Shop Floor Scheduling Challenges?

By Lori Adams, President, CloudMFG LLC

Is your scheduling process a dry-erase marker and whiteboard?  After spending thousands on an ERP system, are you still manually scheduling.  If you are struggling with shop floor control, Protected Flow Manufacturing is the solution for you.

Introduced in 2015, Dick Lilly has done it again.  As the pioneer in Advanced Planning and Scheduling, Dick wanted to develop a methodology to address the variability in today’s supply chain.  He has revolutionized scheduling with the introduction of PFM.  As studies have shown, less than 10% of all ERP implementation use the scheduler.    If your manufacturing system has a scheduling module and you find yourself using Excel spreadsheets to schedule the floor, Protective Flow Manufacturing is the solution for you.

When one looks at the root cause as to why the answer is simple -- Scheduling methodologies and capacity planning do not allow for the variability required to handle the changes in the customer requirements, the supplier deliveries dates, the multiple shifts and technical staffing issues, and the routings on the floor.  Basically, by the time you print a dispatch report or have a scheduling meeting, the information is outdated!

 Introducing Protected Flow Manufacturing --- a revolutionary concept developed by one of the pioneers in the Manufacturing ERP Industry. 

Protected Flow Manufacturing looks at 3 concepts -- increasing the speed of an order, releasing the product at just the right time, and creating a threat level to normalize which order should be worked on next.

Protective Flow Manufacturing builds a framework that looks at the touch time and the buffer time.  The order that has the highest threat level is the order to be worked on next.  It is that simple – the highest threat level at a given resource is the order that needs to be worked on next.   If your lead time to touch time ratio is greater than 3, there is a great opportunity for increased profits.  And, if your company's lead time to touch time ratio is greater than 10, there is a tremendous opportunity. 

Please visit our website at\overview to sign up for a free demo of Protected Flow Manufacturing.


3 Benefits of Attending VISUAL Focus, the Premier Conference for VISUAL ERP Users

By Jack Shannon

Let’s start with the details

VISUAL Focus will take place October 21-24, 2018 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, FL. Here is what’s included in the conference:

· Over 130 sessions and workshops, including 30 new sessions. This is the major draw to past attendees of the conference. There is so much to choose from, an attendee can only attend a little over 10% of what is offered. That’s why companies typically send more than one attendee.

· One-on-one consulting sessions. This is another very popular feature. Want to talk to an expert about an issue you are looking to solve? Enjoyed a session but want to dive deeper into it with the presenter? That’s what the one-on-one sessions are for.

· Vendors with products that complement VISUAL’s functionality. Every vendor at VISUAL Focus 2018 has been invited by the Partners who organize the conference because we have worked with them and trust them.

· Networking opportunities. You will be surrounded by hundreds of other VISUAL users, all with their own VISUAL experiences. In addition, there will be over 40 VISUAL experts available to teach or consult with you.

· A fun off-site event. Join us at House of Blues at Disney Springs for an evening of dinner, drinks, and fun.

· Discounted price. Early bird registration is open! Register by April 30 and save $400. The cost of the conference is $1,950 and includes everything listed above (except workshops), plus accommodations at Coronado Springs and most of your meals. This is the same base price as our last conference. (Workshops are an additional $100 for each 2-hour session to cover the cost of the virtual machine you will receive on a thumb drive that will be used during the workshop. This assures everyone has the same environment, and the thumb drive is yours to keep so you can continue practicing what was learned in the workshop.)

Here are the benefits

1. You will spend 3 days talking and thinking about VISUAL and its use in your company. In my 30+ years in manufacturing, I have never been to a company that wasn’t actively trying to get more productivity out of their operations. VISUAL is used to run your company. It should be treated exactly the same as companies treat their production equipment: Keep it maintained, figure out ways to get more out of it. Learning the capabilities of VISUAL from experts and surrounding yourself with other VISUAL users who can inspire you – or reaffirm your procedures – creates an environment that produces solutions. It’s not magic, but seeing the excitement and sense of clarity attendees have by the end of the conference sure makes it feel like magic.

2. You will address ongoing business issues that have never been solved. We all have a mental list of problems we would like to solve but haven’t. That little voice in our head that says, “There has to be a better way.” Listen to that voice, go to the conference, and let a community of other users and experts help you. If you could have figured out the better way on your own, you would have. Get the help you need, solve the problem and move on. You’ll be glad you did.

