The replenishment process is very similar in activity to the put-away process from an operator standpoint. It involves moving product from storage locations to active picking locations or stocking points. This process can be user-directed or system-directed.
User-directed replenishment is typically much less effective from an accuracy and productivity standpoint. User-directed replenishment is usually deployed in less-disciplined DCs and some of the issues that can arise include non-confirmation of both pull and put locations, poor labor and cube utilization, and poor stock rotation.
System-directed replenishment is more disciplined and requires the user to take the product to a system-specified location that properly utilizes cube and labor, check digits for location verification from both the pull and put locations, and maintains proper stock rotation for First-In-First-Out (FIFO), Last-In-First-Out (LIFO), and code dating. The system directs this work in real-time so productivity is increased. There are different location types that product may be directed to:
- Conventional Rack, Static Shelving, Case Flow Rack, Pallet Flow Rack, Carousels, A-Frames, Pick-to-Light Pick Location (PTL), or other Material Handling Equipment (MHE)
- Forward Reserve from Deep Reserve
- Pick and Drop (P&D) Staging Location for Stocking
- Other including outside storage
With system-directed replenishment, the worker typically scans or speaks the storage location and then proceeds to the location determined by the system. Once arriving at the location, another scan- or voice-entered check digit to determine location accuracy is usually performed.
DCs using paper-based replenishment processes are prime candidates for upgrading to technology-based processes. This is a good opportunity to introduce RF and/or voice devices. Deploying vehicle-mounted computers (VMCs) with tethered or Bluetooth® scanners (for off-the-truck mobility) can enhance accuracy and productivity. Some operations that expect their workers to do multiple work processes may find deploying cradled mobile computers to be effective for both replenishment tasks and other work.
As mentioned in the Receiving section, voice technology is being utilized in additional processes other than picking and fork applications such as replenishment, where vehicle-mounted voice devices with Bluetooth headsets and scanners is gaining in usage. Clients still wanting to use VMCs but interested in advancing to voice will find great value in our voice-enabled VMCs.
In typical fork processes, it is usually necessary to scan items, pallets, racks, etc. from variable distances. Honeywell’s near/far scan capability is valuable to operators, especially those utilizing highbay racking for storage. There are also instances where fork operators need the ability to print labels. Mobile printers are being utilized on the forklifts to enable this.
On the Path to Continuous Improvement
Supply chain leaders who are responsible for DCs continually seek to balance best practices with identifying the most impactful KPIs/metrics to drive productivity, cost optimization, and service excellence.
The real value of metrics comes from analyzing the metrics output and driving a continuous improvement mindset throughout each workflow in the DC/warehouse.
We can point to almost any DC KPI and learn the best-in-class metrics that provide us a benchmark to measure against. The path to best in class is a process of improvement in which you can identify workflow pain points and develop a path that incorporates a combination of investment in technology and continuous improvement.
As a tool to help review and identify opportunities for improvement, DCs conduct what is refer to as a DC Walkthrough for each workflow, which should be done every two to three years. This is a review/audit based on best practices that can yield clear and measurable actions to use and consider when planning for workflow improvement and investment. We’ll take a closer look later in the article.
According to the WERC study “DC Measures 2018 Trends and Challenges1,” the following is an example of the KPIs that DCs use in part to measure the Replenishment workflow:
- Inventory Count Accuracy by Location
- Indicates that 10 units of part number XYZ are in slot B0029. The inventory count accuracy indicates how frequently one can go to that location and find that the physical count matches the system’s.
- The sum of the number of locations containing an error / The total number of locations counted.
- Quintile performance metrics.
- Best-in-class. >= 99.88%
- >= 97% and < 99%
- >= 90% and < 97%
Improving the Replenishment Workflow with a DC Walkthrough
A DC Walkthrough is an engaging assessment that includes discussions, observations, and interviews among workers, supervisors, and management personnel with the objective to document current business and operational processes and look at ways technology and process changes can be applied to make improvements. The DC Walkthrough can be an informal or formal review/audit conducted by the company or external third parties.
We have the opportunity to conduct DC Walkthroughs throughout the world for every conceivable type and size of DC. The goal of our assessment is to validate logistical/operational processes relative to industry best practices focused on time savings, increased worker productivity, and improved accuracy. We focus on the identification of opportunities to both improve stand-alone general processes, as well as improve processes with new technology.
When we review the Replenishment workflow, we ask questions like:
- What equipment types are used for replenishment? (forklifts, man-ups, etc.?)
