Best Practices in Receiving

Receiving is an often-overlooked process in the distribution center. It is common for DC managers to focus on the picking and packing functions instead. Still, if receiving isn’t done efficiently and accurately, it can have a direct and dramatic impact on your order selection efficiency. Product that is sitting on the dock or on a pallet in a remote corner of the warehouse is not available for picking. The result could be shortages or the need for excess labor to fill the requirement.

Location schemes and put-away logic
A key aspect of receiving is figuring out where to put the product just received. In the most basic systems, the entire storage system relies on fixed locations and often the experience of the put-away operator as well. This may work adequately for smaller operations, but sometimes there will be problems with stock rotation and stock that doesn’t fit in the fixed location.

If your operation has grown to the point where put-away problems have become significant, consider moving to a random-locator system. This type of system will direct put-aways into a specific location based on the size of the receipt. Most warehouse management systems are quite adept at managing random-location storage and can even group product by frequency of usage or by family. Good random-locator systems will enforce FIFO (first in, first out) consumption of items and sequence work to minimize travel.

Truck to rack
Above all else, think of ways to facilitate the fastest journey from truck to rack. Every stop, every move, and every item dropped in a temporary staging area takes space, takes time, increases the chances for damage, makes stock hard to find, increases errors, and costs you labor. Think all the way through the supply chain to figure out ways to minimize the time from the truck floor to your storage rack.

For common carrier receipts (nonpalletized) an in-line process using a receiving conveyor can speed the check-in process. Checking and inspection of full pallet loads can be limited to random audits except for vendors that have known quality issues.

Work with vendors as partners—and keep a scorecard
Consider asking your major suppliers to add pallet tags that can be scanned to identify a pallet, a carton, or a product to your receiving system. In some cases, this can be linked to either an electronic data transmission (EDI) or an identifying number in your purchasing/receiving system. Although you may not get every vendor to comply, some may be set up to do this already.

Think about scheduling your deliveries at times when your order picking operation is quiet, rather than at peak periods. You can do this with parcel carriers as well as with full truckload carriers.

Keep a scorecard on your vendors to give them feedback and to identify those that regularly fail to measure up. Work with vendors to solve problems, and consider changing vendors if you find resistance or a failure to improve.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants. For more information, visit

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