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Warehouse management
ssgumby




msg:3303202
 1:47 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hopefull this is the right forum for this.

How do you all manage your warehouse/shipping operations? Our business is growing rapidly and we are feeling the pains. We seem to have issues with sending out the proper products. Our products are all very similiar and can be confusing. Say someone orders :

3 widget a's size 5
3 widget a's size 3
4 widget b's size 5
.
.
.

It can be a long confusing list and we pick the stock and box and there are quite frequently errors.

Our process is .
1. Print all orders
2. Take 1 order and pick products
3. Box products
4. Label and close box
5. Move on to next order

Anything anyone does to ensure quality shipments would be great.

Thanks

 

jwurunner




msg:3303431
 4:52 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi,

A couple of thing that may help would be bin locations for items and barcoding of each individual item. It depends on the space and the order management system but this would be a good first step.

grandpa




msg:3303495
 5:30 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

We used to the same exact process. Because of growth and other factors there are now some variances. I process my orders as a batch, rather than singly. This produces two reports. One is a list of everything we need to manufacture - that list goes to the shop. The other report produces a list of everything required from our inventory, and the order number is associated with the items listed. We go to the warehouse once a day to pull this list.

Besides that, the process you listed cannot really be changed so much. My biggest problem is still getting people who can read and comprehend the english language. High school kids have a huge problem with that. I have a fellow here who speaks no english, and he does much better than any high schooler. Go figure.

The other big problem is finding people who actually care. I haven't found one yet. I'm a small town, resources are limited.

I have though about bar coding my inventory, but it won't help keep products from going into the wrong package. That solution does work for large assembly line warehouses, but for small shops like ours the best solution is to pay attention. I once threatened to withhold payday earnings when mistakes occurred. I doubt that the practice is legal, but the threat helped for a while... mistakes dropped dramatically, how-to questions increased.

Regular training might help, with a focus on the most frequent problems.

ssgumby




msg:3303572
 6:49 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

It is just frustrating to see orders going out wrong. I dont know about it until I get a customer calling to say it was screwed up.

I have thought about bar codes, but cant wrap my head around how this works and how it would help.

I was thinking of a QA process ... like check every 10th box ... but this could be very time consuming.

I had thought about putting a process in place where the packager had to highlight each line item being boxed so I KNEW they actually read it.

There has to be some way.

My problem is the packers want the money but not the work.

stajer




msg:3303598
 7:35 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Start with accountability. Have each packer initial the pack slip for orders they pack. When customers call to complain, ask them to read the initials back to you. Start bringing these mispacks directly to those who made the mistake. Give them a chance to be more careful - then start firing people, docking pay, etc.

All the technology in the world won't help you if you don't have accountability in your system - people need to help to account for their errors.

corbing




msg:3303655
 8:31 pm on Apr 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

First, barcoding can help, but can also increase time, cost, and labor dramatically. Being in a niche market, a LOT of the products we carry do not have any barcode /UPC on them so custom labels have to be made and applied individually to the items (and hope that the person doing the labeling is paying attention).

Having at least two people involved helps a lot. Have one person pick and one person pack each order. And require that the packager has to verify each order, line by line.

Have you considered a monetary incentive? Start with a bonus pool of money - for simplicity let's say $200/month. During the month, anytime an order is shipped incorrectly, you deduct YOUR cost for fixing that mistake from the pool. For example, if a package was mis-shiped and now you have to re-send the right item (call it $5.00 for shipping) and send a pre-paid return label to get the wrong item back (call it another $5.00) then you deduct the $10.00 from the pool. If it was a Next Day Air package, then you deduct the Next Day Air charges for the replacement package (call it $30.00) and the return (call it $5.00 for GND). Whatever is left in the pool at the end of the month is paid as a bonus to the employee(s). In this case, the two mistakes would have removed $45.00 from the pool, giving them a $155.00 bonus.

Although they ARE paid to do the job right in the first place, it's obviously not happening and it's costing you money. Letting them share in the success of getting it right and having the cost literally come out of their own paycheck will reduce errors faster than you might imagine. So you might as well give the money that you are paying to UPS/FedEx to your employees instead. And, you'll increase customer satisfaction as well. As a side benefit, this process will also help catch the situation where the customer receives the $200.00 Widget B instead of the $15.00 Widget A that they ordered and never call to "complain" about getting a much more expensive item.

Good luck!

WiseWebDude




msg:3304383
 4:41 pm on Apr 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. Once our volume reached a certain level, the packing mistakes were just killing us. We researched the available Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) on the market, and the ones that could handle what we needed cost $50k - $100k or more for just the software.

So we put our heads together and custom wrote our own WMS software package. We do lots of things wrong at our company, and we still have many areas to improve upon, but I have to say that our WMS is now world class and I'd put it up against any system out there.

