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An Open Letter from CEO Thomas Williams

Distribution in the food industry can be simple, straightforward and uncomplicated though sometimes it is made complex and costly. All too often, a problem occurs and the solution creates even more problems.

It appears that many people just want to complicate things. They feel they are not accomplishing their job unless they have made it more complicated than it needs to be. It seems that they are trying to insure their jobs. "After all, my company needs me. I'm the only one who understands this process."

Let's discuss some warehouse basics.

We can use slot numbering systems as an example:Slot numbering system needs to be consistent throughout the warehouse. Every item needs to have its own unique slot number and there needs to be an easily defined relationship between the pick and reserve slots. We tell out clients that the slot number needs to be so simple and easy to understand, that we can teach the numbering scheme to an new employee in a half hour. More importantly we can give the company president a ten minute orientation and he can go into the warehouse and find an item. Which slot number do you think is easier to find: A-23-11 or D11-024-342-1? By the way, these are actual slot numbers found in food distribution centers.

There needs to be a relationship between item movement and pick slot size. Very few people understand that a great majority of items in food distribution centers are slow movers. So we constantly find layouts that have too many slots for the average movers and not enough slots for fast and/or slow moving items. A rule of thumb for good slotting is that the slot should hold at least a week's supply. Weeks supply is calculated in cubic feet movement, not in cases.

Separate receiving and stocking functions from picking and loading functions. This means that we want a receiving and stocking function on one shift and picking and loading on another. This separation gives improved control over these functions. The activities can be more easily controlled and supervised. Shipping shifts are usually required to complete their work before they go home. Why not hold the receiving and stocking shift to the same standard?

Pick orders in route and stop sequence. When orders are released in route and stop sequence, decisions can be made to control load size. Delivery sequence can be set and finally the stops can be renumbered consecutively. It's a lot easier to look for stops 1, 2, and 3 rather than 10, 14, and 23.

Set order cut off times and stick to them, but make sure they are realistic. Probably more warehouse labor hours are lost due to this basic rule being ignored than any other. We just cannot seem to say no to our customers and our sales employees. What management does not seem to understand is that most customers can understand this need for discipline. After all, they are strict on their opening and closing hours, have rigid schedules for their employees, and expect their delivery to be on time and accurate. Add on orders are always a problem and must be dealt with on an individual basis. But be sure there are rules for accepting these orders. Few customers are lost when strict cut off times are imposed.

Account for all work hours. Know where each hour was spent. Have some sort of measuring tool to measure performance. Be sure reports are generated to show work hours and compare work hours to clock hours. Employees must know that management is looking at these reports.

Methods and layout need to be compatible. If you are pallet picking, the layout should be so that product can be stacked on the pallet without damaging smaller and lighter weight items. If you are picking cigarettes, 100's need to be picked first so that 30 cartons can be put into each box. Crushable frozen items need to be picked last.

In summary, readers of this article can look to their operation and judge how well they adhere to these basic principles. But you can rest assured that for each of these principles that are not followed, you are adding from 1 to 3 percent to your warehouse labor cost.