3. Become part of the VISUAL community. There are thousands of companies and tens of thousands of users that run VISUAL. Tapping into that community is tapping into knowledge and solutions that are available long after the conference is over.

Don’t come alone!

Of course, coming to the conference by yourself is better than not attending at all. However, for the best experience, bring co-workers. Think of the conference as a giant buffet of knowledge and solutions. You can only eat so much. By bringing co-workers, they can go to sessions you aren’t attending. As a group, you are bringing more knowledge and solutions back to your company. In addition, you are not the lone voice for change when you return from the conference. There is a team involved, so the ability to enact that change is increased. Remember, it’s not a solution until you implement it.

For more information visit the Visual South Blog

Check Out Visual South Products and Services at their website

About Jack Shannon

Jack is the President of Visual South and has been working with the product since 1996 when he bought it in his role as a Plant Manager. Since 1998 he has worked for Visual South with roles in consulting, sales and executive management.

Continuous Improvement and Supply Chain Education

By Mark Thomas, Program Director,Centre of Excellence in Supply Chain and Logistics Management, Schulich Executive Education Centre.

New business opportunities and corporate reorganizations are a way of life – and depending on your skills and abilities these changes can lead to promotions, side-shifts or other moves.  

Let's look at you. You are a current or future leader in your company. You are a cut above average and have a real career going.  

But it's not what you've done – it’s what's to come. It’s time to add some dash to your step. You need to build upon your vast knowledge and get refreshed.  Rediscover yourself.  Be more confident in trying new approaches.  Learn new things like Lean Supply Chain. Develop a network of professional friends. Keep your lifelines strong.

How do you do this quickly? Ask your company to co-invest with you! Take Executive Education courses in Supply Chain Management and learn the modern senior manager’s view. 

Pamela Ruebusch, the founder, and owner of TSI Group says “Executive Education helps to strengthen a person because it gives the individual time away to be more reflective and be in a learning ambience.  You come out with a broader perspective than you had before you walked into the program.  It also allows you to learn from others and share experiences with other business leaders.” 

The Schulich Supply Chain programs are based on knowledge sharing. They build on the expert experience in the classroom.  A seasoned and well-known Facilitator and subject matter expert manages the flow of the days and provides challenging insight. You test new principles and practice the ideas with teams in mini case studies. 

Ruebusch continues “The outcome is that you will have a far clearer idea of the leading practices that are being used, and what could be applied to your company. It's a rapid way to get many years experience all within one program.”

OK – will your company support you and the investment?  As they say on TV: “You’re worth it!”.

This is about you, your career and your company’s needs for high-quality management. How can you continue to succeed without professional growth? How can you grow without new experience? Isn't it important to get that experience quickly? Isn’t the fastest way to gain new experience through peer interaction in the context of an expert facilitator?

Position yourself and develop your knowledge into tomorrow’s wisdom for your leadership and business success.

For more information on the Schulich Supply Chain programs, visit . And for any questions and to see what discount you are eligible to receive, call Giovanna Di Ciaula at        (905) 882-7683 and she can help you through the process.

The next Masters Certificate in Supply Chain starts February 9, 2018, so you should make the call to invest in yourself now.

 “Supply chains are a competitive advantage, the Masters Certificate in Supply Chain at SEEC is a must investment for companies looking to make this happen. The courses, instructors, and fellow classmates are the first rate. I highly recommend this program" 

 -Jeff Lem, President Portable Intelligence

Mark Thomas_official.jpg

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is Program Director for the Centre of Excellence in Supply Chain and Logistics Management at the Schulich Executive Education Centre of York University in Toronto.  He can be reached at or        416 988-9750

The year that was... 2017


“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”


We are grateful for all the wins earned and all the lessons learned in 2017.

As we draw this year to a close we would like to celebrate our 2017 memorable moments!

