New technology is driving significant new efficiencies at public refrigerated warehouses, enabling them to meet rapidly growing demands of food manufacturers and retailers.
We discussed advances in warehouse management systems, unloading/ outbound efficiencies, pallets, fleet utilization and other topics in a virtual roundtable which included:
—Jerome Scherer, vp national sales and marketing, government affairs, U.S. Cold Storage, Voorhees, N.J.
—Steve Tippmann, exec vp, Tippmann Group/Interstate Warehousing, Fort Wayne, Ind.
—Pete Westermann, vp general manager CPG Industry Group, Ryder Supply Chain Solutions, Holland, Mich.
— Mike Henningsen, Jr., chairman and president, Henningsen Cold Storage Company, Hillsboro, Ore.
—Harry Halpert, president, MTC Logistics, Baltimore, Md.
—Michael McClendon, president, Richmond Cold Storage, Richmond, Va.
—Bill Hendricksen, CEO, Castle & Cooke Cold Storage, Colton, Calif.
What advances have you seen in Warehouse Management Systems?
Scherer: Wide implementation of RF bar code scanning, zoning in the warehouse, computer directed put-away, integration with transportation management systems and the movement toward paperless systems. All-important recall systems have become very advanced with on-hold capability to the SKU level through customer online access 24/7. The timeliness is essential.
Tippmann: One that comes to mind is the ability to effectively and efficiently meet customer requirements. As new customers are set up, each may have shelf life, labeling, pallet build, and other requirements. With advances in WMS technology, 3PLs can meet these requirements while performing them at the most opportune time. Since the requirement is performed in the system, reports can be generated at any time.
Henningsen: We’ve seen great advances in managing shelf life requirements, which is very important in perishable goods storage like dairy. We’ve also seen advances in task interleaving, access to information and system alerts which makes the WMS a true management tool, not just an order processing and inventory management tool.
Hendricksen: The Warehouse Management Systems today seem to be very intuitive, which helps reduce the learning curve with new associates. Inventory control advances that include count-back features, system generated cycle counts based on customer rules, substitution rules, inventory adjustments and line changes for missing or damaged product at the picking level. The Integration with the many modules on the market place today, modules such as Voice Pick, Yard Management, Engineered Standards, Accounting Software, and modules that build a perfect pallet while reducing the travel time in a warehouse while selecting an order. Advances that allow carriers or vendors to schedule delivery or pickup appointments through s web portal.
McClendon: Richmond Cold Storage has recently transitioned to a new WMS that allows us to take ownership of the system regarding customer driven modifications and customization. This is a change from our previous WMS that required us to go back to the provider for these services. This function gives us tremendous flexibility as well as the ability to control the cost associated with customization. In addition, the labor management tools available assist our managers in increasing the efficiency of our workforce. Also, customers today are much more interested in participating in EDI. The newer systems and technology allow us to build the EDI processes at a lower cost compared to five years ago.
Halpert: We’re seeing more automation. Also, contractors, material handling and IT companies are collaborating much more than in the past. Can you describe a few best practices in expiration-date (days-of-life remaining, shelf life) management? Hendricksen: With the advent of the web based systems, the customer is now able to track the days-of-life remaining by scheduling reports to be automatically run and sent to their e-mail. The systems are now set so that when a product is reaching a set number of days, the system can automatically place the product on several types, or stages of hold and send a notice out to the warehouse and the customer.
Henningsen: Modern WMS’s today offer greater flexibility to match customer requirements when it comes to guaranteed shelf life agreements. Today we can configure the system to assure that a ship to customer has a specified number of days until expiration left on product based on the customer, product or product family and transit time to delivery. The system will only allocate product that matches the requirements. We can also program the WMS to send alerts if product is getting close to expiration. An additional feature is the ability to assure that a customer never receives product that is older than product previously received.
Halpert: It’s important not to mix date codes on pallets – doing so adds cost to pick and increases chances of misrotation. Speak to the manufacturer to understand how they palletize product from their production line. Batch codes and midnight shifts may create exceptions. From a warehousing perspective, especially in multi-deep environments, a warehouse operation is able to maximize storage density by having windows (i.e., 30 days) around a production date to ship.
Scherer: Tracking has become very sophisticated with multiple methods being employed on each SKU. Production dates coordinated with sell-by dates; the old method of firstin first-out has evolved to accommodate remaining shelf life limits without regard to arrival date. Days of remaining life can be customized to meet the requirements of each consignee.
What are managers doing to develop and implement new labor standards?
Henningsen: As the customer profiles change, it is important to continually review the procedures in place and adjust as required. The tasks needed to develop and implement new labor standards include: Review current function (define productivity and quality results), conduct brainstorming meetings with your teams, identify/test improved methods and procedures, document and train on new methods developed, perform then review new procedures, monitor production results and validate, meet again with your team and agree to new methods and standard.