It's a whole lot easier process to implement than you might think. But the key is to think the whole process through and study, study, study. We spent a month putting together a system on paper and perfecting it. The actual coding and conversion to the new system took all of about 2 weeks.

We started out by laying our warehouse into grids 25' x 25' square. Think of a chart with 10 rows on top and 6 down the side. The rows on top are numbered and the side rows are lettered. So you wind up with location C5 somewhere out in the middle.

We further refined the 25' x 25' locations by isles, then by 4' x 4' locations within the isle, and then by shelves. What you end up with is a location that looks like B1L1-C5R2-Z4S3A. That decodes to Building 1, Level 1, Sector C5, Row 2, Zone 4, Shelf 3, Shelf Section A. Each location is barcoded with laminated labels on each shelf section.

It might look complicated, but it really isn't. We can take a new picker and after about 5 minutes of training give them a location and they can walk to within arms length (4'x4') of the item to be picked.

Each item is barcoded and labeled with our own part number when received into our warehouse. We use a Zebra label printer that can spit out something like 10 labels per second. The labels are applied as the shipment is counted and checked against the purchase order. Labels left over mean a shortage, which is another great double-check!

Each item is then put away and scanned into a location. The WMS software keeps up with every item in inventory and where it is located. No more "lost" inventory!

Our pickers carry wireless scanners that have the orders automatically fed to them by our invoicing software. Orders are assigned to a picker and the scanner displays the items to be picked, which is sorted by the shortest distance around the warehouse.

When an item is scanned by the picker, it is "grayed out" on their pick list. When the assigned group of orders is completed, they carry the picked items to a packing station.

The packing station also scans each item in similar fashion as it placed into a box. The packing station uses recessed table top scanners, same as Wal-Mart uses. Corded scanners are used as backup for large, cumbersome items.

Overhead of the packing station we have motion-detecting video cameras that record each order as it is being packed. When the packer scans the order to begin the process, it time-stamps the video with date and order number. The video is fed to a DVR with 750 gigs of storage, enough for about 45 days worth of shipments.

The video serves 2 purposes: One, it holds the packer accountable for making sure sufficient packaging material is used in each shipment. Two, we have video proof that each item was in the box when it left our warehouse. Our customer service reps have access to the video and they can pull it up by simply typing in the customer order number.

Once the order is completed at the packing station, a barcode label is generated that contains the order number and packing station id. The label is placed on the outside of the package(s).

The packaged order then moves to a shipping location which utilizes software to determine which carrier (UPS, FedEX or USPS) has the best rate for that shipment. The person manning the shipping location scans the order barcode (generated at the packing station) and that pre-populates the shipping software with the customer name and address.

So that is it in a nutshell. Our order accuracy has increased from a dismall 95% to an outstanding 99.9%. Our inventory shrinkage is almost nil, and both employee morale and customer satisfaction is greatly improved.

My only regret is that we didn't do it sooner.

[edited by: WiseWebDude at 4:48 pm (utc) on April 6, 2007]

budgie




msg:3304871
 10:00 am on Apr 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

Very interesting, WiseWebDude - thanks for posting it in such detail. That sounds like a pretty comprehensive system and gives a good idea of what a growing business should bear in mind as their own systems develop. A bespoke system certainly makes more sense and that's what we've done as well, and we just add to it as the shipping process becomes more demanding.

arubin




msg:3305037
 4:41 pm on Apr 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

WWD, great post. Thanks.

We designed and wrote our system 4 years ago. Our warehouse and # of employees have grown and we are in the process of specing out V2.

A few questions for you, if you don't mind.

You said:

When an item is scanned by the picker, it is "grayed out" on their pick list. When the assigned group of orders is completed, they carry the picked items to a packing station.

We only show pickers one item at a time and have a "packed" and a "previous" button. We're using Symbol MC9000s [symbol.com...]

I can't picture your UI. Can you elaborate?


Each item is barcoded and labeled with our own part number when received into our warehouse. We use a Zebra label printer that can spit out something like 10 labels per second. The labels are applied as the shipment is counted and checked against the purchase order. Labels left over mean a shortage, which is another great double-check!

Are you labeling on a case or product level? (We don't count that cases contain the stated quantity).

You require a scan at pick time, correct? Do you require a product scan at pack time and do you require a box scan at pack time?

Thanks!

WiseWebDude




msg:3305091
 6:32 pm on Apr 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi Arubin,

<<I can't picture your UI. Can you elaborate? >>

The scanners we are using look very similar to the ones you posted a link to. They have a color screen and run a browser window over Windows CE. When a picker is assigned a group of orders, a pick list is presented on screen. I think the list can contain around 10-15 items before a "next" or "previous" button is needed.

<<Are you labeling on a case or product level?>>

We label down to the product level. Our sales rarely involve case quantity, so we are unable to get by with just labeling the cases.

