Cold Storage Warehouses

Advice from true warehouse experts

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34 www.frbuyer.com NOVEMBER 2019 Stephen Petit LOGISTICS TAKE YOUR PICK! New options are coming online for picking technology in cold storage warehouses. BY STEPHEN PETIT D uring most of the year, Plymouth Inc. ships 1,200 to 1,500 cases of turkeys a week. But the Seattle-based dis- tributor of poultry, beef, pork, and other foods says that number can swell to almost 35,000 cases a week in the lead-up to anksgiving. At the same time, the number of employees working in the warehouse peaks: suddenly not only are there more turkeys to manage, there are more people getting trained and more urgency in trying to keep orders and information on track. HERDING CATS (AND ORDERS) For years, Plymouth used a combination of pens, paper, and tribal knowledge to make sure the right goods made it onto the right truck at the right time. "Whenever an order came in, the picker would have to find the item by memory because there was no system to track its location in the warehouse," says Ty Marchand, Plymouth's IT manager. Workers performed tasks based off printed pick lists, put-away labels, and other paper-based processes. Once an item was selected, its weight and other details were logged and the paperwork was sent to the dispatch department, where it was 10-keyed into a computer terminal and printed onto the customer's shipping documents and invoice. On every order, the pick-list and weight numbers had to be triple- and sometimes quadruple-checked for errors and missing information. If there was a mistake or a change, the picking process basi - cally started all over again. It was unproductive, frustrat- ing for workers, and what's more, Marchand says, this scene often took place in sub-freezing temperatures while a driver was outside, drumming his fingers on the wheel, waiting to leave. A seasonal surge is a big challenge for food distribu- tors, especially when it involves local, natural or perish- able goods. Specialty items make managing inventory more complex even during periods of routine demand, says Jon Kuerschner, vp of product management and consulting at HighJump, a Minneapolis-based provider of warehouse management systems (WMS) and other supply chain network solutions. "Not only are there more SKUs, certain goods like organic foods may come with unique requirements related to storage, tracking, and last-mile delivery," he says. Factor in a holiday rush and it's easy for a warehouse to be swamped by the jump in inventory and all the data that goes with it. SCAN PLAN Warehouse managers today have a range of options for capturing data that can be used by a WMS to make picking, packing, and shipping more efficient. Indeed, Plymouth shifted away from paper-based order picking, or label processing, nearly 20 years ago when it adopted a WMS from PathGuide Technologies in Bothell, Wash. PathGuide's Latitude WMS integrates with ERP business systems and uses RF or bar code scanning to catalog and communicate data about each SKU. It can au - tomate nearly every step of inventory man- agement, from receiving to order-picking to the creation of a shipment manifest. Pickers use their RF ter - minals to send and receive messages or instructions electronically instead of from a manually managed queue. e system can verify whether the picker is at the right location in the ware- house and filling orders with the right items. "e software scales well so it doesn't matter if we have one worker scanning products or 30, everything gets scanned," Marchand says. "If we didn't get that instant item data from Latitude, it would severely slow down productivity during the most hectic time of year." At Thanksgiving time, the number of cases shipped per week can jump from 1,200 to nearly 35,000. RF scanners are providing a longer line of sight to the label. Some can capture virtually any 1D bar code from 50 feet away or more. Photo: Zebra

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