2. How is stock rotation managed?
3. How are replenishments done?
4. Are replenishments directed by the system?
5. Are check digits/verifications used?
6. Are replenishments done in “batch” to fulfill all outstanding orders?
7. Does off-the-truck handling occur?
8. What tools are utilized for replenishments? (paper, RF, voice)
9. What is done to complete the replenishment in the system? (paperwork/system update)
Replenishment Walkthrough Observations and Recommendations Example
Conducting a DC Walkthrough is done with “fresh eyes.” Fresh eyes is defined as looking at the workflow with the intent of learning and understanding the current state of operations without bias or preconceived conclusions, and then applying industry knowledge and best practices to recommend ways to improve upon the current performance.
The following is an example of a DC Walkthrough done for a medium-sized DC in North America for the Replenishment workflow, which includes observations with associated recommendations.
DC Walkthrough Observations
- Observed scanner tethered to mobile computer
2. Fork driver scans put-away group label
- Decides front to back or back to front put-away path through DC
- System directs to location
- Put-away driver rotates stock if needed
- Manually driven
- Scan product
- Scan location
- Repeat steps
- Warehouse Management System (WMS) tells fork operator next location but driver needs to search pallet for the product physically
- Then scans product
- Decked rack
- Put away bagged items to bins in decked rack
- Put-away to pick utilized very effectively
5. Not commingling items in locations
- This is a best practice
DC Walkthrough Best Practices and Recommendations
We recommend using system-directed put-away/replenishment as supported by the WMS as a best practice whenever possible. System-directed fork applications are more disciplined and require the user to take the product to a system-specified location that properly utilizes cube and labor, scanning for location verification, and maintains proper stock rotation for FIFO or code date if needed and the automatic capture of lot, batch, and compliance type information. The system should be able to track batch, lot, and code date type information. This may require upgrading to a more current version of the WMS.
The system directs this fork work in real-time so productivity is increased. It also provides for real-time BOH and eliminates any lag time between putting product away and waiting for data entry to occur after the fact, or in the case of tribal knowledge, retrieving product if memory lapses. It is recommended to standardize scanning in and out of rack locations across the entire DC enterprise as a best practice.
With system-directed put-away, the worker typically scans the LPN label and then proceeds to the location determined by the system. Once arriving at the location, another scan to determine accuracy is usually performed. Also, scanning LPNs between stage areas throughout the DC is a best practice and keeps visibility to product in real-time in the WMS. It is also recommended to scan the received items and put away the product as it becomes available vs. waiting until all items are received, thus reducing dock-to-stock cycle time and dock congestion wherever this practice is not currently deployed. We did observe this happening and recommend it be standardized across all facilities.
We also recommend utilizing any interleaving capability that resides within the WMS system. We did not observe this happening. This enables the equipment and the operators to be utilized more fully and reduces the amount of time with empty fork travel, which does not maximize the use of the equipment or labor force. Interleaving will allow the same equipment and worker to perform multiple fork functions based upon proximity and priority. Using the forks to put away product as they move down the aisles from the dock and perform replenishment/full picking activity on the way back out of the aisles to retrieve new put-away pallets is the most effective use of the forklifts. For VNA configurations, utilizing P&D stations in conjunction with interleaving will better utilize the equipment and personnel.
These scans can be performed with several Honeywell solutions but we recommend using either the CN80 or CK65 series mobile computer utilizing a fork-mount docking cradle or our Thor™ VM1A vehicle-mounted computer paired with a Granit™ near/far scanner. Both provide the fork operator with the ability to scan pallets near as well as scan location labels up to 50 feet away without having to dismount from the forklift.
Recommended hardware and software for these processes includes:
- Fork Applications
- CN80 or CK65 series mobile computer or Thor VM1A vehicle-mounted computer
- Granit scanner with Thor VM1A
- Possible use of MP Compact Mobile fork-mounted printer
- All recommendations are Android™ capable.
Technology Improvements in the Replenishment Workflow
According to the 2018 WERC study1, technology within the supply chain is becoming increasingly important. Many companies are beginning to focus on digital transformation by focusing more on mobile technologies, cloud-based services, and big data practices.
The study also points out that a majority of distribution centers use no other technology beyond a warehouse management system (WMS) and mobile devices with RF/barcode scanners. In terms of adoption plans, over 90% of warehouse managers expect to be using mobile technologies within five years (which is just over 50% today). Eighty-six percent expect to be using big data and real-time analytics within five years, which is a 60% help increase over the percentage of people using the technology today.
In short, the Honeywell Thor VM1A/VM3A vehicle-mounted computer paired with the Granit near/far scanner is best for fork applications. Next best would be using the CN80 or CK65 mobile computer on forks with a docking station/charger. You can also combine Honeywell Voice with the vehicle-mounted computer to allow for communication with the WMS while driving, as the vehicle-mounted computers will have screen black out while driving for safety reasons.
The following is a more in-depth overview of the Honeywell solutions:
- Mobile Computers with 1D and 2D Imaging.
