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Are you experiencing a Groundhog Day of inefficiencies in your distribution center?

Are You Experiencing a Groundhog Day of Inefficiencies in Your Distribution Center?

   Eric Rice

Are You Experiencing a Groundhog Day of Inefficiencies in Your Distribution Center?

In the hustle and bustle to achieve daily throughput targets and meet customer service levels, many DC operators often don’t stop to address the root causes of problem areas impeding their operations. Instead of refining processes, automation and workflows for optimum efficiencies and maximum utilization, they find themselves in a repetitive loop of “find and fix” simply to keep things running. Day after day, they deal with the same conveyor jams and are pressured to ask staff to stay well past their scheduled shifts — just to keep pace. For them, it feels very much like Bill Murray’s character felt in the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day.” Unless root causes are identified and fixed, these same issues will persist every day and only compound their negative impacts.

I discussed this conundrum in our most recent On The Move webinar, Make the Digital Transformation to Greater DC Connectivity. But uncovering root causes often means having visibility to all operational systems and assets within the four walls of the DC. Doing that requires a platform that will connect these systems and provide the business insights to allow you to evaluate daily and historical performance information — within your individual DCs and across the enterprise.
One of the webinar’s polling questions asked attendees how they deal with repetitive issues that limit productivity. Not surprisingly, 75 percent of webinar attendees reported that they did not have a system in place that would allow them to uncover repetitive issues. Needless to say, they probably have very limited capabilities to get to the root causes of these issues. Obviously, this is a common problem for DC operators. But if you’re among this majority, it’s important to realize that technology to address this problem is within your reach.

Data (or lack thereof) is at the core of this issue. What system data do you have to work with? Does it provide historical trends, or is it transient and only applicable to the current day’s activities? Often this is the difference between repeating the status quo of Groundhog Day patterns and truly getting to the root causes of issues. 

Get insights into root causes

As I discussed in the webinar, the stakes are high when it comes to finding root causes. A seemingly small output increase of 1 percent could deliver potentially millions in annual revenue gains. So we start by looking at the low-hanging fruit, i.e., the things that will make a typical DC operator’s life easier: from correcting jams all day, flipping cartons, and doing anything possible to keep things running. Fixing these common problems will allow operators to regain control of their operations and consistently hit throughput targets in an efficient manner.

To achieve this, they will need visibility into assets and issues that are consistently degrading their throughput rates. The Insight tool in our The Connected Distribution Center offering allows DC operators to easily review the relevant data that represents the throughput of their system, such as total cartons per day, rate of carton sortation, error rates and other daily productivity indicators. 

For example, the system can identify an inefficient merge point and pinpoint the location to a specific lane that’s consistently not releasing enough product and also a common source of bottlenecks. Further review of the data shows that this particular lane has been trending a constant fault status for days, forcing an employee to frequently stop and reset it. Without visibility to this data, this trend could have continued for weeks. Now, an operator can evaluate the situation, find the root cause and fix it. 

Frequent jams on sortation systems are another common DC problem, sometimes leading to as much as 30 minutes of machine downtime per hour. Imagine what a proper root cause analysis could solve, or what kinds of productivity, efficiency and profit gains could be achieved by rectifying this issue. 

As I presented in the webinar, connectivity in a DC has very tangible applications for increasing asset reliability, making utilization improvements, and getting the maximum productivity out of your staff. At Honeywell Intelligrated, we’re helping customers make this digital transformation. And it starts with aggregating system data and providing the collective insights that are now available. 

To learn how you can put an end to the endless loop of repetitive issues plaguing your DC, view our webinar titled Make the Digital Transformation to Greater DC Connectivity or check out our The Connected Distribution Center offering. 

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