Tippmann: With the advances of Warehouse Management Systems’ ability to manage/enforce customer requirements, the industry can accurately report exactly what is being performed on the floor in the warehouse. This allows managers to keep labor standards up to date while taking into account customer requirements in many different areas. Additionally, we now have accurate costing of any and all work performed for our customers, thanks to this technology.
Hendricksen: Managers are continually identifying barriers that disrupt production or increase indirect time. They do this through observation, feedback from the associates, and reviewing productivity data, and make necessary adjustments to streamline the overall production process. Managers also realign customers, items, and pick lines based off of velocity reports or product movement data extracted from the WMS, in order to reduce travel time in the warehouse. Once the barriers have been removed, and the productivity processed streamlined, crew averages can be measured and compared to previous productivity numbers, thus creating new reasonable expectancy labor standards.
Scherer: Event-driven computerized tasking assignment is creating great efficiencies in labor management. Scan-by-scan capture of the activities of the individual worker allows for performance evaluation for all job categories. Order picking by case or full pallet — put-away in the warehouse, shipping and receiving on the dock as well truck loading and unloading are all measured. This information can be used for more accurate cost assessment and pricing, as well as creation of fair work load expectation standards.
Halpert: Our managers are paying close attention to each step of an operation, utilizing the WMS to timestamp activity, and actively reviewing the data with staff.
What new technologies are available to improve unloading efficiencies?
Tippmann: ASN (advance ship notice) has had the most impact recently on our receiving efficiencies. When you get an ASN from the shipping point, you receive all the necessary information to be able to just scan the barcode on the pallet and everything is already in your system for that pallet (product code, batch, quantity, etc.). We can use a double pallet jack to pick up two pallets, scan them, and run them directly into storage without stopping on the dock.
Westermann: VMU – Vehicle Management Unit has improved efficiencies the most in recent years by leveraging the latest software and applying it at the point of delivery. We’ve had success enabling the WMS to be applied at the point it is brought into the warehouse and determining the best place to store the product. This is also applied as it goes back out of the warehouse. We are also using new battery technology, both opportunity charge, as well as fast-charge systems, which helps us reduce material handling equipment down time and increase productivity and efficiency. Other ways we leverage technology to improve dock efficiencies include using “photo eyes,” installed at the dock to prevent equipment from damaging doors and controlling dock levelers, which reduces down time and helps control cost.
Scherer: From a practical point of view, new-design dock doors provide for the ability to open doors after the truck is backed into the dock and the axle is locked for safety. Thermal abuse of product is avoided and the dock area does not become infiltrated with warm humid air. From the IT side, pending inbound warehouse management systems enable advance documentation processes and space allocation planning for more efficient put-away. This process works especially well when combining outbound orders with cross-dock movements. Coordination of inbound and outbound loads can be synchronized with product availability and shipping and receiving appointments. Order assembly and staging is timed to minimize how long product sits on the dock.
Hendricksen: From a WMS standpoint, inline quality checks, automatic status adjustments speed up the overall receiving process. Automatic door assignments based on item codes and quantities being delivered as it relates to the assigned storage locations in the warehouse, which reduce travel time and potential safety hazards. The Vertical style hydraulic dock plate help maintain the cold chain compliance by allowing a better seal between the truck trailer and the dock door. Electric/Hydraulic truck restrains in lieu dock chocks allow the receiver to secure the truck without going outside while maintaining a safe work environment.
What about outbound efficiencies?
Henningsen: I have not seen much in this area as of late, the only items that come to mind are double jacks and forklifts with multiple pallet transport capabilities
Tippmann: We have started using “fluid loading” to improve our efficiencies on outbound loading. Instead of runners bringing pallets out to the dock and then the loader handling them again, the loader uses a double pallet jack to take two pallets at a time from the freezer directly to the truck.
Hendricksen: From a WMS standpoint, door assignments relating to the proximity of the staging or picking locations of the outbound load. This reduces the travel time, and reduces the time to complete the loading process. Advance Shipping Notice (ASN) tags being applied to outbound pallets, and being scanned to the door while loading. This insures that the load will be shipped complete. The ability to live load a trailer with multiple stops, with the system using logic to pick and load in the proper order based on drops.
What advances have you seen in routing software and other ways to improve fleet utilization?
Westermann: We have seen advancements in both hardware and software on routing technologies. Aside from advanced 2nd generation algorithms and the math engines they use, the applications are being rewritten from scratch to deliver enhanced efficiencies. Net architecture and XML interfacing and to expand on the tools and features built into the flagship products over the years. These improvements allow for additional routing parameters to be included yielding better and more realistic routes.