2017 Highlights

  • NEW RELEASE: RF Plus™ for Infor VISUAL Manufacturing TELNET v6.6
  • NEW RELEASE: RF Plus™ for Infor VISUAL Manufacturing VM Web (HTML5) Release Phase 1
  • Welcomed our new customer- Whip’s Carpentry and PAC Worldwide
  • Barcoding for Infor VISUAL Manufacturing using RF Plus™ WMS with Visual South
  • Commenced a new partnership with Visual South
  • Attended the Visual Business Solutions Conference in Chicago
  • Successfully developed a New Upgrade to RF Plus™ for Infor VISUAL Manufacturing TELNET v6.5
  • Welcomed new customers Aquion, Basintek, Nelipak, MS Aerospace
  • Commenced a partnership with Visual Business Solutions (VBS)
  • NAI Group of Scottsdale, AZ went live in less than 8 weeks. 
  • Developed a new compatibility with labeling software-Bartender®
  • Welcomed new customer Canada Metal Pacific Ltd Expansion
  • Commenced first European partnership with Quartess SCM
  • Introduced a new feature Trace Lite for VISUAL ERP
  • Attended Visual User Group Meetings
  • Became a member of CAMSC
  • Attended the Synergy, Visual South and BizTech's User Conference VISUAL FOCUS in Kentucky
  • Welcomed new customer NAI Group
  • Introduced our new customer portal
  • Integrated with VISUAL Project

We would like to thank our Pi team, customers, partners and our online readers for making this year a success and hope to gain your valued patronage in 2018.

Express your gratitude for 2017 by sharing your favorite moments in the comment section below.

Stay tuned to see what is in store for 2018!!

Top 5 Reasons to Upgrade to VISUAL 9

By Jack Shannon

What version of VISUAL are you on? If it’s not 9.x.x, you are not on the latest version. VISUAL 9 was a major release; minor releases are designated as 9.0.1, 9.0.2, etc., and are released every quarter. Depending on the version of VISUAL you are on today, version 9.x.x has anywhere from 75 to hundreds of enhancements. Here are my top 5 in version 9.

1. Notifications

Do you have any of these needs?

·       Confirm to a customer their PO was received

·       Inform a customer their order shipped

·       Let a salesperson know an invoice was paid

·       Inform production a raw material was just received

All of these notifications can be automated with Lifecycle Notifications. This new feature allows a user to notify internal or external people when a defined event occurs in Customer Order Entry or Purchase Order Entry. In addition, internal users can be notified when a predetermined invoice event occurs. Want only you to be notified when something happens? You can do that too.

Messaging has been around for a while in VISUAL, and it remains. In fact it’s the engine that is used to send the notifications. The difference is Lifecycle Notification in VISUAL 9 can be managed by each user as needed, because no code is required to be written to get it to work. Think of it as a messaging wizard.

2. Custom dashboard KPIs

VISUAL dashboards were introduced in VISUAL 8 and are designed to give users a quick visual of key performance indicators (KPIs), and allow them to drill down to more granular detail. You could create as many dashboards as you wanted; you could share dashboards or keep them private. The one limiting factor was the only KPIs that could be displayed were the ones that were pre-built. Although the pre-built KPIs were flexible, customers wanted to display personalized KPIs.

This limitation was eliminated in VISUAL 9. Your own data source along with drill-down parameters with the results displayed in a grid or chart view can now be created. The pre-built KPIs are still there, but now with the ability to create personalized KPIs; your dashboards can display exactly what you want.

3. Performance lead time

When you think of lead time, you are probably thinking of the lead time field in Part Maintenance, or the vendor lead time to supply a part. (Bonus enhancement feature: 9.0.2 allows for different lead times for different vendors for the same part. Consider this a reward for reading this far.)

Performance lead time isn’t about parts, it’s about the entire organization. VISUAL 9.x.x can track and chart how long the quote to invoice process takes against a standard time you develop. This overall time can be broken down by disciplines such as Quoting, Sales, Work Order, etc. Does production complain it takes sales too long to get a work order created after a quote is won? Start tracking it and find out. More importantly, this gives insight into your company’s performance from the customer’s perspective.

4. Batch email invoices

The title says it all. In the past, invoices could be emailed, but it was one at a time. With VISUAL 9, those days are over. Batch process all invoices that will be sent via email; or process one at a time. The choice is yours.

5. RMA enhancements

The VISUAL developers worked with users to enhance the entire RMA process. Based on these discussions, many changes were made to not only the RMA window, but also Customer Order Entry. Highlights include:

·       Customer contact information from the customer order is copied into the RMA window, but can be changed as needed.

·       Ten user defined fields have been added to the RMA window header and each line item.

·       Evaluation work orders can be copied into repair work orders.

·       If multiple parts are received in an RMA and they represent multiple supply work orders, all the different work orders can be linked to a single repair line on the customer order.

