You’ve just installed a new material handling system in your warehouse. But it soon becomes apparent that your new system is not performing like you anticipated it would. Maybe a merge in the conveyor system is not able to keep up with the carton volume you are experiencing, or your picking productivity in a new pick module is not where you anticipated it would be. While this can be a frustrating and overwhelming situation, there are several things that you can do to address this situation and get to the root cause of the problem.
One of the first things to do when confronted with an under performing material handling system is to confirm that the equipment provided by the vendors meets the requirements of the original proposal. Typically, a review of the entire system is done prior to system But this is not always the case. A complete review of the specifications needs to be completed to confirm that all of the key components of the system (zone diverts, merges, shipping sorter, etc.) are delivering the required throughput rates. In addition, review all the critical dimensions and capacities of the system to confirm that they are per the design drawings. Any deviations from the design specification need to be addressed with the vendor so that the appropriate adjustments/modifications can be made. In general, it’s always a good idea to hold on to a retainer until the system acceptance process is complete.
Assuming that the system is installed properly and meets the necessary design specifications, another item to consider is whether the system is being used properly. With any major system implementation, there is a corresponding description of operations that details out processes that need to be followed in order to be successful. Floor personnel, supervisors, and managers all need to be trained on the correct operating procedures required to support the system. Once everyone has been trained, audits need to be conducted to make sure that everyone understands and is following the procedures. It is common for people to revert back to old habits and procedures because that is the way they’ve always done it in the past. Furthermore, if there wasn’t buy in during the design process there may be resistance to the new system. Employing an effective strategy for managing change will ensure that everybody buys into the new system and use it per the intentions of the design.
If the system was installed correctly and is being utilized correctly, it’s possible that the deficient performance can be attributed to a difference between the design assumptions and the actual reality of the business. This disconnect can be the result of either changes in the business (for example a new product line) or erroneous design assumptions. Are your current order volumes per the design parameters? Has anything changed (additional business, change in business mix,) since the completion of the design process? If a business change has been identified, you must determine whether a modification can be made to the system in order to accommodate it. For example, a higher than expected demand for a particular line of product may result in excessive replenishments within a pick module. But modifying the fixture types within the pick module by creating more pallet flow locations would create larger pick faces and reduce the number of replenishments. A lower than expected order volume could also have a negative impact on performance as it may prevent you from achieving the necessary economies of scale in order to reap the full benefits of the automation.
Another thing to consider is the product profiling. Proper product profiling is critical to the success of any material handling implementation. Improper profiling can result in congestion and inefficient picking that will reduce labor productivity. A review of the current product profile should be conducted in order to make sure it is consistent with the slotting criteria developed during the design process. Identifying and correcting any profiling issues can have a dramatic impact on the overall system performance.
Reviewing the design specifications of your material handling system, auditing your current operational procedures, and identifying any significant changes in your business will help to identify possible reasons for deficient performance. Addressing these issues will help you to overcome some of the obstacles that are keeping you from reaching your operational goals.
Tom Ferrini is project manager for Long Grove, IL-based consultancy Tom Zosel Associates