• Miebach India

How can my warehouse turn orders around in an hour?

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You have newly opened a spare parts warehouse, which while servicing orders for your dealers, is also servicing orders for emergency off-road vehicles. You get both orders from the same warehouse, and serve them in the same cycle, though you attempt to dispatch the emergency orders on priority using express couriers.

The problem is, there is a world of difference between a dealer who expects his order to arrive in two days, and the emergency vehicle whose asset value is diminishing with every minute it spends waiting for the spare to arrive. Emergency or fast-turn around orders have to be dealt separately as compared to your regular deliveries, and should follow a shorter lead time. (Unless you are in a business where every order is fast turn-around, in which case you can follow the basic philosophy for all your orders.)

So how can we shorten the warehouse lead time or the order turn-around time?

The key philosophy on shortening the lead time within the warehouse is that picking is the most time consuming task and if that can be minimized it will have a direct impact on the order turnaround time.

So let us look at how can we focus on shortening picking cycles. As everywhere else in operations, lean principles come in handy even as you try to improve serviceability of your order:

The first principle is Pull replaces Push: Picking should be directly related to what needs to go out first. It is very common to see waves in which pickers are picking for a truck which has reported already and truck which would report in the evening. Similarly, circulating emergency order pick lists at the same time as regular order pick lists would mean that there will be an inventory at the end of picking, which will wait for dispatch. Hence  “pull“ only those picklists which need to go out first . Automatically , everyone in the warehouse is working on the same work bundle now.

Another lean principle is Focus on Flow: Instead of creating large pick list for pickers ( say, 2 hours of work content with 100 lines) , create smaller picklists and give it to more people at the same time. Most companies give one customer order to one picker. He goes about walking the entire warehouse to fulfill his pick list in 2 hours.  Instead splitting picklists at a warehouse zone level  (and further splitting this for a set of aisles within the zone ) and ensuring zone level pickers pick for the same order at the same time, would  ensure that the picked material flows to the packing area faster.

And finally keeping the concepts of critical chain and weakest link in mind, if pick – pack – check and invoice are the order processing steps for the warehouse , the flow should be leveled by appropriate manning both in every step and across steps. If pickers operate at 5 order lines per hour and packer operates at 30 lines per hour, having only 2 pickers and for every packer will waste packer capacity . Alternatively, if there are 8 pickers  and 1 picker then material waits at packing station . Both affect order turnaround time, and keep the truck waiting.

Of course, while so far picking has been put under the scanner, often the order also waits for simple things like credit check on the customer, permits to send items to a different state, or an item missing from inventory.  The regular checks on inventory, cycle count, permit availability, credit availability will ensure that this waste does not occur.

Making brown-field distribution centers efficient to achieve significantly shorter turn-around cycles (with little or no capital investment) is a key service offering at Miebach Consulting. Miebach has successfully re-engineered operations at many distribution centers across industry segments like Apparel, Automotive, FMCG, Pharmaceutical industries etc. 

For knowing more about this service and our success stories in supply chain consulting, please write to mcindia-mkt@miebach.com

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