Final thoughts

I focused on the bigger enhancements for my top 5 list, but as a former user, I understand sometimes the smallest enhancement could have the biggest impact on your use of VISUAL day-to-day. A full list of enhancements can be found on Infor Xtreme. If you’re not familiar with logging on to Infor Xtreme, talk to the person in charge of VISUAL in your organization.

For more information on this subject visit the Visual South Blog

Check Out Visual South Products and Services at their website

About the Author

Jack is the President of Visual South and has been working with the product since 1996 when he bought it in his role as a Plant Manager. Since 1998 he has worked for Visual South with roles in consulting, sales and executive management.

8 Effective Ways to Putaway

Putaway is one of those functions that is put on the backburner when there is a lot of picking, loading or replenishment to do. As a result, aisles become full, fill rates fall, and the warehouse starts to look like a maze of products.

Here are 8 great ideas for putaway success – warning discipline required!

1.     Take the OHIO approach

 Only Handle It Once, in other words, do a putaway on the same day product arrives.

2.     Use ASNs.

Advance Ship Notices require a certain amount of trust from your vendor, but it will dramatically speed the receiving process and allow your warehouse management system to identify a putaway location for the product while it is en route to your warehouse.

3.     Receiving Sortation.

If you are receiving mixed pallets of product, break them down into individual license plates sorted by zone or a single product. This will greatly reduce travel time and get the product into pick or reserve locations that much faster. 

4.     Putaway fast movers to pick locations or close to pick locations.

You’ll need to do some calculations taking into account velocity and frequency of orders to determine which putaway locations to use but generally speaking reserve locations should be close to the pick locations.  

5.     Putaway to empty locations

 When you do this, you get a freecycle count of that location and if in fact, the location is not supposed to be empty you just flagged an issue for immediate follow-up.

6.     Cross Dock

This actually eliminates putaway tasks and if your warehouse management system supports this function, it should alert pickers to go directly to the putaway staging area to eliminate any potential pick shortages.

7.     Plan your Putaway

Several of our customers will not accept product before its expected arrival date. The reason is simple, they schedule just enough resources and identify expected putaway locations for each day’s anticipated product arrivals.

8.     Track and Analyze

What’s your putaway rate by the pallet, by case, or by loose pieces (eaches)? When compared to expected product arrivals that day, this will give you the total number of expected putaway tasks to be performed. Your WMS can then provide you the actual number of putaway tasks performed that day and in term allow you to analyze the efficiency of your putaway function and fine tune your metrics.

Putaway while not considered one of the ‘glamour’ functions of the warehouse is a process worth mastering. Studies have shown that those who master this function are typically benchmark leaders in their respective industries.

If you liked this post please share. Also, feel free to leave a comment and visit our Warehouse, Inventory and Supply Chain Blog to see other helpful posts like these.

How and When to Label Your Outbound Goods (BONUS: Best Practices for Labeling in your Outbound Process Area)

Most often people think of labeling involving only finished goods – product that is going out the door to your customer or if you’re a master distributor, your customer’s customer. However, we are going to expand this topic by including work in progress goods that are going to a third party for some work that you can’t do in-house and means this product will come back to you for further work or just warehousing. 

For all outbound labels the key considerations can be boiled down to what needs to go on the label to satisfy:

1.     Your downstream warehouse processes like put away, picking, and shipping

2.     Customer’s inbound processes and requirements

3.     Government regulations (includes transportation, environmental, health, food, drug authorities just to name a few)

4.     Industry regulations that call for compliance

5.      Freight forwarders and transport company’s requirements to ensure unimpeded movement of goods

While labeling guidelines, for the most part, are readily available, the catch for most companies is knowing how and when to produce them.

To help you decide on the how and when we are going to identify the basic categories of labels and with each, there is a best practice to produce them.

Finished Goods Label – best time to produce it is as soon as the product arrives at the facility or when it comes out of production.  The most efficient way is to produce the label(s) in real time as part of the workflow which may mean re-engineering some of your systems to support a more dynamic interaction between the user and your software.

Work in Progress Label –  this is often a tricky label to produce as technically speaking it is not quite a finished good part # yet.  However, a label is needed to identify the product to the next work cell or in the case of sending it out to a third party for work not supported in your facility. The label we typically produce is a license plate containing the work order # and the last operation performed on that part(s).  This label is produced and applied upon completion of that operation. 

