Unclogging Bottlenecks: Distribution Center Packing Stations

Packing stations have evolved over the years, and smart changes to them have added to lean and just-in-time manufacturing.

08-abouta_1Packing stations used to be no more than a few tables set up between picking and shipping zones. Little thought was put into these areas and the impact they have on throughput. With the advent of e-tail and same-day order fulfillment, these stations are being re-evaluated as an integrated part of the process flow. Here are four ways these stations have improved.

  1. They are customized to be lean and ergonomic. The idea here is to use a design that reduces overall movement, thereby minimizing injury from repetitive motion while simultaneously improving productivity. There are numerous ways packing stations are able to be more ergonomic and reduce various forms of waste.

One accommodation is electric-powered height adjustment capability. This allows operators of any height working the station to easily set everything needed in an easy-to-reach spot. Everything from bar code scanners to computers to tape is at a comfortable reach.

Positioning printers at hip level on a sliding shelf mount make them easy to use and refill. By positioning other needed items nearby, like labels, footsteps are limited and time is saved.

  1. Automation. There are varying forms of automation that can be implemented into a packing station to improve productivity when integrated with a warehouse management system and warehouse control system. In some cases, it is possible to fully automate up to 80% or 90% of a high-volume shipper’s orders.
  1. Mobility. Mobile pick/pack carts make simultaneous picking and packing possible. Typical mobile pick/pack carts house wireless, battery-powered computing, scanning, printing, and light-directed picking modules. The carts would be pre-staged with shipping cartons so items are picked directly into the box. Once all the picks are completed and labels affixed, the cart is wheeled to the shipping area so boxes can be sealed and routed. Kevin Ledversis, sales director at Newcastle Systems, told mmh.com:

“Having the ability to pick and pack on the go eliminates bottlenecks at stationary packing stations because it’s simply not possible to pack items as fast as they are picked. With the mobile packing station, we’ve found pickers can pack anywhere from 25% to 40% more product than at fixed stations. With roughly half the labor cost in a warehouse dedicated to picking, this can positively impact the bottom line.”

Fixed packing stations are still valuable, and there are other ways to bring mobility to any fixed station in a facility to reduce bottlenecking. Battery-powered tuggers, or cart pushers, are used in distribution centers (DCs), warehouses, and other manufacturing plants for this and to improve productivity and safety on the whole. The tugs are attached to carts loaded with widgets, parts, and/or product, and easily operated by one person no matter the weight of the load. This brings more versatility to the mobile approach than do pick/pack carts because the power tuggers can handle so much more. However, they do not come equipped with the technology that the pick/pack carts have.

Still, using carts and a battery-powered tug is an option for any DC looking to make operations leaner. The tug and cart system also minimizes injury and costs. To find out how well a power tug would optimize your DC’s throughput, contact Load Mover, Inc. at 952-767-1720 or email info@loadmoverinc.com.