In a past post, we looked at ways a distribution center can maximize its volume flexibility and responsiveness, specifically looking at qualities like staffing, pick-front, and real-time inventory. Those are all key aspects of creating an effective environment, but there are further things that each department within a distribution center can do to further help the cause.
Trying to predict when a big receiving order will be coming in is about like forecasting the weather—you can do your best, but there’s no way to predict it with 100% accuracy. You can, however, get pretty close. Using previous forecasts and current trends for the year, you can better anticipate volumes and have the receiving department ready to go as soon as a receiving order comes in. This does take some experience, though. Analyzing trends and data isn’t as simple as looking at it from year to year, and if it’s wrong, you’ll have an area over-staffed and people with no work to do.
It’s not uncommon for a big influx of outgoing shipments to happen at the same time a big receiving order comes in. In a scenario like this, it’s important to be in a position where you can shift people between departments. It may be possible to get the receiving order in and stocked, then move staff over to shipping to take care of those orders. However, the arrival of a receiving order should never take precedence over getting a shipping order filled, accurately and on-time. For this reason it is crucial to avoid backlogs in receiving and to have a cross-trained staff. Again, while you can get pretty close when predicting shipments, it’s impossible to be precise, and you’ll only get close if you have experience in predicting those rises.
Even in the midst of the arrival of a big receiving order and a large number of outgoing shipping orders, there are still other things that need to be done: returns processing, quality control, cycle counting, packaging—the focus has to be on prioritization.
With any item that’s sold through e-commerce, you’ll have fast movers, medium movers, and slow movers. Instead of grouping everything together into one system, orders can be picked more efficiently with items placed into “zones,” based on how frequently they sell. Throw the fast movers into a hot pick zone—an area that’s not far from where the orders come in—so pickers can get to the items more quickly.
The most important part of any department is its employees. With so much going on at any given time on any given day in a distribution center, employees who are flexible can make life easier on everyone. Employees who are willing and prepared to adjust their schedules as necessary to fit the ebbs and flows of a DC are the ones who will maximize your responsiveness. Of course, forecasting plays a huge role in scheduling employees, and without experience in forecasting, your employees can get tired quickly of consistently adjusting their schedules. It’s important to have someone on your staff with prior experience in forecasting, or the assistance of a 3PL to provide that experience.