<<Do you require a product scan at pack time and do you require a box scan at pack time?>>

The packing station must also scan each item. This is a form of double-check against the pickers and it also insures the packers do their job correctly when assembling the order.

We have 19" flat screen monitors recessed into the packing tables at each packing station. A piece of plexiglass over the monitor protects it from abuse.

When a packer scans an order to begin the packing process, the monitor displays the items to be packed and each item is "grayed out" from the list after being scanned into the box. When the list is complete, the packer inputs how many boxes were needed for the shipment and then a "completed order" barcode label(s) is automatically generated to be placed on the outside of the sealed box or boxes.

The order then moves to the shipping station where the "completed order" barcode is scanned. It then populates the shipping software with customer shipping information.

arubin




msg:3305173
 8:55 pm on Apr 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

They have a color screen and run a browser window over Windows CE.

We're using CE as well. I'm still not picturing the more than 1 item at a time with scan-based verification.

We do a single picker/packer.

The system spits out a list of boxes to make and a sticker for each box.
The handheld routes the picker and tells him what item to pick and what box to deposit it in. (items are picked directly into the box we will ship in).

Verification is done via weightcheck at scan time. Unfortunately weight check doesn't catch errors in color and often miss errors of one or two sizes and those now compose the majority of our errors. If we tighten up our error threshold we get too many false positives because are items do vary a few percent in weight.


We label down to the product level. Our sales rarely involve case quantity, so we are unable to get by with just labeling the cases.

We ship at a product level as well. We don't label at that level because we often receive by the container but don't open all the boxes until they are moved from overstock to picking stock. We currently only scan at pick time so we can get away with it.

We originally considered using a picker and packer system with the same fundamentals as yours and we again are considering it. It certainly is the more prevalent method. Can I bug you on the phone at some point about the issues you've had and best practices you've determined?

pageoneresults




msg:3306332
 2:30 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

How do you all manage your warehouse/shipping operations?

Outsourcing would be another option. We do quite a bit with pick and pack operations and we've kept some of it in our warehouses and then we've contracted out the rest of it.

Overhead can get quite hefty in a pick and pack operation if you don't have all of your ducks in a row. Its almost better to alleviate that stress and let a third party who specializes in it deal with it.

I've found that "everything" has to be labeled, everything. If it isn't, you leave the door open for assumptions and thats when things go wrong.

rogerd




msg:3306340
 2:41 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm no longer in the physical product business, at least directly, but I used to run a company shipping as many as 1K orders per day. A few techniques I found helpful in a busy fullfillment environment are:

1) Get your software to print batch pick tickets, grouping similar locations where possible. We picked 16-20 orders at a time using a wheeled cart with shelves and a plastic basket for each order. This was MUCH more efficient than sending a picker after each order, and was even faster when high volume in one item allowed 20 orders to be picked from a single location in a few seconds. The picker would take the baskets to the packing line after completing the pick run. Obviously, this won't work for very bulky merchandise.

2) Put complementary items next to each other in the warehouse, e.g., print cartridges near printers. This makes for faster picking on many orders.

3) Put very similar-looking items in DIFFERENT warehouse locations. It seems intuitive to put all the items from one manufacturer next to each other, but when the products look the same and have only a few characters different in their description, it's easy for the picker to grab the wrong item. Of course, if you are scanning bar codes during the pick process you should catch the error anyway.

oldpro




msg:3306351
 2:47 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

All the technology in the world won't help you if you don't have accountability in your system - people need to help to account for their errors.

Totally agree.

Before you spend your time and money on upgrading technical solutions to your problem, you need to weed out those employees that are incompetent, don't care and lazy. Been there done that...we had the same problem. First, tried to solve the problem with software solutions and tech interface...failed. Then we tried the accountability solution...pickers and packers had to initial the packing slip and started handing out pink slips.

One thing to watch out for...

This is how far an employee from hades will go. One of the picker/packers was forging the team leader's initials on the packing slip.

Another suggestion...

Reading comprehension tests. This really helped to identify employees that are predisposed to getting the order wrong.

arubin




msg:3306459
 4:05 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)


Before you spend your time and money on upgrading technical solutions to your problem, you need to weed out those employees that are incompetent, don't care and lazy. Been there done that...we had the same problem. First, tried to solve the problem with software solutions and tech interface...failed. Then we tried the accountability solution...pickers and packers had to initial the packing slip and started handing out pink slips.

We pay by the piece exclusively. Everyone logs on as themselves to ensure they get paid.
We deduct from the packers paychecks for every mistake they make. They hate when they get hit by deductions but there is no issue with not caring about accuracy or output.

Roxster




msg:3306461
 4:06 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

When training a new packer, I let the employee gather and pack up 5-6 orders at a time but without sealing the top of the box for inspection by me. I do this for the first week of his job. If he makes one mistake in the week I inspect longer. My guys can ask any question, and are told if they aren't sure on something they can skip the order and ask me on the inspection.