Scherer: Load-building and optimization software has enabled great strides in maximizing truck movement. GPS tracking is an important tool for keeping equipment moving.
Henningsen: Optimization algorithms are more available in the industry to efficiently route multi-stop shipments, even with latest data.
Henricksen: The use of technology and the internet are a vital part of the transportation services we offer. Our Transportation Management Software (TMS) is a web-based model. The dispatchers only need an internet connection and a laptop to gain access to all of our available orders and routed freight. The improved visibility allows collaboration between our offices and warehouses. We are able to reduce deadhead miles by creating continuous moves from our shipping and delivery points. The software also tracks a driver’s progress and emails alerts to appropriate staff. The alerts allow us to manage potential services issues and avoid excessive idle and dwell times at loading and unloading locations. The TMS allows us to hold drivers accountable for arriving on time, loading and unloading, and reducing fuel consumption all while adhering to hours of service and safety regulations. The TMS Optimizer are becoming better and quicker. We are using the optimizer as a tool, along with our staff’s industry knowledge, to improve our ability to create efficient loads by combining service expectation with most cost effective routing.
Halpert: Software is opening up for system-wide views which provide a broader planning horizon.
What arrangements are being made to share unladen miles among various fleets (e.g., retailers, vendors, yours)?
Henningsen: Removing unladen miles from routes has always been a priority for an asset-based company. Shippers that have incentives to find empty miles between divisions are helping the environment as well as the bottom line. Programs between shippers to share lane information, in an effort to help the carrier base control costs, have had only varying rates of success. 3PLs are in a position to manage multiple clients’ distribution networks and gain efficiencies by filling unladen miles, and reducing overall delivered costs.
Westermann: Most of our accounts have gainshare provisions in which we are incented to fill empty miles where they exist. We have seen significant increases in gainshare dollars and visibility to available loads. This is becoming even more critical with the recent increases in fuel prices.
Hendricksen: We are fortunate to have multiple customer and carrier relationships we work with on transportation initiatives. For example, our drivers perform temperature controlled deliveries for one of our retail customers. We send trucks to their stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. After the trucks are unloaded at the stores those trucks are offered to our customer base to use and arrange delivery back into our warehouses or their production facilities. In addition, we have customers with their own dedicated fleets. We negotiated ride share agreements with our customers’ fleets so we can consolidate freight into pool loads while they are loading and delivering into similar locations. These agreements are mutually beneficial and they generate additional value to each organization.
Our transportation division has a passion for the business. The staff understands the effects of fuel increases, tightening capacity and additional government regulations on the industry. We are constantly looking for better and cost effective opportunities to move freight. We have developed partnerships and designed unique relationships to better serve our customers and carriers.
Halpert: We created a transportation joint venture with one of our World Group members and we utilize each other’s facilities to cross-dock in order to maximize truck capacity.
Scherer: Collaboration is important here. Continuous movement is a good way to reduce dead head miles.
What is the coolest new equipment that you have seen for warehouses or trucks?
Scherer: Automation in warehousing is fun. I think automated guided vehicles (AGV) lift trucks are pretty ‘Contractors, material handling and IT companies are collaborating much more than in the past.’ —Halpert neat. They can be laser guided and work completely on their own, like a robot. The latest models of cross country trucks are amazing, big and shiny. They haul huge loads, maintain minus 20 degree F temperatures and are equipped with high tech communications and gadgets including music and plasma TVs in mini bedrooms for the long haul. They are truly home away from home.
Tippmann: Crown just came out with the new RM which is a Mono- Lift Mast Reach Truck. The lift capacity on this truck is about 1,000 pounds more to its highest level than forklifts of the past. For the forklift driver, it offers much better visibility and greatly improved ergonomics. All of these things combined make the forklift safer and easier to maneuver pallets.
Hendricksen: The coolest thing I have seen recently is the automated trailer cool down software for dedicated fleets. Trailers can be started from a computer based on ambient temperatures, cool down requirements and loading times. It saves many hours of yard management and is the data is captured and recorded for later reference.
Henningsen: The completely automated warehouse the military is experimenting with, utilizing robotic forklifts that are not only able to pick and put pallets in the warehouse, but can also load and unload trucks without human oversight or control. Also, fuel-saving technologies such as wings for underneath the trailers, and battery-powered APUs (Auxiliary Power Unit).
Westermann: We are looking at hydrogen technology for our material handling equipment, but the ROI to date has been too low. As time goes on I can see this technology fit into several of our applications, but the entry cost into this market is still cost prohibitive — we expect it to come into play in the next several years. The Unmanned MHE technology is also coming into its own and will offer up new ways to control productivity, damages and work place injuries, and the unit can work round the clock, 24/7.