By Rick Williams
One of the biggest issues we see time and again in warehouses is the segregation of the pack and ship stations. In the majority of cases these two operations can be combined into a single station, speeding up fulfillment and reducing time and manpower requirements.
At first glance, this may seem like you’re creating a more complicated fulfillment process, but it’s not so. If you break down the processes of packing and shipping orders, it quickly becomes clear how similar the data requirements are for both, yielding the opportunity to simplify a two-step, two-station process.
For example, at a packing station you’re typically capturing information about:
- What goes in a box
- The sizes and weights of each box, and
- How many boxes are in the order
You have access to other data related to the order, such as:
- Where the order is being shipped
- How it’s being shipped
- When it needs to ship by or arrive by, etc.
This information is used in the shipping process, too, so it makes sense to combine the two activities in an integrated packing and shipping station.
Preparing the Physical Pack/Ship Station
Since the hardware requirements are similar for both packing and shipping, you shouldn’t need as much equipment as used for separate stations.
Packing stations typically have scanners, label printers and laser printers, which are also needed for shipping stations too. You may need to add a scale for shipping if the packing stations don’t have one. Alternatively, if you know the shipping weight of each carton, you can use that information instead of a scale.
You can also add a scale to your integrated packing and shipping stations without using up more space, since it sets right into the table or on the belt. Even if you need to a label printer for shipping labels or a laser printer to print shipping documents, you’ll find several options that take up minimal space.
Using Your Newly Freed Up Warehouse Space
The integrated packing and shipping stations should free up warehouse space since you’ve reduced the number of workstations now needed. Some companies add more integrated stations to improve productivity. Another option is to add packaging equipment designed to speed up processing.
For example, you may be able to increase order fulfillment productivity by 2X by adding equipment such as self-erecting boxes, automated tape application machines, and air-based void-fill systems to your integrated pack/ship stations.
Consider Reorganizing Your Warehouse
Another benefit of integrated packing and shipping stations is that may free up sufficient space to gain new efficiencies in other warehouse processes. Fortunately, there are particular solutions available to you including several order-picking processes to choose from.
For example, what if, instead of requiring the order picker to walk through the warehouse with an order list and choose each item to pack — a process known as piece picking — you can bring each item to your employees at their stations? This usually involves either filling a picking cart with items to pack and ship or using a conveyor belt that sends each item to your employees as they pack.
Finally, Leverage Your Reduced Workload
Integrated packing and shipping stations can also yield significant cost savings through improved employee productivity and streamlining labor costs. You may need fewer employees dedicated to a certain area, or they may not require as many hours as before to complete their job.
Most of our customers find they can re-assign employees to other departments as needed, eliminate overtime or even reduce an entire shift. In many cases, streamlining processes like this can reduce the need for seasonal or temporary labor and yield considerable cost savings. Either way, you can reduce your employee footprint and save money.
Ultimately, by combining the pack and ship stations, your staff can become more flexibly deployed in response to changes in workload. You will no longer have dedicated shippers or dedicated packers. Now, you’ll be able to draw on a single pool of resources cross-trained to pack and ship orders, simplifying training, scheduling, labor management and performance evaluation.
CLS has worked with many companies to streamline workflow and improve productivity in the warehouse through the combination of streamlined workflows integrated with multi-carrier shipping software, integrated pack/ship stations, data collection solutions and more.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss how to add integrated packing and shipping stations to your warehouse.
Rick Williams, president and CEO of Creative Logistics Solutions (CLS), is a transportation management expert with 40 years of experience in shipping and supply chain operations and technology. He held positions of responsibility at UPS and RPS (now integrated into FedEx Ground), TanData Corporation (now ConnectShip – a UPS Company) and founded CLS in 1995.