 I often get disappointed when I visit a warehouse with a “world class Warehouse Management System” like the one pictured at the right, that is not implemented or used properly. In this bad warehouse example, the WMS system directed the driver to what it thought was the first open location, but the location was full. Someone had used it already, but manually keyed in the location and got it wrong. So the driver asked the system for a second location, and it was empty but too small for the pallet he had. In frustration the driver went a few aisles over, to where he knew from experience there were empty locations, dropped his load, scanned in the location, and headed back to receiving. We asked how that can happen and were told, “The (RF) guns don’t work on some of the rack labels, so we just key it in.” Sound familiar?

Although they had a WMS with system directed put away, they had little location management discipline. Bottom line – their directed put-away process needed direction.We heard comments throughout the day like, “sure the system tells me where to drop it, but it is always wrong, so I change it” or, the ever popular “I know better than the system where stuff goes” and “it is faster to drop the load in an empty location, and change it than it is to drive all over the warehouse to put it where the system says.” The warehouse workers had no faith in the system and how it directed put away.

The issue was not that the workers were “bad”, it was that the system was not being kept up-to-date. The location maps were wrong, the profiles of the slots were outdated and errors were introduced into the system by issues with location labels and manual entry. Turns out this company had not done a slotting strategy in years, even though they made a number of layout changes and added a lot of new products to the warehouse.

And what about the product that was in the wrong location? I was there most of the day and asked if anyone went back to fix the problem they found that morning. No one had, and they did not have a process in place to fix such issues.

The Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) says best practice in slotting management is that the strategy should be reviewed monthly and adjusted in advance for seasonality. Business rules for slotting should be reviewed and changed to support current and expected business requirements. An up-to-date slotting plan is not just nice to have it will help control labor costs and improve warehouse efficiencies. Our suggestion, check into when you last looked at your slotting plan and watch how directed put away is really working, at the driver level. Put trust back into your system.

Many consulting firms can help with a slotting strategy if you don’t know where to start. Fortna, Forte and enVista are three really good boutiques that are known for sorting through warehouse operations problems for companies

For more information on using cubing and weighing as part of your slotting strategy read the article “cube route to better slotting”at DC Velocity.

For more on this subject including recommended best practices we recommend that you read the sections on “Material Handling & Putaway” and “Warehouse Management Systems” in the WERC “Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide” available from the WERC Online Store.

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 WERC conference (a $1,375 value).

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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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