How would you like to take over a warehouse that was running at an unacceptable three-week backlog? Could you shorten that backlog to 48 hours and eliminate shipping errors? Chuck Inman, Jr., an independent information technology consultant, could - and did - for New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
When the MoMA was founded, the trustees considered it vital that reproductions of artworks be available to the public. These reproductions include posters, personal stationery, jewelry and art-related books. Customers and patrons can order these items through two retail stores, one in the museum itself and one across the street. They can also buy both through a mail order catalog and other art museums.
Problems With MoMA Warehouse
MoMA offers more than 7,000 reproductions and gift items, all of which it stores in a 53,000 square foot warehouse in South River, New Jersey. The warehouse handles distribution to the stores, other museums, and mail-order customers. It also handles mailings and promotions for patrons of MoMA.
In 1996, the warehouse was run by a warehouse management firm under contract. Unfortunately, under this company's direction, according to MoMA managers, warehouse operations were manual and often inefficient. Mistakes, such as shipping the wrong item, or shipping the right item to the wrong addressee, were common. In addition, the warehouse was often three weeks behind in order fulfillment, especially during the months preceding the holidays, according to MoMA.
MoMA Seeks A Solution
To counter these problems, MoMA's managers hired an independent information technology consultant in the spring of 1997. The consultant, Chuck Inman, Jr., was charged with evaluating the warehouse's inventory control system and determining how to improve it. He was subsequently hired by MoMA to run the warehouse as director of fulfillment operations.
"Streamlining the order-shipping process was our first priority," recalls Inman. He began by completely altering the layout of the warehouse to make the material flow more logical for receiving and picking. Then, he began to put together a warehouse management computer system. The MoMA warehouse was already using Compaq's Open Retail System
software on an AS/400 computer for its accounting system. Inman was able to tie in 11 Symbol RF handheld terminals and Kraft Technologies' LOCATE-IT
inventory management system software.
With this system, when a shipment arrives at the warehouse, workers put the boxes into the appropriate storage bin. When they do so, they use the handhelds to scan a bar code on the box, as well as a bar code on the bin. That generates a record of the item's bin location, which is relayed to the LOCATE-IT software. Then, when that item is needed to fill an order, its location can be determined instantly. The workers simply enter the item's number into the handheld terminal and it tells them the bin's location.
As a result of applying the warehouse management solution, Inman says that errors in shipping have been virtually eliminated. Of even greater importance is the fact that turnaround time on orders has been greatly reduced. Inman adds that, from a three-week backlog in the pre-holiday season, orders are now shipped within two days. And this target was achieved with no addition of manpower. Inman concludes, "We can now make better business decisions because we can understand our inventory situation in quantitative terms."