It doesn't cure the problem, but it helps to make sure your employee can do the job properly in the beginning rather than find out in the middle and the end part.

I was thinking about scanning the invoice to see what process the order is in for customer service reasons.

corbing




msg:3306585
 5:53 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

Mainly to WiseWebDude (but suggestions welcome from all): We have been considering going further in our automation as well and your excellent post (thanks!) had me doing a lot of thinking this weekend. One question that kept coming up for me was the labeling. We would also have to label down to the product level. I would estimate that at least 50% of the products we carry do not already have a manufacturer UPC barcode so we would have to do our own labeling on these products. First, do you do your own label for everything (even if it already has a UPC)? And second, how do you label those products that do not have a UPC and are not in a typical retail package (i.e. box or blister pack)? We have a lot of products that are without any kind of retail packaging and I would imagine our customers would scream loudly if it arrived with a barcode sticker that they had to try to remove from the merchandise.

rogerd




msg:3306601
 6:05 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

The big bookstore chains (who deal with unpackaged merchandise almost exclusively) put a sticker on their retail merchandise that is relatively easy to remove and doesn't screw up the cover or dust jacket. Presumably, similar technology wouldn't be too objectionable in other product types.

stajer




msg:3306752
 8:03 pm on Apr 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

Corbing -

For the products we sell only 30-40% have upc codes. We label the cases of inventory with our own barcodes when they come in. To pack orders, the pickers have handheld barcode scanners - they scan the pack slip, then each case they remove the product from - that gives us an electronic record of the pick/pack process for each pack slip.

All-

I think one common experience for us all is that as our volume goes up, our initial reaction is to create a pick/pack method that is fast and requires the fewest people. But, as you get bigger, you are forced to trade speed/efficiency for quality/accuracy. Quality/accuracy costs money and is slower. You have to be prepared to slow your process down for improved accuracy - that means more people or better automation.

piatkow




msg:3307242
 9:17 am on Apr 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

At my last company the quick fix was in producing the pick lists in an order relevant to the warehouse layout rather than how they appeared on the customer facing documentation.

The second thing that needed to be fixed was warehouse culture.
A new warehouse started with a "don't care" culture that caused too many mistakes. A new manager hired as a "firefighter2 moved things too far into a "blame culture" where mistakes were covered up and became difficult to rectify.

lexipixel




msg:3307809
 7:42 pm on Apr 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

TO REMOVE ALL HUMAN ERRORS: remove humans from the process, (buy an industrial robot to pick the orders).

corbing




msg:3307975
 10:46 pm on Apr 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>TO REMOVE ALL HUMAN ERRORS: remove humans from the process, (buy an industrial robot to pick the orders).


And what about the guy programming the industrial robot?

stajer




msg:3308028
 12:34 am on Apr 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

Simple, robots should program the robots:

10 Get list of orders
20 loop order list
30 pick order
40 pack order
50 ship order
60 find Sarah Conner
70 goto 20

haggul




msg:3309168
 9:10 am on Apr 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

For the guys using hand helds with their systems how easy was this to setup?

We have oour own bespoke fulfilment system, producing pick lists, despatch notes, auto charging etc but would be cool to get the stuff scanned at the picking stage at least (would help eliminate sending very similar but wrong items!)

I know SQL/VB/.Net etc but have never worked on mobile devices - what is the theory - are they just accessing a browser based intranet style system that is hooked direct into your back end databases? Or do they have local data storage and synchronise across?

Any pointers on this gratefully received!

sja65




msg:3309328
 12:26 pm on Apr 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

> For the guys using hand helds with their systems how easy was this to setup?

We use ipaqs with an add on barcode scanner, wifi and battery pack from symbol. Hardwarewise, we need to replace the trigger switches on the ipaqs fairly regularly, but softwarewise it couldn't be easier. We just have a web interface set up on a local server and run that in a browser on the handheld.

Something different we do that I haven't seen mentioned yet is that we have unique barcodes on each unit - even if they are the same item. This allows us to verify quantities properly (each unit needs to be scanned) and also track things like age and returns more accurately.

Others have mentioned case qty. We stock and sell both individual and case quantities, but have associations set up so that if we sell more individual items that are in stock, the computer will order a case to be repackaged as individual items (our shopping cart also says in stock instead of oos for these items).

stajer




msg:3309535
 4:48 pm on Apr 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

We do the same thing - symbol mc50's with wifi, internet explorer, and barcode scanners. Just built a web app that ties directly into our inventory db.

ssgumby




msg:3310409
 4:02 pm on Apr 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Wow!

Thanks for all the information. It was both informative and quite helpful.

I am working on a design for a bar coded warehouse management system. I will be developing this in java. I will keep you all informed as to my progress.

Thanks!

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