Executive Briefings

The Science of Distribution Center Design

Distribution center design has always been a key aspect of supply-chain management. Now it's becoming a "science." Russ Meller, vice president of research and development with Fortna, explains what that means.

The Science of Distribution Center Design

The science of distribution center design involves using mathematical models to estimate picking productivity, then scaling the resulting values to a larger group within the warehouse. The key, says Meller, lies in combining the automation of financial models with basic calculations and processes in facility design. "By bringing those together," he says, "you're able to design a more efficient and productive facility that gets to the bottom line of the organization."

It's the use of mathematical models, instead of relying exclusively on empirical values, that elevates the exercise to the realm of science. In the event, distribution operations can come up with the best business model possible.

"Science can help companies to become more flexible," says Meller. Once they build out a core model for a distribution center, they can apply it to events happening over time. And they can avoid the trap of focusing too much on peak activity, which might last for a relatively short period. "You end up with something smaller and more efficient," he says.

The practice of integrated design incorporates everything from the basic concept to all of the systems that might be included in a facility, such as automated sorters and pick modules, and how those systems mesh with the nature of a particular operation. In the end, designers are drilling down to parts catalogs and bills of material for each supplier.

There is the danger that a client can fall too much in love with the technology that underlies a facility's design. "We guard against it," says Meller. "Our job is to create the best warehouse with the best business case." In some cases, the latest technology might not be appropriate for a given location.

To view the video in its entirety, click here

The science of distribution center design involves using mathematical models to estimate picking productivity, then scaling the resulting values to a larger group within the warehouse. The key, says Meller, lies in combining the automation of financial models with basic calculations and processes in facility design. "By bringing those together," he says, "you're able to design a more efficient and productive facility that gets to the bottom line of the organization."

It's the use of mathematical models, instead of relying exclusively on empirical values, that elevates the exercise to the realm of science. In the event, distribution operations can come up with the best business model possible.

"Science can help companies to become more flexible," says Meller. Once they build out a core model for a distribution center, they can apply it to events happening over time. And they can avoid the trap of focusing too much on peak activity, which might last for a relatively short period. "You end up with something smaller and more efficient," he says.

The practice of integrated design incorporates everything from the basic concept to all of the systems that might be included in a facility, such as automated sorters and pick modules, and how those systems mesh with the nature of a particular operation. In the end, designers are drilling down to parts catalogs and bills of material for each supplier.

There is the danger that a client can fall too much in love with the technology that underlies a facility's design. "We guard against it," says Meller. "Our job is to create the best warehouse with the best business case." In some cases, the latest technology might not be appropriate for a given location.

To view the video in its entirety, click here

The Science of Distribution Center Design