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Distributor's Link Magazine Winter Issue 2012 / VOL 35 / NO.1


28 THE DISTRIBUTOR’S LINK Robert B. Footlik Robert B. Footlik is a licensed professional engineer. A graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology, he has worked extensively in the fields of material handling, plant layout, packaging and management systems. The firm of Footlik and Associates serves as staff warehousing and materials consultants to six trade associations. Footlik writes for 12 trade and professional journals. Footlik and Associates is located at 2521 Gross Point Road, Evanston, Illinois 60601; phone 847-328-5644. AVOIDING AUTOMATION A typical order picker who is working on one order at a time, taking product off of pallets or racks may have a pick rate of only 40 cartons/hour or less. This contrasts with pick rates of up to 500 cases per hour using a well designed conveyor system. The differences arise from investments in materials handling equipment and software systems to support the warehouse. Conveyor systems for high productivity can cost from 0,000 to millions of dollars. Carousel equipment to bring the inventory to the people (instead of the people to the goods) starts at 0,000 and prices go up very fast. For many Distributors this capital investment is cost justifiable when compared against current, relatively poor productivity - if only they had the money to invest. Raising productivity now and improving systems can set the stage for future automation, while simultaneously funding the projects. Many people believe that the first step in developing a successful automation project is to initiate a data collection process and a literature search to find out the basic parameters as well as the hardware that is available. This can be a legitimate approach, but only if one is supremely confident that their current methods of operation provide a legitimate base for projecting costs and justifying the project. All too often, amateurs and “sales engineers” develop wonderful solutions and then look for problems. Doing this can be very expensive and highly detrimental to both the company and your career. Approaching any materials handling problem without fully examining the current facilities, people, procedures and assumptions can create some monumental mistakes. Take a simple example. Perhaps you would like to send a letter from New York City to Los Angeles using Pony Express Carriers. Each “Post Rider” rides his horse for thirty miles and hands the letter to the next rider. While it is possible that your letter will get there faster than normal postal delivery, when you consider all of the horses, people, way stations and support systems involved this could be a very expensive way to operate. In fact you could charter a 747 cargo plane for far less money. These absurd extremes neglect a spectrum of opportunities in between. Solutions could include everything from sending a fax or Email, to giving it to your Aunt who is going to L.A. anyway. People who compare automated systems with a current method of operation that uses antiquated methods, untrained people and wholly inadequate tools are just as ridiculous. Reexamine the Basics The point of departure is to reevaluate the systems that are in place and examine these for assumptions and areas for improvement. An excellent place to start is elimination of wasted travel. Thirty feet to and from any particular point one hundred times a day, equals three hundred plus miles per year. People may look like they are busy but are they truly productive or do they only look busy because they are untrained and do not know what to do or how to do it An army of untrained people can accomplished miracles but at a terrible cost in terms of the efforts expended. please turn to page 145



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