Industry or Customer Compliance Label – if you are a made-to-order shop then this label is typically applied at the end of the production process. If, however, you’re picking the product out of the warehouse, then you’ll have to apply the label during picking or in the staging area of shipping.  Ideally, your warehouse management system has the ability to generate customer-specific labels on a per order basis instead of the generic label. Often these specific labels are printed on a 4x6 size label and applied on a per pallet basis.

Shipping Label – this is typically produced by the courier system or your transportation management system. The label is either applied to a per case or pallet label depending upon the carrier. At this time, you’re also producing any hazmat labels and even labels in the language of the country they are being shipped to.

Having proper labeling instructions available online or better yet as a video will assist the shipping department to produce and apply the right label.

Producing outbound labels often involves a myriad of rules and guidelines, the payoff is avoiding penalties, having the shipment quickly processed at border crossings and better customer satisfaction. 

How you design the systems and workflow to produce and apply these labels is critical to the efficiency of the warehouse. So, fold the labeling process into the workflow so that the labels are available for production upon the completion of that specific operation. And don’t forget the training of operators on when and how to apply them.

If you liked this post please share. Also, feel free to leave a comment and visit our Warehouse, Inventory and Supply Chain Blog to see other helpful posts like these.



Purchase Order Receiving and Put Away using RF Plus™ for VISUAL Manufacturing Telnet Screens

As easy as 123. Learn how to do Purchase Order (PO) Receiving and Purchase Order Put Away for traceable and non-traceable parts using Telnet handheld screens of RF Plus™ Warehouse Management System for VISUAL Manufacturing. 


Top Inventory Tips for Infor Visual Manufacturing Users- Part 2

Picking up where we left off. Below are some more tips which you must consider before starting a barcoding project. These important tips will help you ensure that your resources are used in the most lucrative way possible.

For First Five Inventory Tips Click Here

6. Unavailable Locations VISUAL allows you to designate certain locations as being unavailable, meaning any product in that location is not available for your MRP processes. Examples of product that go into this location include goods waiting for inspection, expired product, product on hold for a special order, or consignment goods.

7. Units of Measurement Visual allows you to keep multiple UOM for the same part. So you can have an UOM for supplier ordering purposes, a stock keeping, UOM, and a picking or selling UOM.

8. Allowing Locations to go Negative This option allows you to take out more than what is in the location according to Visual – this drives the location to a negative number. Useful for backflushing activities or products that are JIT and get taken directly to the shop floor and not an inventory location.

9. Backflush With a barcoding system in place you may want to review which parts remain as backflush parts. Tracking parts that are used frequently as opposed to using backflush processes will result in cost savings and less money being tied up in that part.

10. Demand Supply Link Certain parts are issued automatically to a WO upon receipt. Like Tip #9, you may want to review this procedure and consider having the barcoding system track this item individually especially if it’s high value.

You can find the first 5 inventory tips in our previous post

Top Inventory Tips for Infor Visual Manufacturing Users- Part 1

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

For more information on other such tips and tricks head over to our blog

Top Inventory Tips for Infor Visual Manufacturing Users- Part 1

These tips have saved our customers both time and money over the years. Consider them, before starting your barcoding project.

1. Locations Turn it on. Don’t use Main as your default warehouse location for all products. You won’t be able to find much stuff if it’s all in Main.

2. Trace If you’re going to trace product such as Lot # or Serial # buy Lot Serial Trace. Third party products like RF Plus require this module to be installed. Also, any additional trace fields you add and are designated as data entry fields are automatically shown on RF Plus’ screens.

3. Part Alias To support scanning of barcode labeled product that comes in from your supplier with a different part # from yours, enter this as its part alias.

4. Kitting Use this when you have finished goods products that are ‘kitted’ together during the picking process. You have to indicate a particular part is part of a kit by updating the Parts table directly in Visual. You need your database administrator to do this. Also, a kit has to be part of your Engineering BOM.

5. Actual Cost If you can’t go with standard costing, Visual allows you to customize how you calculate the cost of your finished goods. This puts you into the category of those who use actual cost to track costs of finished goods. You’ll need to make sure your inventory control vendor can follow this formula for calculating this actual cost whenever finished goods are received into Visual. Often this is a chargeable change.

More inventory tips coming up next week! Stay tuned!

