Vermin Time Of Year

It’s all most winter.  It’s cold outside, there’s snow in some parts of the country and we’ve had some good rain in northern California.  It makes you just want to find a nice cozy part of the house to cuddle up, maybe even in front of a roaring fire.  Guess what, there’s vermin out there also looking for a nice spot to crash, in your warehouse!  When the weather changes and the rains begin there are critters looking for a nice spot to spend the winter and maybe raise a family.   So why extend them any kind of invitation?  To you that pile of cardboard may not look like a luxury bed but an infestation of mice will turn it into a rodent hotel.  The overflow of trash may not look like a cafeteria to you, but to a rodent it’s a score!

The good news is there are several things you can do to deter that invasion, and most of them you probably already have in place.  It’s a good time to step up your visual checks around the warehouse.  The tin cats will give you a great indication of any increased activity.  Also visual checks for rodent droppings and other signs of activity such as gnawed open bags of dried products and shreds of cardboard or paper.

Did you know that a rat only needs a whole the size of a quarter to get into your warehouse and a mouse as little as 2 cm?  Again, check for and seal all the holes in the external walls, doors and floors around your warehouse which will help strengthen your defense preventing critters getting in.  In addition to making sure the tin cats are in place and not damaged, verify that the poison feeders outside, around the warehouse are filled and ready.   Don’t offer any camoflouge for the vermin and have all grass along the perimeter cut down and shrubs trimmed.  Keep dock doors closed when not in use.

The most important step is to keep your warehouse clean and organized and free of temptation.  The cardboard and plastic you bundle for recycling keep it turning over often and store the bales off the floor especially when there are going to be long periods of inactivity in the warehouse.  Make sure you have a policy that any food product cases that are damaged or leaking are removed immediatley.  Keep the yard area in front of the docks free and clear of trash by sweeping on a regular basis and be sure to clean the area under the dock levelers. Don’t let incoming trucks sweep out their trailers onto the grounds.  Empty the trash cans from the caferteria or lunchroom at the end of each workday.  Make sure the trash bin outside can be closed and it is also free of holes.  Hopefully these tips will help you avoid unwanted guest for the holidays.

So You Want A Quality Warehouse.

We’ve covered how quality begins at the receiving dock with the aide of inspection of incoming deliveries which should ensure quality down stream to the customer.  Ah, but maintaining quality in a warehouse has many obstacles that can throw you off coarse.

FIFO.  You’ve heard it before, First In, First Out.  This is the backbone of your operation.  You want to supply your customers with the freshest, newest, best condition product off your shelves.  Following FIFO allows you to turn your product and keep them from getting stale on the rack or worse, out of code.  To support FIFO you need quality inventory control and a quality WMS to help keep inventory visible until it leaves the warehouse.  Losing inventory in a warehouse creating dead inventory will add up to major dollars over time and hurt your bottom line.  If you are a small operation and don’t have a good WMS use the old T method.  Store replenishment product directly above the pick location.  Go up as many levels as you can and then if more storage space is still needed branch out at the top rack like a T.  It should be easy to keep track of inventory this way since you know it’s localized.  Along with this use different colored labels to tag your inventory by the month, (Red-January, Blue-Feb, etc) and this will allow you to know the oldest product in your T.

DEBRIS.  By definition it’s the remains of anything broken down or destroyed.  This stuff is usually trash, made up of shrink wrap, paper, backing from labels, chips and fragments of wooden pallets.  It is necessary to make sure you have enough trash cans distributed around the warehouse to encourage the deposit of debris and strongly encourage its pick up.  Shrink wrap on the floor can be sucked up by forklifts and over time melt and literary gum up the works.  I was presented a bag of this stuff once by my forklift tech and would use it as a visual in safety and sanitation meetings.  The plastic shrink wrap can also be a money maker as long as you have a bailing machine.  There are companies that will buy it by the bale and the money could be used to reward the warehouse staff for keeping the floors free of debris with a monthly lunch or a very nice holiday party.  The buyers need to help you with the wooden pallets by including on their purchase orders the acceptable condition of pallets on delivery.   Be up front and hold the position if you deliver bad pallets to us, there will be no pallet exchange.  You may want to look into CHEP as a means of ensuring you receive in on good quality pallets and plastic pallets are now a viable alternative.  Remember, If you keep it looking clean, people don’t look further!

EQUIPMENT.  What good is following fifo and cleaning up if you can’t move pallets around the warehouse?   You must keep equipment maintained, not only to ensure you have equipment when you need it, but for safety and to keep the warehouse free of leaks and puddles of hydraulic fluid or oils.  Nothing makes a warehouse look bad than fluid tracked from the dock to the racks not to mention it’s also unsafe and could cause forklift skids or staff slip and falls.  How does your battery room look?  Floor free of stains from acid spill over?  Is there adequate ventilation to keep the area free of fumes from the charging batteries.  Chargers should have closed and locked access doors and no exposed wires.  Most important, make sure the eye wash station is fully operational as well.

