Operations are under a lot of pressure to continually meet customer demands, as well as to support marketing and merchandising initiatives which often means adding many products, providing value added services to customers, and increasing order volumes. From a warehousing and distribution consultant perspective, we are often asked what the tasks are that the warehouse operations can undertake, that can have the largest impact.
This can be a very difficult answer, as each business is typically in different stages of maturity and capabilities. However, for most companies, there are some fundamentals that should be adhered to, and will provide the foundation for further improvements. One of these fundamentals would be the capture and maintenance of item weights and measures. If you can only tackle one thing before the next peak season, this would certainly be on the list to perform first.
What Should Be Captured in the Supply Chain
By capturing and maintaining weights and measures, we mean simply capturing and maintaining the following:
- The length, width and height for each SKU. These cubic dimensions should be based on the item, with the packaging, so that it reflects the actual space that each unit of inventory would take up on the shelf – this is very important.
- From a weight perspective, if you have lighter weight items the weight could be in ounces, and for heavier items this should be measured in pounds. However, all SKUs in your facility should utilize the same unit of measure of ounces or pounds – even if they are fractional pounds for lighter items.
- If your business has inner packs and/or case quantities, the weights and measures should be captured for the “each” level as well as the inner pack and cases. Additional information that should be captured and maintained are the eaches per inner pack and the inner packs per case – or eaches per case if there are no inner packs.
- Pallet level information should include the eaches per pallet and/or cases per pallet as well as the total weight for the pallet.
If your warehouse management system (WMS), or fulfillment module within your ERP system, doesn’t have a placeholder for this information, it could be captured and stored in a simple spreadsheet.
How Should the Distribution Center Capture this Data
The easiest way to capture this information is by renting (or purchasing) a Cubiscan unit; there are several different models to choose from, all with an easy user interface. FCBCO has no affiliation with Cubiscan, this is based on decades of experience with Cubiscan and the quality of products they offer.
These units allow a user to simply place an item on a bed so the cubic dimensions and weight can be automatically captured and stored to a simple database and then extracted when finished. This avoids the need to measure inventory by hand with a tape measure.
When companies attempt to measure items by hand with a tape measure, employees often are rounding up or down to the nearest inch etc., and this can create inaccurate data for use later on in the operations. This is also a very time-consuming process that could easily take four to five times longer than using a Cubiscan unit. In the past, clients have easily been able to capture the weights and measures at a rate of close to 1,000 SKUs in an 8-hour day with two workers. This is obviously impacted by the size and weights of items to be measured.
What are the Benefits to the Order Fulfillment Process
Capturing the weights and measures for each SKU in the facility will allow the distribution team to address more aspects of the operations than quite possibly any other task. These benefits include the following:
- The cubic dimensions will assist with determining how big the pick slot, or location, should be based on the necessary days of supply on hand. Most companies look to keep at least 3 to 5 days of supply on hand in the pick location, to as many as 14+ days of supply in the pick location. Therefore, in the case of keeping 5 days of supply on hand - if each unit of inventory for SKU ABC is 1 cubic foot, and 5 days of supply is 10 units, in theory this SKU would need a location that is 10 cubic feet – but it may not dimensionally line up with your locations.
- These dimensions allow companies to standardize the size of pick slots instead of randomly determining how big each individual location should be. This makes profiling shelving and racking much easier. Once the cubic dimensions have been calculated by SKU, the days of supplies can be factored in to determine the size needed for the pick location. From here, standard location sizes can be determined, along with the number of each size that are required.
- By “right sizing” the pick locations, this will in turn minimize stock replenishments. Minimizing the stock replenishments will reduce the number of “hot” replenishments needed during the times picking is occurring which will reduce congestion in the aisles and pickers unable to complete their picks.
- You will be able to determine the optimal location once you know how big it needs to be, and which type of storage is best suited based on the size etc. This allows the operations to reprofile the facility as needed in a much faster time frame.
- Having the weight will ensure that you are not exceeding the engineered weight capacity of the shelving or racking. This is critical to avoid workplace injuries and catastrophic rack failures. By capturing and maintaining pallet weights, you can have the system direct pallets that exceed the rack limitations to ground level locations.
- The data can be used to determine if automation is appropriate based on the item and order profiles – including robotics, goods to person technology and even conveyors. Without this data it can be very difficult to accurately determine which options are best suited to your operations.
- Once the data is captured, it can be used for boxing logic and suggested box size for assisting with automating the outbound packing. Sometimes companies use this as just a suggested box or carton size to help with packing of orders.
- This data is critical to re-slotting the warehouse for the next season. Distribution centers must be dynamic and continually adjusting to meet the needs of the organization and the customer. This includes reslotting the facility to support new products and seasons. This information will allow you to determine how many locations are needed of each size, making the job easier.
- Your operations will be able to better utilize the existing space within the facility. It will help identify areas of the facility that are under-utilized, and could be re-profiled to add more locations, or adjust the inventory being stored in certain areas of the facility.
This information is extremely important to the operations in a wide variety of ways. As your operations and supply chain strategy become more complex and handling more volume – this information will become more critical. We continually focus on capturing AND maintaining the information. Companies must remain proactive in maintaining this information, or it can quickly become outdated and no longer useable. A process should be established for when new SKUs are added what pieces of information are to be captured and by whom.