This article first appeared in Industrial Distribution's May/June 2013 Issue. To view it in it's original format, please click here.
From continually updating software to the movement of product from one location to another, warehouses are busy places, and busy places require a strategy in order to be handled efficiently and effectively. There are a lot of different factors that affect the productivity of a material handling operation, from the purchasing on new equipment to the electronic labeling of the product being sold to ensure accurate inventory and minimal order errors.
Label It Once
One of the first choices to make in a material handling operation is to decide how to best label inventory in order to maximize cost savings. In fact, Badger Tag & Label Corp.’s Sales & Marketing Manager, Rita Horstmeier, says “making the right choices of labels, tags, and other markings can greatly increase productivity, which in turn will produce cost savings.” Choosing a labeling or marking system for a warehouse can set an operation up for success — or failure. Choosing the wrong labels or tags — or not labeling adequately — can cost in lost inventory and lost productivity.
Choosing stickers or labels that don’t stand up to harsh warehouse conditions is truly problematic, whether the ink bleeds because of contact with water or moisture or the label itself is removed because of the physical nature of the environment. Horstmeier adds that there are many options of materials, adhesives, and barcodes for a facility and that choosing correctly will help to “avoid the loss of the very important markings.” There is no point in labeling something that isn’t going to stay labeled.
There are a number of products out there that range in price and features. Companies like ZEBRA Technologies even have label printers that will print passive RFID tags right from the warehouse floor, enabling companies to label a product both visually and electronically at the same time. Badger Tag has labels available that can be custom-printed from virtually any location, making the labels work for your organization and your system, and not forcing your system to conform to the kind of labels available.
Get It Moving
Labeling a product is one thing, but actually moving it is another. Moving it quickly and with minimal product loss due to damage is even trickier. One unique new product on the market is the PointGUARD Pallet Protector by United Pallet Services, Inc. The PointGUARD is a plastic shield that screws onto the end of a wood pallet to prevent pallet damage — and consequently, product damage — from forklifts and tie-downs. More cost effective than purchasing plastic pallets in their entirety, and more durable than traditional wooden pallets alone, the PointGUARD helps to reduce both pallet damage and product damage, which of course creates a bottom line boost.
In addition to managing the pallet on which the product travels, it’s also important to take a look at what is lugging materials around that can’t be neatly stacked on a pallet. In this area of the warehouse, safety is the most important issue, as large products will be moving distances at relatively high speeds considering the dense area in which they are traveling.
Dave Dunbar, Tech Sales and Marketing Manager at Intercon Enterprises Inc., stresses safety above all else in the warehouse. “Having a tool that can ‘grab’ material and then have it lifted and moved by forklift, jib, gantry, or overhead crane is innumerable,” says Dunbar. “The wrong tool in the wrong hands at the wrong time can wipe out all aspects of ‘productivity’ and ‘cost savings’ to a company when an item is dropped or workers are injured.”
“The right material handling solutions provide operational efficiencies that can help end-users increase their profitability,” says Jody Costa, Director of Marketing at Barcoding, Inc. This is never truer than when a distribution facility is operating as a fully functional system, from online orders to the loading dock.
In a consumer economy that seems to run on technology, there is always a newer and more improved device that promises bottom line savings — and the more products there are, the wider range of prices and options seems to follow. Costa encourages companies to look less at just the product cost or program cost, and more at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when purchasing new equipment for the warehouse. “Whether a mobile computer or handheld barcode scanner, the device’s TCO plays a key role in product selection. What are the direct and indirect costs associated with using this asset throughout its entire lifecycle?” asks Costa.
Since the options are so varied, Costa points out that many manufacturers and distributors today are turning to systems integrators, like Barcoding, Inc., for start-to-finish implementations. “A systems integrator works closely with the distributor through every step of the process — from selecting the right software and hardware, to implementing an effective wireless network, to training and ongoing support services.” This can be an enormous help to a distributor looking to revamp or reestablish an integrated material handling process for their business, helping them to overlook small but critical steps in the implementation — like whether or not the wireless signal in their warehouse is strong enough to support the devices that they are purchasing.
“Distributors are placing a greater emphasis on operational excellence — using technology to be more efficient and accurate,” says Costa. This statement applies to every facet of the material handling spectrum. From barcode labels and RFID chips to hoists and pallets, the best material handling systems use the appropriate cutting edge technology for the facility, and they do so by integrating the appropriate pieces together to make transactions seamless. This ensures that orders are filled right, with safety and efficiency in mind, making both the accounting department and the end user happy.
Add Value to It
When selling to the end user, there are a variety of ways that distributors can make products from the material handling sector into a value-added opportunity for their business.
Callen Cochran, Business Development Manager for United Pallet Services, notes that the PointGUARD can be a potential value-add for a distributor to offer clients. When offering the PointGUARD, distributors can point to the four-hundred percent increase in pallet life, helping manufacturers increase productivity and decrease loss without paying more for overbuilt pallets or worrying about the safety issue of old and under-supported pallets as they deteriorate.
For a distributor seeking to add some value to their plate lifting clamps and material handling grabs, Dunbar encourages to go beyond just helping a shop pick out the right tool for their needs. Instead, he says distributors can offer safety seminars that encourage monthly inspection of plate clamps and other material handling gear. “This may allow this distributor to always come first to mind when other material handling needs arise, and the monthly visits allow the distributor to spot other opportunities in the customer’s facility or plant,” says Dunbar. This can be a perfect way for a distributor to be the first and only contact that company thinks of when they are in need of new materials.