WASHROOM.  This is also another important area especially if you are a food warehouse.  There should be signs to remind everyone to wash their hands before returning to their work station.  There needs to always be a supply of soap and towels or blower of some kind to facilitate drying.  There is nothing worse than to have a visitor tell you there’s not soap or towels in the washroom.  The appearance of the washroom also speaks volumes of how you present your warehouse so avoid the trash can from overflowing with used paper towels and dirty facilities.

GO FOR A WALK.  Get up from the desk and go for a walk around the warehouse.  Some people like to use the hybrid name, Gemba-Kaizen-Deming-Sigma walk.  If it’ll give you purpose or just help to remember to do it you can call it what ever you want.  Give it a fun name or functional name,   A warehouse walk, safety walk, I need exercise walk,   Just get up and walk.  You need to see what’s going on and sitting behind that desk , just checking the numbers on the computer screen only gives you a very small picture of what’s really going on.  What ever philosophy you use at your facility, be it Gemba, Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, Deming, SWOT or common sense make sure you all speak the same language to discuss issues.  The one book I do recommend to make sure you all are talking about the same thing is the APICs Dictionary.  It’d be a great tool to use and excuse to have some training for the staff and cover this together and develop talent within your organization.

Look, if quality was so easy, everybody would do it.  Love to hear your comments.

Quality begins at Receiving.

I’ve said it before in a previous blog, and I’ll say it again folks, the receiving dock is the gateway to your warehouse.  So isn’t that where quality should begin as well?   Goods damaged in the warehouse can cost you about $25,000 a year or more for a medium sized operation, and according to Food Market Institute the grocery industry sustains nearly $20 billion annually in damaged merchandise.  You can begin plugging this leaking of cash at the point of receiving and begin quality control at the dock.

Establish a receiving inspection program.  Put your program’s procedures in writing, create an easy to use checklist for the receivers to record each delivery and then train and train a little more.  Begin by inspecting the loads being delivered while they’re still on the trailer.   What is the condition of the loads?  Has the LTL stacked a pallet of bowling balls on top of your order of juice boxes?  Have the loads shifted and tilted or fallen over in transit?  They say a picture is worth a thousand words so in either case take pictures of the loads while they’re still on the trailer.  it’s really a great tool to use to share with the vendor about the job their carrier is doing for them or that dispatcher who doubts they’d send a load like that to you.  If it’s a refrigerated delivery you should also record the trailer temperature by using a infrared temperature gun to ensure food safety.  The information on each delivery can then be filed for future reference and also serve as a report card on carriers used.

Next after unloading look over the pallet and make sure there are no holes, tears, crushed or wet cases.  I’ve always trained my staff to look at the boxes as if they were the consumer.  Would you buy that box in it’s present condition?  They were also trained to remove the damaged cases and depending on the situation, dictated to them what should happen next.  If the product arrived via LTL the damaged cases were refused and the BOL was properly marked to indicate the number of cartons accepted and why the others were refused.  In those cases involving over the road carriers or long hauls that were not returning to a terminal we still indicated the number of damaged cases, but we put the damages on a separate pallet, and labeled it with pertinent information, (PO#, vendor, item #, quantity and reason), recorded the location it was to be stored and then referred it to the buyer.  Then to keep them honest I’d send weekly email reminders for disposition and also copied the company bean counter who made sure they’d follow through and recoup our money.

Putting away goods is another area that can create damages.  If you can avoid having to re-palletize your loads it can save you time and money by not having to use the labor and less opportunity for damaging goods. Try working with your vendors and purchasing department to see if this can accomplished.  If you have to rework pallets make sure the cases sit on the pallet correctly and don’t hang over the edge and then follow the recommended stacking heights by the vendor.  Also cross docking if possible is another way to reduce damages by avoiding handling several times in movement from the receiving dock to a storage location, then as a replenishment to a picking location and then being picked.  Very important especially with perishable goods is to follow FIFO to keep boxes pristine and free of collected dust.  Forklift drivers, as part of their safety training need to be reminded to be careful when moving loads.  When in a rush or not paying attention those forks will puncture any cardboard box and it’s contents in a second.

Other tips for training on quality in the warehouse is remind staff don’t use boxes as a stepping stool or ladder to reach something above it.  Chances are that big footprint on top of the crushed box will make a customer either refuse or further inspect the contents of that box.  When slotting product for picking put the heavy boxes on the lowest levels and small light boxes above or in a flow rack.  Also make sure the picking location has the correct space to handle a full pallet to avoid crushing boxes on replenishment.  See if you can get boxes from vendors so you can repack if necessary.  There is also the ugly issue of pilfering by employees especially in food warehouses.  To me this is an indication that the supervisor is not walking the warehouse on a regular basis and the staff knows it and takes advantage.  This pilfering has to be stopped immediately as it will cost you more than damages of product, since you’ll usually find that the OT is high in these situations which is another indicator they are not being managed properly.   Remove the opened cases from the warehouse when found, and remember to adjust from inventory and hopefully can sell at reduced cost to customers.

Also make sure you have open communication with Customer service and Sales as this is a great way to receive feedback on how well your warehouse is functioning, not only on the condition of product delivered but picking orders correctly and completely.

Remember, warehouse damages can quickly add up for any operation but can be an easy fix making you look good as well as the presentation of the warehouse, which says volumes on how you operate it.