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Labeling for Success in your Warehouse’s Inbound Process Area

This week’s article is about labeling on inbound goods – both raw materials and goods for resale.

Let’s start by looking at the basic anatomy of a label which can have at a minimum any one of the following:

-        Part Number

-        Purchase Number (typically your PO #)

-        Sales Order

-        Production Date

-        Lot # and/or serial #

-        Quantity

-        Unit of Measurement how the above quantity is expressed e.g. each, pieces, kg, lb

We are not considering specific label formats for automotive, retail, drug, food, and electronics industries to name a few. 

However, once the product and labels arrive at your destination the question becomes what can you do with them?

Here are 5 basic rules for efficient inbound labeling:

1)     Support for the Supplier’s Part # 

Unless you use the same part number schema as the manufacturer, you’ll need your systems group to build an alias table which cross references the manufacturer’s part # to yours. The alternative, of course, is to get the supplier to put your part # on the label – this is not typical as we have seen it done for only very large buyers e.g. Wal-Mart.

2)     Make sure the barcode font is readable by your barcoding equipment

There are two areas where you need to be mindful. The barcode symbology and the width of the white and black lines as measured in thousands of inches or millimeter.  Generally, a 10-15 mil* barcode will get you a 1 foot scanning distance.  We have seen suppliers (as in ours) send in labels with the part # half that size, that can’t be scanned by our existing equipment.  As for symbology, don’t assume all barcodes are equal. A barcode is basically a font and not everyone uses the same font. For example, suppliers from Europe and Japan still use EAN-13 which is very different from our UPC-A standard in North America.

3)     Parse the Barcode

Often the part # or other information you need is contained in one super long barcode like a UCC label which comprises 42 characters and contains everything you need to know about the product including expiry date, weight, part #, date of manufacture, etc.

This is a relatively simple programming exercise to strip out the characters you don’t need and only populate the fields with the data you need. This becomes more challenging when you have to parse a variety of long barcodes and making sure your equipment can scan those barcodes consistently.

4)     Re-labeling

Ok, you’re stuck re-labeling because perhaps you have to put your own traceability data on the label, perform QA tests on the incoming product, capture its weight, or the supplier won’t play ball. Consider technologies such as portable printers to minimize travel time, printing the labels in advance based on ASN, make sure your warehouse application supports printing of the label WHILE you are performing a receiving activity this will save a lot of operator time, and lastly only print a minimum amount of information if there is already a lot of useful data already on the supplier’s label. Also remember to remove or label over the supplier’s label if it’s not going to be used. 

5)     Create a Labels Action Committee

This is often left to the project manager or IT person to figure out the labeling standard. It’s been our experience that they don’t have the clout or expertise to fully understand the range and impact of all these labels coming into your facility. Suggest a team comprising of individuals from IT, operations, purchasing, and sales – as the label coming in is in most cases the same label going out to your customers.

Since the Inbound process is one of the most important warehouse activity, labeling of incoming goods is an essential part of that process. These five steps will help you implement your inbound labeling program with a minimum of drama and angst.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

For more information on other such warehouse processes and how you can optimize them, head over to our website



5 Practices That Best-In-Class Warehouses Follow

Wireless warehouse transaction processing is widely used in large warehouse operations (over 50,000 square ft.). But when we consider all warehouses in North America (more than 800,000), it is actually used by only 30% of them.

Irrespective of size, all warehouses must have barcoding and/or wireless technologies to support paper sparse or preferably paperless warehouse transactions. As far as large warehouses are concerned, they can’t rest on their laurels for long. The next level for their operation is getting more visibility for their products, Outside the four walls. This includes products in the yard, in transit, at off-site third-party warehouses and the ones sitting on the shelves of their customers.

A common trait amongst Best in Class (BiC) warehouses is the sharing of electronic data with supply chain partners. Before BiC warehouses had this capability, they first perfected electronic sharing of data within their own four walls – a “walk before you run” development process.

Besides endangering the environment, using paper for warehouse transactions involves data risk, delays and errors. Below are just a few issues associated with paper usage.

Gets written down wrong – we’ve all been guilty of writing down the wrong number either in the right sequence or not at all. 

Gets read wrong – do your 5’s look like an eight or your 7’s look like a two? You may have no problem reading your own writing but others may complain that your writing looks like a doctor’s prescription.

