A New Look at Warehouse
Al Gagnon, senior account executive with enVista, traces the
history of labor-management applications in the warehouse,
and talks about why and where the technology is catching on
with companies today.
The science of warehouse workforce management has its roots in
manufacturing. Concepts that were developed for the plant floor
started migrating to distribution centers in the late 1970s and early
1980s, says Gagnon. Managers began with the use of traditional
time cards; from there, they turned to software vendors and consultants to take advantage of innovations in computer technology.
Additional features became available with the maturation of stand-alone warehouse-management system (WMS) vendors, as well as
providers of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that
included labor-management modules.
Regardless of the system chosen, it’s essential that facility managers maintain performance expectations and reporting at some
level, Gagnon says. A smaller organization might seek to create
basic metrics for picking on the floor. Sophisticated Tier 1 vendors
will offer systems with multiple coordinates, showing such details
as dock door, pallet and precise location of a putaway, making
order selection easier and more efficient.
In tough economic times, labor management takes on a far more
vital role in the warehouse. Between 40 and 50 percent of total
warehouse costs are tied up in labor, Gagnon says. Implementation
of a new system in a large operation can mean a savings of “
significant dollars.” He describes a maturity matrix which traces the
sophistication of internal systems from “crawl” to “walk” and “run.”
Even in the earliest phase, a 4- to 8-percent return on investment is
possible, rising to between 15 and 20 percent with the addition of
coaching, counseling and worker incentives.
Companies today are employing all sorts of creative techniques
for improving warehouse productivity, including Lean and Six
Sigma quality efforts. Workers, too, seem open to improvements
that measure their performance and reward them accordingly.
“People want to know how they’re doing,” says Gagnon. “Most
want to do a good job. They’re very receptive to the program if it’s
implemented properly, fairly and [with] equitable metrics and measurements.”
The interviews for the Executive Briefings in this issue were conducted by SupplyChainBrain editors at major industry
conferences and seminars. Videos of these exclusive interviews can be seen in their entirety at SupplyChainBrain.com.