MONTREAL -- Cross docking doesn't necessarily require a huge investment in administrative and computer-support systems for distributors to get started and reap results.
"There's always concern as to what cross docking is going to do to existing computer systems," said Allan Kohl, senior partner at Kom International, a distribution and warehousing consulting firm here. He added that cross docking products can be done in a way that's compatible with the technology distributors are using in their warehouses today.
Once distributors gain some experience with cross docking, then they can look at cost justifications and determine what systems investment they want to make.
Kohl spoke at the Distribution Conference in Seattle. The conference was sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington.
Cross docking can even be used, with minimal changes to warehouse information systems, for product currently handled through direct-store delivery. Cross docking DSD product through a distribution center offers the benefit of more truckloads available for shipment to stores.
If these truckloads combine dry and refrigerated products, cross docking allows for more frequent fresh deliveries with no increase in the cost of units delivered, Kohl added.
"We can use the warehouse as simply a trans-shipment point where the merchandise from the order is passed on to stores and the stores continue to get invoiced directly [from the supplier]," he explained. In this case, there is no change required in the warehouse's information system.
The warehouse can also be used as a flow-through "pick-to-zero" environment. In this environment, the inbound quantity from the vendor matches the day's requirement. "When the stock comes in, it can be assigned to a rack in a location that is compatible to whatever category it is and that it should be picked with," Kohl said. "And that slot would be picked clean every day. All the merchandise would go into a trailer headed for the store."
This process is "in the interest of getting that store-friendly order and having some compatibility with an existing computer-support and paperwork system," he added.
However, the processes of warehouse consolidation and warehouse reverse line picking require the use of new computer systems, Kohl said.
With warehouse consolidation, each store orders from the supplier. The supplier sends an advance ship notice to the warehouse detailing what it will be sending for several stores, invoicing the warehouse by store. The warehouse consolidates the product and paperwork. In this case, while store DSD paperwork is eliminated, software to integrate the paperwork is required at the warehouse.
In reverse line picking, the inbound merchandise is distributed on the dock into staging areas for each store. This can be done by using radio frequency technology or applying case labels.
"The selector moves through this dock distribution line and he deposits cases into each store's staging area. Then it's moved into the waiting truck and off it goes," Kohl said.
With reverse line picking, the supplier invoices the warehouse either by store or in bulk. This process also requires cross dock distribution software in order to work effectively, said Kohl.
Reverse line picking lends itself to mechanization, including a technique called pick on receipt. In this process, the distribution center knows what's coming into its facility.
With pick on receipt, "you offload the product onto a conveyor; it enters a sortation system where you scan the bar codes on the cases and those cases are distributed to chutes for each of the stores or, most efficiently, could be offloaded directly into the waiting trailers themselves," Kohl said.