Strategies for Simplifying Your Shipping System This Holiday Season

November 24, 2015

5:00 pm

Shipping systems often involve complex logistics that can be hard to manage. However, the best practices listed below will help you simplify and improve your shipping system.

One-Stop Receiving

Materials should only be handled once during receiving. This is because the more times an item is handled by different people, the more money and time are wasted. Additional, incoming materials must be received, documented and stored with absolute accuracy. As a result, the warehouse database will have real-time data that can be used to make critical decisions. Unfortunately, many warehouses have one person to receive, one to stock and then one to update. This is a recipe for operational and administrative staff mistakes and miscommunication. When used at the receiving stage, the RFID or barcode scanning system will provide benefits for others down the road. For example, purchasing will be able to automatically process invoices, shipping supervisors will be able to better plan their daily production schedules and management will be able to provide timely updates to customers. Finally, just-in-time (JIT) delivery and inventory methods should be implemented to better manage incoming stock.

Improve Picking Productivity

Almost half of shipping employees’ time is spent picking, packing and shipping outbound orders. However, streamlining the picking process will vastly simplify the shipping system. For example, shipping companies should avoid mixing multiple SKUs or different products together. Ideally, a single bin or shelf will house specific items. Most shipping managers forget that walking between different areas will waste time and tire out employees. In fact, employees can spend up to half of their time walking back and forth to pick orders. This is why many warehouses use batch order or cluster order picking strategies. While space may be limited, be sure to favor ground level picking, instead of vertical picking. Shipping companies can overcome limited space through assigning the slowest velocity items at the top and the fastest velocity items at the bottom. In relation to this, the inventory area should be divided into hot and cold zones according to the principles of selective inventory control.

Upgrade Equipment

Warehouses and shipping organizations typically rely on spreadsheets, handwritten BOLs and visual inventory counts. However, modern technology can drastically improve the shipping system through better efficiency and employee performance. For example, there are many excellent shipping, warehouse and supply chain management programs that will digitize all aspects of shipping. For example, shipping managers will be able to easily analyze inventory levels, monitor changes, predict client demands and help problem solve customer issues. There are also basic tools that shipping organizations can use to improve shipping speed and processing. For example, automatic checkweighers can process over 500 items a minute. They help reduce employee errors, product giveaways and poor work quality. They can also help certain companies meet their state’s regulatory requirements and thus avoid potential fines. In the end, helpful tools and equipment will improve productivity while also tracking individual operator outputs.

Process vs. Results

Productivity is often impeded by redundant or bureaucratic processes. As a result, processes can become part of the problem and not the solution. This occurs when employees are empowered with responsibilities that still require permission from the supervisor. For example, if only supervisors are allowed to visually verify incoming shipment quality and quantity, this will create a bottleneck. To take it a further level, if supervisors are constantly required to attend pointless meetings, then they will have less time to supervise and help their staff. Employee communication and workflow processes can be streamlined and continually improved through a quality control program. Ideally, there will be a quality improvement committee staffed by employees and management who collaborate to problem solve at the lowest possible level. Also, shipping organizations must continually deal with vendors that procrastinate or deliver wrong materials. Having a lengthy managerial review process for poor performing vendors will cause workflow and customer satisfaction problems.

To recap, shipping systems are collections of living processes that should be continually streamlined. One stop receiving and efficient picking will increase productivity effectiveness. Upgrading equipping and focusing on results, not processes, will increase shipping output.

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Dennis Hung is an entrepreneur and product analyst specializing in mobile technology and IoT. He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America.

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