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July 21 2006 03:07 PM

The Conversation Continues...
�Jon, to really help you, I�d like to come by and observe your operation.� Doc offered.
�That would be great! Could you come by around 3 PM when everything really jams up?� Jon asked.
�I can be there Wednesday.�
The next week, Doc drove over to the distribution center. When he arrived, he could see that the shipping department staff looked busy; they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Jon saw Doc and came running over. �I�m glad you�re here; thanks for coming. What would you like to do?�
�Let me watch for a while,� he replied. Doc saw that the shipping operation was fairly typical. Pickers would select the items on the order and bring them over to a person who would pack them in boxes, weigh them, process the order on the shipping computer, put the label on the box and finally, place the package on a pallet. The bottleneck was obvious. Shipping personnel were waiting on each other to get to the scale and shipping computer. �Jon, let me ask you a question: Why don�t you get a second shipping station so that people aren�t waiting on one another?�
�I didn�t want to go to the boss and ask for the money.�
�I see,� Doc said. �Do you think that if you quantified the savings that you would get from reduced overtime and expedited shipping costs that it would more than pay for investment in a second station?�
�I never thought of it that way. It�s definitely worth a shot.�
Doc moved closer to the shipping computer and watched the clerk typing away. �I see that your shipping computer is connected with your accounting or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. I�m wondering why your clerk has to type so much?� Doc asked.
�He enters the order number to bring the information over, and then he selects the service, enters the number of boxes on the order and clicks the process package button,� Jon replied.
�If you could double or even triple the speed of your operation by investing in some technology, what would that do to your bottleneck?�
Jon�s forehead wrinkled. �It might make it go away completely, but how could I do that?�
�I would suggest that you look at barcoding. First, see if you can get your order number barcoded on the picking sheet so that you can eliminate the manual entry of the order number. Do you see how long it takes him to type it in?�
�Yeah, and sometimes he fat-fingers it and has to start all over.�
�Is there any other way you see barcoding could help you?� Doc asked.
�Well, it would be really cool if we could get a barcode scanning gun and just scan everything. It would eliminate all that time typing and then grabbing the mouse. Is there a way to do that?�
Doc smiled. �You could create a sheet that has the numbers one through 10 written in barcode on it as well as the �process package� key. The process would be simplified, faster and more accurate; all the shipping clerk would do is scan the order number, scan the number of packages and scan the process package barcodes. You would be processing a package in five seconds flat.�
�But what about the shipping method? He would still have to key that in, wouldn�t he?�
�Don�t they know how to ship it when they take the order?� Doc asked.
�Yeah, it�s on the picking sheet.�
Doc stopped as he watched an older woman interrupt the shipping clerk to ask a question. �What�s that about?� he asked Jon.
�She is from customer service and needs some information for a customer on the line.�
�How often does that happen?�
�All the time!�
�What effect do you think that has on your productivity?�
�Definitely slows us down but customer service is important.�
�Isn�t the data about the shipment transferred into your � computer up front where she can access the data?�
�I guess not everything she needs.�
�Wouldn�t it be useful if your shipping software vendor could tweak the interface with your accounting system so that it brings all the data over?�
�Sure, it could solve both of these problems; it would eliminate the need to type in a shipping method, and it could send back all the information that customer service needs.�
�A good shipping system interface should bring over all the fields that are needed to ship a package in order to be as productive as possible in the shipping process. You don�t want shipping clerks having to type anything, if possible. And, it needs to send back all the data that the people in the front office require. You can�t afford interruptions back here during your peak processing time.�
�Yeah, you got that right!� Jon took some more notes.
Doc continued watching the shipping computer and looked at his watch. �It takes about five seconds for the label to print; is that causing unnecessary delays?�
�Yeah, we get the hand-me-downs in shipping; the computer and the label printer are pretty old.�
�Does that also lead to reliability problems?�
�It sure does; last week we were completely stopped when the label printer jammed up and nothing went out.�
�Would it help if you had a backup system?�
�It sure would; maybe I could ask the boss for a new system and use this as a backup?�
�How about if you made this old system your second work station?�
�Yeah, then we would have a backup if we needed it and double productivity when they�re both working. That�s a great idea!� Jon exclaimed.
Jon was called over to help the shipping clerk, who was taking an extra long time processing a parcel. After a minute or two, he returned to Doc�s side. �What was that about?� Doc asked.
 �Oh, it was an international package. They are more complicated and take a lot longer because they have more data to type in and the clerks don�t always know what to do. The same is true with Less Than Truckload (LTL) orders.�
�How often does that cause a bottleneck?�
Jon sighed. �It happens a dozen times a day; and I know what you�re thinking... just bring the data from the ERP system. But, a lot of the information just isn�t there; so instead we have to do it manually.�
�Now, you�re thinking like a process engineer.� Doc said. �Hmmm... I�ve been reflecting on your shipping process. I see your people waiting to get to the shipping computer, interruptions; extra time spent processing exception orders like international and LTL shipments. I�m wondering... would it help if you did a little reengineering and separated the packing function from the shipping function?�
�I never thought about it before; we�ve always done it this way.�
�Imagine, if you had a conveyor over here that broke into two lines; you could have a workstation and integrated scale at the end of each of them with a person dedicated to shipping. Down one line, you send all the standard shipments and that guy just scans, labels and pushes the completed packages down to the end. On the other line, you send the international and LTL orders, and you have a person there that is a little more trained in dealing with the more unusual orders. Your pickers� and packers� jobs are to fill the conveyor and your shippers just process packages through the computers. What benefits do you see?�
�Well,� Jon reflected. �It would eliminate waiting time. And, I think it would definitely increase productivity. I like it! Thank you so much!�
�My pleasure,� Doc said sincerely. Jon flipped through the pages of his notebook reviewing what he had written. �Before you go, he said, �Do you mind if I summarize some of the key points that you covered?� �Go ahead,� Doc replied.
This was an excerpt from Taylor�s upcoming novel, �The Shipping Manager.�
Professor Mark Taylor is the CEO of TAYLOR Systems Engineering Corporation. Mark can be reached by phone at 734-420-7447 or