The holiday peak season for distribution centers encompasses both shipping and receiving, making this area a potential efficiency bottleneck. Every DC manager needs a plan for scaling up outbound orders while simultaneously processing returns. The good news is that the elements of this plan don’t need to be expensive or difficult.
We’ve already looked at a few strategies for preparing the forklift battery room to handle the strain of the winter peak season (you can read that blog post here). Here are a few relatively minor changes that can help ensure your shipping/receiving room is prepared for the volume of orders — both inbound and outbound — that are waiting just around the corner.
Identify and eliminate ergonomic hazards.
Repetitive tasks are a significant risk factor in the development of musculoskeletal disorders, warns the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Unfortunately, they’re also usually part of the typical order packer’s workday.
The solution is to conduct an ergonomics audit in the shipping room well before peak season arrives. Include staff in the process, asking them to look for common hazards: repetitive motion, awkward postures, reaching, bending, and lifting heavy loads, for instance.
Often, you can eliminate the hazard simply by using a variable-height workstation such as Adjustable Packing Desks, or choosing Shipping/Receiving Desks with cutouts that place workers closer to their work.
Position order-packing materials based on task priority.
Just as you would never store high-volume SKUs at the top of your racking, you shouldn’t place packing materials beyond the reach of order-packers. Recall that stretching, bending, and reaching add to an employee’s risk of developing a costly musculoskeletal injury.
Again, adjustable Shipping/Receiving Desks are crucial. Set up packing stations to match the most-common parcel configurations, with cartons, paper roll bars, label printers, and scanner guns placed close to the worker’s torso and no bending or reaching required.
Consider changing the layout of shipping room infrastructure.
Take full advantage of your shipping room’s layout to limit travel for both staff and orders. Start by tracking the order’s travel path. Can you position packing stations, shipping desks, and dock access closer to each other? Would conveyors or Stock Picking Carts within the shipping room reduce trips across the room?
By planning the area’s layout based on the flow of the orders, DC managers can cut down on time-per-order and ergonomic hazards at the same time.
Stage returns on clearly labeled carts.
Returns are the equal-but-opposite force resulting from high outbound shipping rates, and today’s online shoppers do not expect to pay for them. The less time staff spends processing returns, the more attention they can devote to new orders.
One strategy to simplify the returns process is to sort directly onto Order Picking Carts. This reduces touches on each return; label carts bound for resale, repair, or disposal, fill them up over the course of a shift, and move them to their respective areas when they get full.
It’s important to remember that the holiday rush affects every part of the distribution center’s workflow. It’s not enough to hire more order pickers and hope that filling the aisles will provide the efficiency boost you need to handle dramatic peak-to-average order ratios.
By taking a holistic approach to DC management — including optimising forklift battery rooms and shipping/receiving areas — operators can match production to demand every time. The real trick to preparing for DC peak season is to start early; why not now?
Ames, Ben. “Top tips on how to handle the 2017 peak shipping season.” DCVelocity. Agile Business Media, LLC, 3 May 2017. Web. 10 July 2018.
“Ergonomics.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 10 July 2018.
Harps, Leslie. “Best Practices in Today’s Distribution Center.” InboundLogistics. Thomas, 1 May 2005. Web. 10 July 2018.