Who Let the Dogs Out: What to look for in a Slotting Solution

If you think your Distribution Centre is nearly at capacity, or you’re running out of pick faces, or your cost metrics seem too high against your benchmarks, then it’s time for action.

Do you look to your Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) for help?

If so, perhaps you’re being unfair on your software vendor (or in-house IT engineers).

Most WMS do a splendid job of managing your reserve. And they will route your pickers along the best pathways according to where the product is stored. That is their job, and you have paid a substantial sum for their services.

Very few WMS pay more than lip-service to slotting your product. Some have a sort of “default” set of assumptions that are slightly configurable, but those that claim to have optimisation capability are perhaps over-egging their competence. I can think of one WMS among the market leaders that actually employs an optimisation engine, but the logic upon which it is based was state-of-the-art mathematics more than a decade ago.

If you’re walking past a few dogs that have strayed towards your shipping dock, they will be biting you in the wallet. It really is time to consider reorganising your warehouse.

Obviously, any slotting system will tell you where each product should be stored. At the very minimum it will depict the shuffling around that results in having your fast-moving items near the shipping dock, and the slower moving items (and dogs) relegated to the more remote areas of your warehouse. That’s not going to help us very much as it stands.

So here are seven questions to ask of anybody who says they have a slotting system that will provide you with a genuinely optimised picking operation.

1. Can it show you how much of each product should be stored in forward pick locations?

You already know that you need that particular SKU right up there by the dock, but how much of it and how often should you be aiming to replenish it?

What is the optimal size of the slot that product should occupy?

You probably won’t want to rely on an old rule of thumb about equal cycle-time replenishment, or equal space allocation. Otherwise the dogs might be the least of your financial worries.

2. Can it define what rack configuration (type, height) you should have in each location?

If we know where your product should be, how much of it should be there, and in what sort of rack space should it be stored to optimise the replenishment program?

Let’s go one stage further on the same theme: what about figuring out the appropriate number of items per tier and number of tiers on the pallets you’re receiving from your suppliers? Knowing this would take you one more step towards optimisation in the wider supply chain.

3. Can it handle the need to avoid congestion in your pick zones?

Aiming to put all of your fast-movers near the dock is great in principle, but you want to ensure that you avoid congestion that would slow down the productivity of the pickers.

4. Can it organise your products so that heavy items are picked before lighter ones?

This will help you to build stable pallets and reduce damages. And of course you’ll want to optimise the use of the “golden zone” picking slots for heavier items at waist height, so that you can protect your workers and reduce the chances of injuries and claims against you.

5. Can it take account of family groupings?

There’s no point in optimising your own operations at the expense of your customers’. In fact, you want to do the reverse. You want to optimise shelf-stacking at store level, which means carefully planning your family groupings in the pick areas.

6. Can it handle multiple scenarios, so that you can stress-test the results?

If you’re able to say “yes” to most of the questions so far, then you’ve got a pretty good piece of software at your disposal. But can it handle sensitivities, to simulate the operating efficiency under a number of variants in your demand forecast?

If so, you’ll have some confidence that it’s worth moving your stock around. But where should you start, and why?

7. Can it provide “move lists” and prioritise them according to cost/benefit?

This is perhaps the Holy Grail. You want to be able to choose those moves that give you the best bang for the buck, and you want to be able to carry out those moves in “spare” time when your FLT drivers are not quite so busy. Perhaps for two hours at the end of a shift, for several shifts over several days. There should be no need for “hard breaks” or time-and-a-half or double-time working.

If you’ve read this far then you’re probably serious about the efficiency that comes from optimal slotting. And if you’re in the fortunate position of having software that can do everything I’ve mentioned, then you probably already have our slotting solution.

If not, then you might want to get in touch. We can do much more than re-home your dogs.

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