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Packaging/shipping: gateway to your customers.

By streamlining your packaging and shipping areas and extending the flow of information beyond the dock doors, you can help your customers' productivity and efficiency.

Once considered the back end of the operation, there is a growing recognition that packaging and shipping play an integral part in achieving high levels of customer service. In fact, many companies now consider these functions to be key elements in streamlining the flow of products and information through the distribution chain.

Companies that take this systems view avoid bottlenecks, package and identify their products appropriately, avoid errors, minimize delivery cycle times, and maintain tight control over their operations. In short, they ensure that the right product is delivered to the right customer at the right time.

On the packaging line

Smart companies today recognize that packaging is merely an extension of the manufacturing or order fulfillment process. To create a truly seamless process, the goal should be to minimize time-consuming post-pick activities such as sorting, labeling, packing, and checking. When these activities create a bottleneck, any efforts to speed up picking productivity will only bog down operations downstream even more.

Automating many of these steps can greatly improve throughput and avoid errors. The integration of packaging equipment such as carton erectors, label print and apply systems, electronic scales, material dispensers, palletizers, and stretch wrappers directly into the process helps to create a smooth flow of orders directly onto the shipping dock.

Information is key to maintaining this flow. Some companies even apply bar code labels to cartons before they're filled, forming the basis for tight control early in the process. In addition to eliminating the need for manual data entry, bar code tracking at the carton level also aids in planning work schedules, predetermining packaging requirements, performing quality audits, and streamlining trailer loading operations. Integrated weighing and parcel manifest systems speed up the pre-shipping activities.

The information derived from bar code tracking can also be used to generate and electronically transmit an Advance Shipping Notice (ASN). Now required by customers in many industries, an ASN advises customers of what shipments they can expect before those shipments even leave the warehouse or manufacturing plant. This information in turn helps customers do advance planning and streamline their own operations.

Since packing can be a timeconsuming process, it pays to look at ways to boost productivity here. Some companies have installed automatic dispensers that meter out the precise amount of packaging material required. For manual dispensing, a fill line on the carton can eliminate the guesswork. Cohesive wrapping material also reduces the effort required to wrap and tape products for shipping. Returnable containers, which are used to ship product and feed assembly lines, can improve productivity deep into the distribution chain and cut packaging costs.

The unit load has long been recognized as a productivity booster in today's distribution operations, and many equipment suppliers have responded with automated palletizing equipment capable of handling a wide range of products. However, applications involving low-throughput or mixed loads often must rely on manual palletizing, which is labor intensive and can be strenuous. Fortunately, special devices such as lift tables, lift tables equipped with turntables, and manipulators can help ease the strain and improve worker productivity.

When selecting a unit load base, don't forget to consider downstream requirements. If your customer intends to use your shipping pallet in an automated system, check to make sure that your pallet specification meets the established guidelines.

At the shipping dock

Once orders begin arriving at the dock, the last thing anyone wants is a backlog building up. This scenario can be eliminated by sorting orders to the appropriate staging areas in advance. Grouping orders by carrier before picking also eliminates any delays.

If palletized loads are to be staged on the floor at the dock, keeping a powered pallet truck in reserve can avoid a last-minute delay if the lift trucks normally used for loading are busy. Often, companies will have a need to direct load some cartons into trailers and palletize others. This combines lift truck and pedestrian traffic, which requires extra space and special attention to safety.

To create extra-wide lanes for lift truck traffic, one innovative company suspended a conveyor sortation system above the dock. The elevated discharge lanes feature a 180 degree turn, allowing subsequent lanes to be stacked, one above the other.

Accidents involving pedestrians rank highest on the list of lift-truck related accidents. Separating vehicular traffic from pedestrian traffic, either through rails or floor markings, is one common strategy. Nothing, however, is a substitute for ongoing safety training for drivers as well as anyone else working in the vicinity of lift trucks.

When loading cartons into trailers, two types of conveyors can help improve throughput rates. Extendible conveyors (gravity skate wheel or roller and powered roller) bring cartons directly into the trailer. Powered telescopic boom conveyors use a series of belt conveyors to load products at a higher rate. Some computer-controlled systems can load an entire trailer automatically.

Maintaining tight control over upstream operations, the benefits of a warehouse management system (WMS) also extend to the shipping dock. First and foremost, a WMS routes all orders to the correct dock door or staging location. A WMS can also monitor pallet assembly, generate shipping labels, and advise when a trailer load is complete and ready for loading.

A WMS also helps to eliminate time-consuming paperwork and costly mistakes. For example, the WMS will notify an operator if an order is out of sequence or on the wrong truck. The WMS can also automatically generate invoices and shipping manifests.

By eliminating many of the time-consuming activities within your packaging and shipping areas, you will improve your productivity and cycle times. Best of all, service will improve which will have a positive impact all along the distribution chain.

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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:improving packaging and shipping processes allows for efficient flow of materials in supply chain
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Apr 15, 1997
Previous Article:Orderpicking: the key to higher productivity.
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