May 2012 | Commentary | Checking In

Warehousing 'Outside the Box'

Tags: Warehousing

Felecia Stratton is the editor of Inbound Logistics magazine.

Historically, warehousing was viewed as a function that exists inside "four walls." Visibly, that's true. But when you consider all the different parts and impulses that influence a distribution operation, it can no longer be cornered so conveniently. That's why our May 2012 issue spotlights warehousing and distribution wall-to-wall—and beyond.

For example, it's easy to see the DC for what it is: a complex organization of racking infrastructure, conveyor and sortation systems, materials handling equipment, pallets, and people. Often obscured, however, is the conceptual connectivity that exists between other warehouses, suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and end consumers. The DC is but one node within a much larger distribution ecosystem. Logistics technology and supply chain strategy merge functional silos and align these different business partners into a more cohesive and responsive network.

Taken alone, the warehouse has evolved into a bionic organism that pairs human intelligence with automation. It senses demand and supply changes, absorbs variability, and flexes inventory and capacity so companies can move product to market as efficiently and economically as possible. If you consider labor management, this metaphor only grows.

Merrill Douglas' article The Bionic Warehouse explores how companies use technology and performance recognition programs to enhance labor productivity—whether it's a pointed labor management system, a module in a traditional WMS, mobile communication devices, or even Excel-based incentive modeling. These companies are taking the biological component of distribution activity—human labor—and re-engineering performance through next-generation IT systems, and tried-and-true motivation tactics.

While technology broadly allows companies greater flexibility in how they manage time-to-demand requirements, many are also reconsidering distribution network strategy, materials handling and infrastructure design, and warehouse processes to uncover hidden efficiencies. In Innovative Warehouse Strategies: Four Walls, Three Takes, Joseph O'Reilly looks at how a consultant, integrator, and wholesaler approach warehouse and distribution innovation from the inside and out.

Lastly, if you strip away the complexity of technology and strategy, warehouse management is reduced to moving inventory. And when you get down to basics, there is nothing more essential than the pallet. Finding the right pallet type and/or pooling solution can have a discernible impact on warehouse spend, product integrity, and inventory flow—as you'll read in The Power of Pallets.

As growing e-commerce demands, cloud-based connectivity, and business process sophistication shape the arc of supply chain innovation, the distribution center has become increasingly "wall-less."

The bionic warehouses of today are making history; they're not part of it.