Gets entered wrong – 1 every 200 keystrokes is the error rate associated with data entry practices.

Gets Lost – perhaps a politically correct term would be misplaced, someone puts down the completed pick list by the water cooler or leaves it in the lunch room, only for it to turn up a few days later. 

All of these issues contribute to a major problem: lack of timely and accurate information within your warehouse operations. No surprise that most warehouse management system (WMS) providers including ourselves usually find a 1 to 1 ½ year ROI on WMS by simply driving out paper.

Given the cost of Wi-Fi routers and barcode scanners, there is really no financial excuse for making this investment; your real ‘cost’ is putting in the time to make it happen. In keeping with the “walk before you run” philosophy here are four suggestions for getting started with barcoding and wireless technologies.

1)  Inventory Counts- Ingredients are: barcoded locations, parts, and scanner (could even be your smartphone). Scan and download the file to an excel spreadsheet and then reconcile to your accounting system. At a minimum do it every month if you have 12 turns a year, more frequently the more turns you have.

2)  Inventory Moves- A good librarian will tell you that having the book in the library is worthless unless they know exactly where it is.  Likewise knowing the product is ‘somewhere’ in the warehouse makes you reliant on someone’s memory or luck in terms of finding stuff. Track product in and out of locations and back up those moves with regular counts.

3)  Labeling- Make sure that every incoming product has a barcode that is scan-able. This endeavor is not costly but does require a reworking of your receiving processes to include re-labelling and/or making the sure the barcoded part number on the product is compatible with your existing part numbering schema.

4)  Reward System - Creating a reward system for accurate inventory capture and maintenance doesn’t have to cost you much. It could be a pizza lunch, movie tickets, or just recognition. Making new work processes into habits is much easier with an incentive system. A 5% improvement in inventory accuracy on $100,000 of inventory is $5,000 less in inventory you won’t need to write-off or order because you can’t find it in the warehouse.

These suggestions will not only ensure that inventory is accurately captured and maintained but also help you contribute, even if it is in a small way, towards a better world for future generations.

As we march towards online inventory to support customer queries and/or shopping, inventory accuracies must be in the high 90’s, anything less means you’re throwing away money developing great looking websites and marketing promotions driving online demand. Websites are only as good as the inventory and warehouse processes supporting that data.

We hope this article helps you move to paper-free operations in your warehouse.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Visit our website for more insights on increasing warehouse efficiency and inventory accuracy.

5 Ways to Integrate Customer Service with Warehouse Operations

Are your customer service representatives (CSR) unfamiliar with your warehouse operations? Are they even aware as to where your warehouse is? If you think your CSRs should only know how to use the UPS tracking site, then you may want to reconsider their training!

Often times CSRs and your warehouse team are only vaguely aware of the other's presence. It's of great benefit to have them working more closely together for the sake of your customers.

Here are top 5 ways you can take customer service to the next level by integrating your two teams.

1.   Inventory Reports:

“What do you mean you don't have this in stock!” 

Every organization has experienced this scenario, where a customer is enraged because your website promises the availability of an item but the actual product has been EOL(End-of-Life) since last quarter. And of course, your frontline CSRs have to do damage control when the front is breached. Hence, it is beneficial to have your warehouse team send a daily or weekly inventory report to your CSR team leader, so that customer hopes are not raised and then dashed.

2.    Logistics Training

“Shipping = Point A to Point B. Oh, and here's your tracking. Please call UPS/FedEx/ (insert shipping courier) if you have any questions!”

Let's be honest, your customers are not going to be happy to hear that. They don't want to be the ones taking care of the logistics of their order and honestly, they shouldn't have to. Have your CSRs learn the ins and outs of traces, brokerage fees, international surcharges and to get friendly with the courier by signing up for preferred services. This will help them achieve customer service excellence.

3.   Warehouse tours

“Is the packaging destroyed constantly while in transit? Are shipments often late? Which products are often returned due to defect?”

If at all possible, have new and veteran CSRs tour your warehouse facilities. As they are constantly getting feedback about products received by customers, they will provide your company with valuable information (like the number of products often returned due to defect or damage) regarding your warehousing practices. They would know and they should share!

4.   Latest news on products and services

“What's new, doc”

A good customer service team is updated on the fly whenever new products are launched, but so should your team in the warehouse. Teach them, how the products work and why customers should and will be excited. Get them pumped about the brand and you'll be surprised by the increase in efficiency and productivity! Much more exciting than brown boxes, right?

