June 10, 2019
Column | big picture


Facility upgrades, while necessary, tend to have a butterfly effect within a distribution system. That's why expert help is advised.

By David Maloney

I'm beginning some remodeling projects around my house. Nothing major, just things like a new sink and vanity in the bathroom, plus some new carpet and paint.

My house was built in 1953 and has seen two major additions over the years. Like many owners of older homes, we sometimes find things that make us shake our heads. For instance, why did the previous owners put a fireplace in a basement storage room? Or outfit the upstairs bath with two sinks but no shower?

Another thing you find with an older home is that many times, past projects were done by nonprofessionals and not always performed to code. Things are not always square. Sometimes, I just find myself scratching my head.

But then I realize that the original owners had different priorities and this might explain some of the design choices. That family raised 10 children in the house, and its home-improvement projects likely reflected its specific needs.

More often than not, we find the same kinds of head-scratchers with distribution center upgrades. Additions may be simply tacked onto the side of a building, their design based more on the land that's available than on process-flow considerations.

Priorities within facilities also typically change over the years. New technologies are introduced, and product mixes change, requiring modifications to process flows. That's led many facilities to sandwich e-commerce processing centers into whatever space could be found, for example. These upgrades were not in the original facility designs and are often bolted onto the existing systems, software, and technologies. Like my house, they don't always make sense in hindsight, but there were good reasons at the time. Trouble is, making sense of them now can be difficult if the people who oversaw them are no longer with the company.

If that tribal knowledge is missing, it makes it critically important to have an expert set of eyes review any proposed systems changes. Upgrades tend to have a butterfly effect within a distribution system. Something done to "fix" one area can have consequences for many other parts of the operation.

That's why many companies look to professional designers and integrators who can analyze a facility's processes and suggest improvements. These folks can recommend software and equipment that will produce the desired results while also considering how these systems fit into the existing processes.

Did I tell you that my hot water tank decided to heat its last ounce of water this week? What a mess. But that is a story for another time.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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