IDII - Multi-Tasking, Interleaving and Optimizing Interleaving in the Distribution Center

Best Practices in Task Optimization

Why waste 60% of travel time dead-heading in the warehouse? By interleaving tasks, one may save valuable manpower and improve productivity significantly. Interleaving is also known as multi-tasking, where a warehouse worker is directed by the WMS to perform tasks (putaway, replenishment, count, pick) based on location within the warehouse and what types of tasks that this user & equipment is configured for.

Ken Ackerman has written an excellent article on Multi-tasking and is on our white paper section. Ken's research indicates 50 to 60% of travel time is wasted and by implementing a WMS (with multi-tasking turned on) that it would reduce this waste by 10 to 20%. That is significant!

An easy item to start with is Opportunity Cycle Counts
(OCC) with picking. Two types of opportunity cycle counts exist. Type 1. When the last item is relieved from the bin, then automatically prompt the worker whether there is any left in the bin, when it is time to count that item. The picker is already at that bin to pick the item. A simple additional prompt on the RF handle with a single Yes or No response. Type 2 is similar to Type 1, but is an opportunity count upon small quantity in the bin. When the picker has pulled the requested quantity and the WMS requests the picker to indicate how many are left in the bin. Both type 1 and type 2 are done only when it is time to count the sku. Consider OCC with picking, replenishment, and move tasks.

The best WMS solutions will let you configure which types of tasks that can be interleaved. Perhaps you want to permit a worker to be allowed to replenish, putaway, and count within his designated zones. While a new worker would not be allowed to multitask, until properly trained. Another warehouse worker is allowed to use his forklift for pallet picking, move, and putaway for a small warehouse operation. Warehouse configuration and size does make a difference. Some WMS solutions only a limited mixture of tasks to be interleaved, while others permit a full mixture of all types of tasks.

After the basics are there and one is now efficient - Go to the next level! Optimized Interleaving is already in the experienced minds of consultants and WMS designers. Jeroen van den Berg, a WMS consultant in the Netherlands, has written a White Paper called Dynamic Scheduling for extremely busy warehouses.

With dynamic scheduling, the WMS observes the progress in the warehouse in real-time via RF communication. Subsequently, the WMS decides each time which task an operator must carry out next by taking both urgency as well as efficiency into consideration. The example case presented shows how an intelligent WMS further optimizes the warehouse operation with just in time replenishments and dynamic pick locations. Note: Most WMS will -not- have this dynamic scheduling capability - only a few of the best WMS will do this.

Save time & money by reviewing white papers, building a strategic plan as a team, and then implement your strategies on how to be task efficient with task urgency. Bring in outside consulting help if needed.

Author: Philip Obal

About the Author

Philip Obal is President of Industrial Data & Information Inc, a research-consulting firm that assists companies in searching, evaluating, and implementing software for their business. He has designed software for over 25 years and written multiple books.

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