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Efficiency is critical for a successful distribution center. Goods have to move quickly, with as few “touches” or employee interventions as possible. So how do you maximize the efficiency of your DC? Follow this list of distribution center best practices to help you identify and eliminate bottlenecks and ensure that goods can flow through your facility as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Location and Facility Layout: Distribution center best practices start with choosing the optimal location for your facility. Make sure you’ll have access to employees with the right skills and education to run the DC and that it is located adjacent to the necessary transportation infrastructure (rail, highway, etc.).

Likewise, the interior of the facility to should be designed to optimize the flow of goods. There should be an unimpeded flow from receiving to storage and then to staging/shipping. Make adequate use of vertical storage to save space, clearly label every aisle/rack/shelf/bin, and develop picking and putaway routes that reduce walking and improve efficiency.

Use AIDC Technology: Whether you invest in barcoding or RFID, automatic identification is one of the distribution center best practices that will provide a rapid return on investment due to gains in efficiency. Barcode scanning can minimize touches, eliminate data entry errors, and ensure you have access to accurate, timely data about the inventory in your DC.

With modern scanners and mobile computers like the Honeywell CK75, warehouse employees can quickly scan both 1D and 2D barcodes and provide real-time inventory updates. Pick lists can be accessed on the mobile computer

The benefits of real-time barcode data don’t stop there. With improved inventory visibility you can provide up-to-the-minute alerts to customers, spot potential bottlenecks before they become a problem, and get a better handle on inventory forecasting because you accurately measure throughput down to the SKU.

Streamline the Picking Process: This may require some reconfiguration of your inventory and picking processes, but the benefits can be enormous for the company and employees alike. You can reduce travel distance and improve pick times by mapping pick routes based on efficient employee movements and staging fast-moving inventory closer to the staging/shipping area. This not only increases inventory velocity, it also provides an important ergonomic benefit — workers don’t have to walk as much to produce the same amount of work and are less fatigued.

Another of the most important distribution center best practices is to place items that are frequently shipped together near each other in the storage area, which reduces pick times for that inventory. It’s also important to re-evaluate you inventory periodically to classify it into different categories of fast- and slow-moving items. This can change by season or by year. Staging inventory based on velocity (dynamic slotting) can also help streamline picking.

The proper mix of design and technology approaches can enhance DC operations. There are plenty of other efficiency-enhancing strategies — cross-docking, adopting lean principles, measuring KPIs, advanced shipping notices, etc. — but by adopting the key distribution center best practices above, companies can better serve their customers and improve employee productivity at the same time.

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