Prepping Your DC for Peak Season

Are you ready for the holidays? Today’s retailers and their logistics partners need to ask and answer that question well in advance of the holiday season. Mark Sibley, vice president of customer support for BEUMER Corporation, offers this advice to prepare your distribution center before holiday orders come rolling in.

1. Start early. Don’t start planning just before the peak season starts. You need three to five months prior to the fall season to work through potential issues; to document, analyze, and correct potential areas of risk; and to put new processes in place with enough time to test assumptions against actual results.

2. Learn from past busy seasons. Examine and analyze your existing maintenance and operational records to identify previous areas of weakness or bottlenecks. Then develop effective action plans to deal with them.

3. Incorporate flexibility. No peak season plan has an answer for every possibility. Consider working with your sortation and distribution service provider to schedule a peak season audit well before peak season starts.

4. Double-check error tracking. To use the past to be prepared, you should have established processes in place to document and track everyday events such as equipment failures, unscheduled shutdowns in conveyors or sortation equipment, interruptions in order flow, and reductions in service levels and throughput.

5. Use surge testing. Surge testing simulates typical demand conditions during peak season. You should optimally conduct the test four to six weeks prior to the season’s start. Hold back up to half a normal day’s throughput, and then send it all during a compressed three- to four-hour period to replicate peak volume and operating conditions.

6. Adjust maintenance cycles. Identify critical areas where you should increase maintenance intervals. Conduct inspections and audits focusing on equipment components—photo eyes and sensors, motors and belt alignments, cabling—subject to increased wear and tear as utilization surges.

7. Create an emergency response plan. Identify key equipment within the center that shuts you down if it goes offline. Your emergency response plan ensures you have the expertise, partners, and parts necessary to handle issues as quickly and intelligently as possible.

8. Have spare parts. Waiting for a supplier to send a replacement component overnight can cost time, money, and throughput. A peak season maintenance and response plan can help identify which spare parts you and your partners should have available to enable fast repairs.

9. Keep IT resources in the loop. In today’s IT-driven distribution center, around-the-clock IT support and clear processes for troubleshooting and problem escalation are essential. Review your IT response and escalation steps with internal and external resources. Clarify how, when, and who to contact before peak season begins.

10. Create and follow a complete plan. A fully prepared and tested peak season plan focused on key systems, personnel, maintenance, and operational processes is crucial. The plan should be comprehensive enough to cover every element that peak season conditions can impact, as well as contain clear guidelines for dealing with any unanticipated issues that can arise.

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