June 22 2014 07:57 PM

Distribution centers are like cars. Every now and then you have to review and examine the facility along with all the tools that keep your facility running to maximum efficiency. Review the facility to determine what to add to your check up list and look for areas that need a tune up. Labor is costly so look for areas where if the equipment were to fail the most amount of labor would be left idle. 

Tune ups can include a revamping of equipment that needs maintenance attention for the year and change out of equipment that has become old and out of support. Start with the evaluation of the mission-critical equipment first. Create a template/checklist you reuse every year. You may want to color code the check list in a stop light method; green, yellow, orange and red color coding will give you a visual throughout the year on areas that may need your attention. 

Also, from year to year, you’ll be able to see how that piece of equipment has progressed. Categorize your checklist in such areas like: software, hardware supporting software, third party software, conveyors, picking equipment (including RF guns, supervisor stations, printers, forklifts, battery rechargers, etc.) As you can see, the list can get very long. The more detailed the list and the more things you add to the list, the fewer interruptions in your day-to-day operation. 

Visiting one facility, I noticed was a slow down in a picking area because the pick list printer ink ran out. No one knew where the extra ink was stored, and the IT guy was out sick. Finally, a decision was made to send someone to the local office supply store. In the meantime, 30 order fulfillment people took a long break. Very costly! While you are checking equipment on your list for needed maintenance, take note of how much needed supplies or parts are in stock. Also add signage around that equipment to inform folks where the spare parts or supplies are kept. On the checklist add the date of service of item and any detail that may help you while troubleshooting.

Software is something that indeed becomes an issue. The more dependent on software we become the more we need to make sure we have installed the proper procedures to prevent downtimes. Review the age of your software, the database and the supportability of the platform. All of this is critical to ensure your system is not kept hostage by a vendor at the last minute. It’s better to plan for a new installation of software than at the last minute have to install a new software solution that is not really assisting you. 

Last year, a software company decided to make all their clients upgrade, so they sent out notices to all existing customers stating they had two months to upgrade or the system is unsupported. Many upgraded to a less than par solution out of fear and concern of not being supported. Don’t let this software nightmare happen to you. Technology changes rapidly and new systems have much more user- friendly tools and much more functionality to help support today’s operation in a distribution center. Tools like business intelligence dashboards, online help and many more are the norm and NOT added modifications. If software or equipment you are using gets acquired by another vendor, this is a warning signal. Hopefully, the new company will handle the acquisition well but unfortunately it’s not always the case. Don’t invest any more money into the product until you find out the facts. This industry is riddled with sad stories brought about by acquisitions.

Transportation cost is at the top of mind for everyone today. Is there a better solution for you? Is the software you are using to ship your products effective in choosing the best type of shipment to save you transportation cost and expense? 

The bottom line is you must become proactive instead of reactive in your facility. Just as we send out cars for their annual tune up, our bodies for once a year check-ups, the distribution center should be checked out on a regular basis. If you have equipment, ask your vendor for a suggested critical list of spare parts. If you are in a distribution hub with many other companies using the same equipment, get to know them in case of emergencies and the equipment that they have installed and their spare parts list. It might help to have a friendly neighbor in a state of emergency.