Magazine Article | September 1, 2002

You Have Been Warned! Scrap Paper

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

If your order fulfillment operations are slower than your customers can stand, tell your paper-based processes to step aside.

Integrated Solutions, September 2002

No company likes to frequently upgrade or overhaul its software systems. That's why Bekins Distribution (Sioux City, IA) is glad that a recent logistics system implementation - the company's third in six years - is indeed the charm. As a 3PL (third party logistics) provider, Bekins stores and manages suppliers' inventory and distributes it to their customers. Because many customers are located near one of Bekins' 10 DCs (distribution centers), the company has to meet expectations for fast order turnaround. "One of our facilities is located near a manufacturing plant operated by a large ice cream producer," says Bruce Matthey, Bekins' general manager of IT. "Our contract with this plant specifies that we must deliver product within two hours of the time we take electronic receipt of the order."

Until recently, order fulfillment efficiency at Bekins was less than optimal due to limitations of the software it was using. It didn't support RF (radio frequency) communications, so warehouse picking and putaway processes were still heavily paper-based. Moreover, data was often locked within the system's proprietary database. As a result, locating SKUs (stock keeping units) in particular warehouse locations often required manual searches.

So, Bekins went looking for software that supports real-time RF-enabled data collection, facilitates VMI (vendor managed inventory), uses an Oracle database, and allows for inventory tracking down to individual pieces in cases on pallets. Fulfilling all of those requirements is VISUAL DCMS (distribution center management system) from Lilly Software Associates. Bekins also purchased Lilly's sales order and financials modules, giving the company integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning) functionality.

RF Speeds Wave Picking
The integration of order processing and logistics management makes it easier for warehouse managers to generate directives for wave picking. In wave picking, all zones are picked simultaneously for faster completion of each order. Now, when orders come into the system, the software automatically determines the location of each item and directs the employee via messages sent to RF terminals from Psion Teklogix. If a particular order requires a value-added service, such as kitting, the system directs the employee to the appropriate station. "Pulling an order into the system and getting it out on the floor for wave picking takes five minutes or less," Matthey says.

The system also directs forklift drivers to take completed picks to particular staging areas. As picks are completed in one zone and delivered to the dock, the system informs pickers in other zones where items for the order at hand are being staged for shipping.

Inventory Accuracy Drives Productivity
Matthey notes that, with the new system in place, inventory and order accuracy is "nearly flawless." One inventory management process - cycle counting, or regularly scheduled counting of inventory - demonstrates the efficiency. "The Lilly software has a useful feature where you can schedule cycle counting by aisle, row, or SKU. If you do a good job - if what's on the shelf matches what's in the system - you can do fewer cycle counts and never do a full physical count," Matthey explains. As for increased productivity, the Lilly system is already bringing benefits to Bekins. One DC is reporting a 16% increase in bundles handled per labor hour.