February 12, 2019
Column | outbound

Finding more DC space can sometimes be pretty easy

Using just four simple data points and a little reconfiguration, you can increase available space in your facility by 40 percent.

By Mitch Mac Donald

Inbox clutter is long past being recognized as a "thing." For most of us, the daily deluge of incoming messages has made managing an inbox a near full-time job. Making matters worse is the ratio of e-mails with actual value (meaning the ones we want—or at least need—to see) to the spam, the junk, and the generally unwanted clutter.

On the morning of this writing, we did a little experiment. We noted that 188 e-mail messages had arrived between 11 p.m. and 9:30 a.m.—all in all, a pretty typical volume. Unfortunately, the "useful-to-junk" ratio was a miserable 37:151. Doing some rounding, that's (more or less) just one e-mail of value for every five that are junk.

If you're in the same boat (as you almost certainly are), your daily routine probably includes a cursory scan of your inbox to get rid of the obvious junk so you can concentrate on what's left. The challenge, of course, is to be sure that in your haste, you don't purge any e-mails that you want or need to see.

When an e-mail with the subject line "Splash Item" hit our inbox last week, our inclination was to delete it and move on. But then we spotted the sender's name.

The message came from our longtime friend and noted academic and logistics thought leader Dr. Kevin Gue, professor of industrial engineering and director of the Logistics and Distribution Institute at the University of Louisville (Ky.).

Having avoided the misstep of hastily hitting "delete," we opened the message to read the following statement: "For only the second time in my career, I've stumbled onto a piece of research I think should be of immediate interest to almost all warehouse managers."

A statement like that coming from someone of Gue's stature spoke volumes. It was clear there was something in the e-mail we both wanted and needed to see.

What we found was a gem of an idea—a simple yet potentially high-value idea—that Gue and his colleagues had "stumbled upon."

The idea is simple: What if you could enter four simple (and readily available) data points into an online calculator that tells you how to reconfigure your pallet racks for maximum efficiency? In other words, the model would take your data and develop a "best profile" of pallet slots (or to be precise, slot heights) for your individual operation, resulting in double-digit savings in storage space. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it's not.

In his years of visiting DCs as part of his field work, Gue said he found that "almost all pallet [storage racks] use only one, or perhaps two, slot heights, which unavoidably creates waste between the top of the pallet and the beam above it." Walk through your own DC, and you'll likely notice the same thing.

"Most unit-load [facilities] have slots of a single size, presumably the size of the tallest pallet handled regularly, or perhaps two slots, with a smaller slot to handle smaller pallets with less waste," Gue wrote in the e-mail. "After thinking for a while, we wondered what size that second slot [and possibly a third or even fourth slot] should be."

Gue and his colleagues went to work on the problem, ultimately spending more than a year developing and refining their solution. The result is a wonderfully simple, and extraordinarily useful, online tool that provides recommendations you can apply in your own facility right away. "We show how to determine a profile of slot heights and the number of positions for each height to reduce the wasted space," he said. "Our research indicates expected storage space savings between 20 and 40 percent—much greater than we anticipated."

Gue has written a short blog piece that includes a few more details on the project, including a rundown of the four data points required for the calculation. Titled "Finding Warehouse Space in Unexpected Places," the essay includes links to a published research paper on the topic as well as a link to the free online calculator itself.

Big gifts can, it seems, come in little e-mails!

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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