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Thomas R. Cutler

Quality Insider

Material Handling Made Elegant

Improve the quality of direct store delivery with the right equipment

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 14:26

Within the retail industry, it’s impossible to look at the quality of material handling processes without looking at delivery to retail outlets. Nearly three-fourths of the total costs of direct store delivery (DSD) rest with warehouse, order assembly, and delivery to retail customers. The remaining 30 percent of costs come from demand and supply planning, manufacturing, order generation, dispatch planning, and transportation.

Warehouse SKUs have quadrupled during the last 15 years, which has exacerbated the complexity of organizing and ensuring the accuracy of loading and delivery of product.

And of course, on top of all of this is the importance of safety and maintaining a healthy workforce that is too often plagued by injuries. An aging workforce with great experience and knowledge is being lost due to the inability to endure the physical activity required for DSD delivery. Fuel costs and increasing fleets have also contributed to this complex quality equation.

Mike Brammer, supply chain process manager at Swift Water Logistics, a supply chain process improvement company, insists that today’s delivery systems must provide a safer and more efficient delivery process for employees. This would include reducing overall physical labor, flexibility to service customers of various delivery types, greater delivery capacity, less exposure to the weather, reducing account services, and addressing the rising cost of transportation.

Brammer works closely with material handling companies throughout North America, particularly in beverage delivery. He points out that a systems approach, what he calls “total system thinking,” is required to address all these issues in the DSD process and come up with solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved.

Examining injury reduction and product touches

When looking at the total system involved in DSD, you need to consider three key elements: the health and safety of workers, product damage and quality of service, and the most cost-effective way to deliver products.

Health and safety: Workers who have fewer injuries stay on the job longer, remain productive, and benefit everyone. Even the types of injuries sustained can be significantly minimized using best-practice solutions.

Quality of service: Product quality is improved whenever product touches are eliminated, resulting in less risk of product breakage or damage. An improvement in service quality can be measured by a reduction in returns, the agility to deliver multiple store formats, and by servicing customers more effectively.

Delivery costs: As with bulk (i.e., dock) delivery, when orders are built by the customer, directly onto a pallet and then loaded into trailers, delivery drivers experience less physical activity, are in and out of the store faster, and orders are more accurate.

When looking at a DSD tool that addresses these issues, Swift Water Logistics focuses on a solution that provides demonstrable safety and quality. At MODEX 2014 in Atlanta, one of Swift Water Logistics’ total system thinking solutions, CooLift by Magline, was named a finalist for the MHI Best New Innovation Award. The innovation award serves to educate and provide valuable insights on the latest manufacturing and supply chain innovative products.

The CoolLift design combines six wheels, a lightweight aluminum frame, and integrated plastic half-pallets with a hydraulic lift. The six wheels allow for 360-degree maneuverability in store aisles, and half-pallets permit drivers to get through narrow entryways.

CooLift uses end-load trailers with lift gates so drivers no longer need to climb into bays to deliver product. The result is a direct reduction in physical labor with less driver fatigue, less stress on the body, more ergonomic practices, and a reduction in overall injuries.

Keeping drivers safe and healthy reduces driver turnover by creating and maintaining a desired work environment. Given that the mean age of delivery drivers is 45, keeping experienced drivers working means considering physical wear and tear on the body. Brammer reports that companies saw significant reductions in major back and shoulder injuries, a shift to less severe injuries, and a drop in time missed at work due to injury. The CoolLift causes less physical stress on the body due to reducing the number of product touches.

In addition, by eliminating 50 percent of product touches during deliveries, quality is improved because the order is brought into the store, right to the point of sale, with less breakage and damage. Drivers report much faster check-in and product visibility because all products can be seen from one side of the pallet.

Retailers report service improvements because rear-load trailers are able to service multiple store formats, and cope with different size entryways. Product roll time is cut in half because the CoolLift eliminates picking at the account location.

Finally, more stops can be serviced by a single driver, leading to a reduction in fleet size, fewer miles driven, and a significant savings in fuel costs. The agility in handling additional SKUs and managing seasonal sales volume fluctuation without adding human resources is possible due to the capacity of rear-load trailers.

As Brammer pointed out, by looking at the entire DSD system, rather than just looking at one element of it, you can make equipment and other purchase decisions that meet the needs of everyone within the system. In this case, the net result is time for the delivery drivers to service more customers throughout the day, driving more sales, safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively.


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector and is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com and followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.