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Replenishment: Is it holding up your pickers?

Supplier: RF Barcode Systems By: Timothy Muir
05 November, 2009

Do your pickers waste time waiting for a forklift to bring them stock to complete orders? Read on for some smarter strategies...

In an earlier post, I described a simple process for handling of bulk stock in the warehouse by license plating each pallet as it arrives in to the warehouse.
In this update, I want to describe how you can streamline your replenishment process using the data captured during receiving.
Replenishment in a paper-driven warehouse is almost entirely manual and driven by a picker. Typically a picker will visit a picking location, find that it is empty and then alert the warehouse manager, or perhaps do the replenishment themselves. Other, less conscientious, pickers might mark the pick as 'short supplied' and move on to the next item.
In well-run warehouses, the replenishment process is proactive, rather than reactive. This means that there is a system in place for determining, in advance, when a pick location is likely to be empty and directing staff to perform the replenishment before the picker arrives at the shelf.
There are various strategies available for managing this process. The most common one is a 'min/max' process. This means the WMS keeps track of how many items are on the shelf, and how many items must always be in the bin to ensure no interruption of supply.
When the inventory reaches the minimum level, a job is created and a worker dispatched to complete the task. They are sent to a bulk location containing the oldest stock, then back to the correct pick location to complete the task. Since replenishment is performed with a mobile computer, there is no need to update the inventory manually. Instead, the system transfers stock from the bulk bin to the picking bin - then turns off the replenishment flag.
In most warehouses we visit, lack of space is a major headache. In these companies, mixed pallets are the rule - not the exception. Without an electronic system, mixed pallets can be difficult to manage. But with an electronic system, mixed pallets can actually provide an unexpected boost to the replenishment process.
Imagine that you receive a job to replenish a stock item "white shirts". The system sends you to a mixed bulk pallet in bin location A-45 which you bring down with the forklift. You then top up the bin containing "white shirts" and the replenishment is complete. Assuming you haven't emptied the pallet, you will then need to use the forklift again to replace the pallet in the rack.
Now imagine that in 10 minutes time, another user is asked to replenish the picking bin for "red shirts". When they run this transaction, they see that red shirts are in a mixed bulk pallet in location A-45. The pallet is brought down again, and the the transaction completed.
In a well designed WMS, as soon as the worker has replenished "white shirts", the system should recognize that they can also fill the "red shirts" at the same time - avoiding 1 pallet movement and saving 5-10 minutes per replenishment.
Rather than looking at mixed pallets as a nuisance, this strategy can be used as an effective way to streamline the replenishment process - as long as you have the right tools!