Utilizing mobile computers with imagers to scan product and label information as well as capture additional data is more productive (~25%) and accurate (~50%) than paper/manual-based methods. It helps ensure quality control, vendor compliance, and quantity-received information is captured in real-time.
- Barcode Scanning.
Superior durability and reliability, with water- and dust-proof housings and rubberized to reduce damage from falls. Choose from laser, linear image, and area image industrial scanners for fast and accurate scanning, the first time and every time.
- Vehicle-Mounted Computer Solutions.
Our vehicle-mounted computer solutions turn forklift- and vehicle-based workflows into information technology platforms. Roughly 25% of the average DC’s labor is spent on receiving and put-away tasks. Equipping your forklifts with technologies – such as computers, barcode scanners, printers, radio-frequency identification (RFID), voice, lights, and software – can reduce material handling costs, help optimize order fulfillment rates, and help increase inventory accuracy with real-time tracking.
- Fixed and Mobile Printing and Media.
The Honeywell MP Compact Mobile printer is commonly used with forklifts. The MP Compact Mobile printer provides label-printing solutions that offer big customer benefits because of their small size – designed with an integrated DC connection for easy mounting to any mobile cart or forklift supporting any orientation, including upside down.
From light-duty to ultra-rugged models – stationary and portable – to printer software, media, service, and parts, Honeywell offers an extensive range of solutions for any environment or print application.
- Industrial Label Printers. For commercial light-volume jobs to rugged, round-the-clock printing, built-in “smarts” means greater efficiency and lower cost: error-proof labeling, easy programmability, advanced networking connectivity and security, RFID, and liner-less technology.
- Desktop Label Printers. The clear choice for a wide variety of light-duty label, ticket, and tag printing applications: quiet and compact, highly intuitive and flexible, and a range of configurations designed to match your needs.
- Mobile Label Printers. From retail floor labels to field service receipts – designed to withstand punishing conditions where dirt, moisture, temperature extremes, and drops are common: fast, rugged, and ready to move, and allow a full day of printing without recharging.
- Printer Media Supplies. For a broad range of barcode printing applications, even in some of the toughest environments. Includes barcode labels and tags, receipt paper and wristbands, and thermal ribbons and RFID labels.
- Voice-Guided and Hands-Free Solutions.
Honeywell’s voice-guided solutions have proven to help increase productivity by up to 35% and help increase accuracy to 99.99%+ in a variety of tasks throughout the warehouse. With Voice, workers follow a series of instructions for specific pick locations, products, and quantities, and needed guidance and verification is provided at every step. Voice is available in over 35 languages and has been proven to dramatically reduce training and onboarding time, especially in peak seasons with highly transient workforces.
- Material Handling Solutions from Honeywell Intelligrated.
We see many medium-size DCs exploring and adding varying degrees of material handling solutions to augment and/or replace manual portions of their DC operations with elements of the Honeywell Intelligrated offering such as:
- Labor Management Software (LMS).
Honeywell Intelligrated’s Labor Management software allows you to effectively manage your labor and staffing needs, helping you to maximize labor productivity and minimize labor costs. Actionable insights allow you to accurately evaluate worker performance. Patented algorithms help forecast when workers may be at risk for leaving, giving you the ability to take proactive measures. Our LMS provides an effective way to manage labor productivity while improving training, process compliance, and efficiency.
- Warehouse Execution Systems.
Honeywell Intelligrated’s Momentum software helps improve efficiencies, automate manual processes, and fully help optimize fulfillment operations. This unified platform reduces unsupportable, one-off customizations and allows you to select only the functions you need to meet your unique operational requirements.
Robotics enable high-performance material handling and fulfillment capabilities throughout your operations. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can move “put-away” product from receiving dock to storage areas and return for more. You can have many running at once and replace man-driven forklifts or supplement them by having AMRs move from dock to aisle and keep forks captive in aisles to put stock into rack. We have more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing robotic solutions for dynamic, unstructured environments such as distribution centers. Backed by extensive knowledge of DC workflows, we offer warehouse integration expertise, innovative technologies, and a strong controls foundation to incorporate the benefits of robotics into your operation. From packet picking and robotic singulation to unloading and depalletizing, we have a broad portfolio of patented robotic innovations and strive to continually engineer new solutions.
- Labor Management Software (LMS).
Achieve Better Outcomes with AbeTech
We have extensive experience in successfully solving complex problems for a variety of ecommerce and omnichannel businesses. We’re committed to solving your DC accuracy challenges through relentless innovation and a desire to deliver best-fit solutions. We provide access to the actionable insights and information you need to transform your business.
Our expert assessment teams will partner with you to understand your unique business requirements and identify where opportunities exist to optimize your workflows and increase efficiencies within today’s competitive business climate.