“Use pig-headed determination to root out all of the waste in your processes. Once you do that, you will not only create some productivity gains, you’ll find ways to free up some money and maybe some manpower too.”
There’s plenty that can be done in the warehouse to boost productivity, even without adding technology, “and you can do this today,” says Schneider. “When you’re ready to consider technology or mechanization, ask yourself, ‘What’s the smallest investment I can make initially that will yield the biggest result?’” he advises.
One example is cloud computing, which has made a host of software available—and more affordable—for smaller warehouse operators. Most times, it doesn’t make sense to invest in software that not only requires a considerable outlay up front, it will also need hardware and servers, IT support, and ongoing maintenance in the future.
As a rule of thumb, Schneider says that “an investment in technology should pay for itself in under a year, or it’s too expensive.”
Moreover, warehouse managers will likely have to get past the CFO if the investment in technology is substantial.
“The CFO wants to know the ROI, how fast it will be, and how sure you are of getting it,” Schneider points out.
Although a warehouse manager will naturally be attracted to productivity gains, “the CFO hears the word ‘productivity’ and they don’t know how to turn that into money,” says Schneider. “Maybe you’ve been able to implement a process that allows a worker to get his job done faster. But, then what are you going to do with him? Are you going to send that labor home so he’s off the clock? If that’s the case, then you need to monetize it. However, if he’s going to spend that extra time pushing a broom around, then you’ve just misallocated a resource,” he says. “If you can demonstrate to the CFO how you’re going to create cash for them, then you’re speaking their language.”
Schneider says some soul searching is not a bad idea either, starting with an honest assessment of how resistant or open you are to change.
“It sometimes takes a while for people to embrace change,” Schneider acknowledges. “But once they do, then things really start to move.”
Business owners who adopt a “warrior-like attitude because they are fed up with losing money” are good candidates for success, he adds.
PFG unleashes the power of voice picking
Performance Food Group (PFG) is a major player in the food distribution space, serving a range of customers from school systems to hospitals, hotels, and even prisons, throughout the country.
Prior to the implementation of a voice picking system offered by Voxware, which they are continuing to roll out to their network of distribution centers, PFG’s picking operation was largely pen and paper, recalls Jim Abbott, vice president of operations, Performance Foodservice, a division of PFG.
“A selector would grab a stack of orders, go to a location, then check-off on the paperwork that he had picked the correct product at that location. It was a very manual process,” he says.
Although other voice picking systems were considered, Voxware’s customer service was a huge selling point, says Abbott, noting that his experience with voice picking vendors earlier in his career helped him appreciate the value of a vendor who was there throughout the process, not to mention for post-installation support.
In addition to Voxware’s customer support, the voice picking system’s array of languages really impressed Abbott.
“In my facility alone, we have about 7 to 8 different languages spoken, including Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. Voxware speaks to the selector in his language, which means he doesn’t have to translate what he’s hearing.”
Obviously, there’s also a considerable amount of time saved when the selector doesn’t have to use his hands to write each time he picks product.