Article | August 1, 2017

Three Post-Peak Projects To Improve DC Operations

Source: OPEX Corporation
The Next Big Idea: Integrate the Digital and Physical Supply Chain in Clinical Trials

Now that the peak season dust has completely settled, it’s the perfect time for a tune-up in your warehouses and DCs. Here, are some DC improvement ideas.

The  holiday season puts your DC infrastructure—and associates—to the ultimate test. Now’s the time to assess the results of that test by analyzing DC operations during the peak season.

Let’s assume your infrastructure—the hardware, software, technology and fixtures that facilitate your DC operations—fared well at face value. Regardless of whether you’re running forklifts and conveyor belts or goods-to-person robotics, lets’ say nothing significant broke down or imploded midstream during the season’s peak, and order volume was managed in a satisfactory way. It’s time for a right-angle check, but not of your systems. It’s time to check in with your DC associates.  

In a recent Industry Week column, StratOps Group executives Warren Bishop and Bruce Miles offered some sound advice for driving operational results at the people-level in DCs and warehouses. Motivation, they say, can be encouraged by “providing an incentive to increase individual discretionary effort, getting to the point where your associates push themselves to do everything they can.” To fully understand what “everything they can” looks like, take the time to survey DC personnel on their opinion of peak season performance. Ask them what worked and what didn’t—from systems and tasks to scheduling and stress. Ask them how they feel, and how their job is affecting that for better or worse. When this dialogue is effective, Bishop and Miles say the feedback exercise alone can drive process improvement. Engaged associates, they say, “will be highly motivated to surface any performance barriers and bring improvement ideas to management's attention.” There’s no better time than just after the peak season to invite associates to discuss those barriers and improvement ideas.

Chances are good that an honest exchange with your DC and warehouse associates will reveal opportunities to improve the working conditions in your facilities—and those improvements will likely begin with ergonomics. After a tough couple of months handling high order volume and an inordinate number of returns, DC and warehouse associates will be all-too-eager to tell you what hurts. The post-peak season is the perfect time to demonstrate that you’re committed to associate well-being by making ergonomic adjustments. These don’t have to be expensive or complex. Work surface height adjustments, workstation flooring material changes, and employee training are just a few of the no-cost/low-cost adjustments that can pay significant dividends.

Of course, inviting a post-peak discourse with your DC and warehouse associates might bring to surface a can of worms that you’ve been putting off cracking for a long time.  They might tell you flat-out that your vintage warehousing and distribution infrastructure is wearing thin. Some might even threaten to seek more automated, associate-friendly warehouse expanses. If a lack of automation is hampering fulfillment and hamstringing associates, spring is a fine time for a fresh start. Talk to OPEX about why a modern, automated DC material handling system might be your best post-peak project yet.