2. Coupled with VDO will be warehouse compensation programs based on output, not hours, and a true “Management by Exception” operating system. With a computer tracking every activity for start and completion times, it will become possible to establish standard times as well as incentive pay scales.
3. Onsite production of key products, especially slow-moving or specialty items. For example, why stock a 4-inch x 2-inch x 1-inch plastic tee when it can be produced by a tabletop machine in a few seconds? This is already available for spiral wound duct system piping.
4. Parts and fittings proliferation will require many more “fronts” (places where individual items are to be stored). With new piping systems, broader fixture lines and more colors available, the total SKU count will rise dramatically.
5. Countering the above trend will be a new class of focused sales organizations. These will be specialist supply houses along the lines of today’s stainless fittings distributors and master distributors. There will also be an increased reliance on these resources for the more exotic items, special order materials and slower moving materials.
7. Smaller air-conditioning condensers will replace the present oversized units as technology catches up with legislation. This is already in the works with aerodynamically shaped louvers and tubing cross sections to replace the traditional flat and round shapes.
8. Higher ceilings, triple-deck shelving and stacking to 35+ feet will become the norm for PHCP supply houses. As land costs escalate and the good sites disappear, this will be the only way to effectively afford new construction.
9. Air-conditioned warehouses will become more common. Thirty years ago one might still see a “Help Wanted” ad that touted “air-conditioned offices.” In the future the warehouse will run much cooler and with less humidity in the summer. This will protect both the products and the people.
10. More sophisticated forklifts and other materials handling equipment will be utilized. When Supply House Times started 50 years ago, even a hand pallet jack was viewed with suspicion. The next generation of forklifts will all have AC power, electronic monitoring of the driver’s performance and many semi-automatic safety features.
12. Increased warehouse lighting levels using energy-efficient fluorescent and LED lamps will become more common. This will be coupled with simple, automatic controls to sense occupancy, ambient lighting (more windows and skylights) and special needs for an aging workforce.
13. Unmanned branch locations will become the norm. Using technology that already exists, a trailer, self-storage space, garage or small warehouse will function as a robotic distribution point. These locations will be replenished nightly and be customer usable 24/7/365.
14. 10-ft. pipe will become the norm in southern and western markets where slab-on-grade construction is most commonly employed for residential and light commercial customers. This mirrors what has always been utilized for electrical conduit.
15. Pallet racks will become increasingly customized to suit the products handled. This will lead to increased commingling of products from different families. For example, baseboard heating, boilers and controls are all used together, but are frequently stored in three or more locations in a warehouse.
17. Specialized forklifts, hydraulic booms and other equipment will be increasingly incorporated on delivery vehicles. This will lead to increased palletization of outbound shipments.
18. For large jobs, customers will expect the products to be packaged by specific unit or dwelling instead of full cases that force skilled tradesmen to act as mediocre material handlers.
20. Using GPS technology, deliveries will be made to the customer’s truck (wherever he might be) instead of the specific jobsite.
22. Plastic pallets will be increasingly used instead of wood and these will be tracked by RFID. Rental pallet pools currently utilized for groceries will expand to include all distributors.
23. What is today considered “extraordinary service” will become the norm. Customers will continue to demand faster and more reliable service.
24. Supply houses will ship in their own branded carton instead of reusing vendor cartons. With co-op advertising this will turn an expense into a profit center.
25. With standardized outbound packaging, pick/pack operations will be more feasible. This technique will eliminate the current multi-step operations of picking, staging, checking and packing.
27. Pick paths will always be optimized and multiple order picking will be employed for the majority of orders, including counter picking.
28. Increased recycling will lead to baling of cardboard, chipboard and paper. Larger operations will install trash conveyors and semi-automatic balers to expedite this process.
29. Hand pallet jacks will be equipped with online scales and RFID devices to verify that the equipment is being used, who is moving it and how much product is being moved.
30. Standardized career apparel will be required to meet OSHA and NIOSH codes. Safety shoes, belts, specific fabrics and styles will be dictated by workman’s comp and insurance agencies.
32. Product proliferation will lead to a shortage of “fronts” (places to put materials) in the warehouse. Bulk materials will be purchased more often to free up space for additional new lines and products. These “fronts” will be vertical into the height, not horizontal with more aisles.
33. Sprinkler codes will continue to become more stringent. Any construction permits will require enhancing the sprinkler protection.
34. Code officials will also require permits for any and all changes in every facility, not just in seismic zones.
35. Free-standing supply houses of less than 50,000 sq. ft. will be increasingly rare. Most distributors will be in much larger (250,000+ sq. ft.) space. Branches will tend to be in multi-tenant buildings with other, synergistic supply houses (electrical, work wear, tools, etc.).
37. Controlled facilities, without pickup counters and direct customer contact, will be able to use capital intensive materials handling equipment to bring the products to the stockers and pickers instead of the personnel to the products.
38. Management focus will slowly shift from “getting stuff out the door” to considerations of the “Total Delivered Cost.” This means adding a few cents in some areas to save major dollars in the total system.
39. For operations with active counters, their best customers will have increasing access to the warehouse and may do their own order picking under computer direction and supervision.
40. Warehouse security will become increasingly important from both an internal and external perspective. Much of this will be dictated by the Department of Homeland Security and immigration laws.
42. Energy and resource conservation initiatives will continue to drive new warehouse programs for reducing waste.
43. Ergonomic standards will force lighter weight and more easily handled packaging. This will lead to more women in warehouse operations. For example, even a 10-foot piece of 1-1/2-inch Schedule 80 pipe will, by law, require two people to carry a single piece. Don’t even ask about lead ingots.
44. Warehouse ceiling heights in excess of 30-foot clearance will become the norm for the industry, with cameras on the forks of the lift trucks to enhance safety when placing pallets at the top of the racks.
46. Warehouses will make more use of available daylight through the use of clerestory windows, skylights and “light pipes” to bring in more natural light and supplement electrical lighting.
47. With increased direct importation of products, sea/land containers will become longer and wider (8-feet-6-inches wide instead of 8-feet-0-inches x 53 feet long instead of 40 feet). This will bring them in line with standard U.S. highway trailers. Also, this will increase the space required for docks and driveways.
49. Stacker cranes and other automation will be used to tie the floors together operationally instead of manned elevators.
50. Robotic handling will be used on a limited basis for stocking and order picking in specific areas. People will still be used where more flexibility is required.
Operational Tips For TodayIt’s been fun conjuring up what supply houses of the future will look like, as I do in the main article. But let’s not get so far ahead of ourselves that we overlook some smart things to do in the here and now. Low-tech solutions are usually better than expensive high-tech ones. Optimize what you have before investing heavily in new technology, and heed the following.
lighting causes accidents and errors. Energy savings and rebates
alone can pay for new lighting in less than nine months.
- Training must be a
top priority. Trained individuals perform better and stay with
- Housekeeping is
extremely important. Poor housekeeping is far more expensive and
sends the wrong message to both staff and customers.
- Damaged goods should
be closely monitored. This is the most obvious indication of both
operational and morale problems.
- Make theft difficult
and constantly monitor to prevent it. Zero tolerance is the best
- Consider future
growth before making any changes. Solving only current
situations is counterproductive because it saps resources and hides root
- Measure employee
productivity regularly. Everyone must know how they are
performing before they can try to do better.
- Employ the best warehouse manager you can find. Look in his car. If it is a rolling pigsty, retrain him or find someone who knows that neatness counts.