5.    Teamwork


While this applies to all departments in your company, it's especially essential for your customer service team and your warehouse team. During holidays and anticipated product launches, make sure they have each other's backs because you want those shipments going out on time and friendly service for post-delivery. As they help each other out, the integration of these two very crucial departments will really amplify the services your customers will receive which will lead to overall encouraging and positive work environment.

We are sure, these 5 steps will guide you to get both these departments onboard. 

Inventory Optimization-A journey

We at Portable Intelligence Inc., view Inventory Optimization as a journey and not a destination.  While the journey is certainly different for every warehouse, the factors that result in optimized inventory are common across the board. We use a simple framework while conducting a warehouse review. Ultimately, it is this effective framework, that allows us to not only apply our technology successfully but also to optimize inventory management.

A warehouse is not just a brick and mortar structure. It is an ecosystem which runs on 5 crucial components: Business Outcomes, People, Processes, Resources, and Technology. We have discovered that success of any new system or program depends on its understanding of this ecosystem and hence, it has to work in cooperation with these components to be beneficial.

So, what are these 5 important components of a warehouse that influence inventory optimization so deeply?

People: What is the level of skills and experience of your warehouse team? How would they handle the changes to their jobs and/or need to upgrade their skills in support of the new technologies and processes? Also training an older workforce can be much different from training millennials who grew up using iPads and smartphones. And don't forget safety and need for equipment certification that may result from any warehouse changes. It is essential that your team members are trained to understand the impact of their daily actions on your inventory optimization goals.

Processes: Many times, processes in warehouses are paper driven or a number of in-house systems have been created to augment the existing enterprise resource planning (ERP).  So, it's not uncommon to see workers writing down production information onto paper that are later keyed into these home-grown systems. Also, it not uncommon to see a very limited use of bin or warehouse locations which negates any need to record stock picks or transfers. Thus, processes may reflect a quantity orientation around recording the in/out movement of product and not location changes. This could lead to disparity and greatly affect inventory optimization.

Resources: This speaks to the assets within the warehouse and includes racking, material handling equipment. If a company is adding more stock keeping units (SKUs), it may result in having to reslot pickfaces or create new pickfaces. What happens if all the first level pickfaces are full? Thus, companies will have to add additional shelving or create a second level of picking which may imply the use of new material handling equipment (MHE). Ultimately, this means moving inventory around such as consolidating slower moving products into the same location, getting rid of obsolete product, and or looking at 3PL providers.  Lack of proper resources, be it equipment or warehouse capacity will certainly hamper inventory optimization efforts.

Technology: This is almost a review of company's existing IT infrastructure from its wireless network, operating system versions, and server capacity and software systems (ERP) along with any third-party bolt-on products to homegrown systems). The presence of these systems may dictate the need to integrate any new systems - this is often the costliest and most risky of any IT project.

Business Outcomes: This may be the last factor but it is the most important. Business outcomes provide purpose to any inventory optimization efforts. For example; if the company is hoping to reduce its cycle time from order entry to manufacturing to shipment, then inventory accuracy plays a key role. The key to inventory accuracy is the use of locations, regular cycle counts, and real-time data collection. Likewise, if the goal is to support an increase in online sales, then your inventory optimization processes have to support the creation of split cases, each or less than case picking, and replenishment programs that ‘speak’ in the quantity of an each or multiples thereof.

It is often said; the journey is just as important as the destination. We agree. Achieving optimal inventory balances is the ultimate goal. However, enjoy the journey because when done properly, Inventory Optimization will turn your warehouse into a competitive advantage.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

4 Tips for Supply Chain Management Success

Supply chain management is an important part of many businesses and its efficiency is essential to the organization’s financial success and customer satisfaction. If done correctly, it helps an organization reduce costs, streamline processes, manage the workforce and increase customer service quality. However, most organizations in this volatile market, fail to understand the need to change and upgrade their supply chain tactics, which in turn, results in a waste of time, money and effort.

Are you looking for ways to turn your supply chain more lucrative? Then, below are 4 tips that will help you attain success in your supply chain management efforts.

1.     Get into Cycle Counts

It’s surprising how many companies still rely on quarterly and annual counts instead of cycle counts. Yet, the benefits of doing regular cycle counts are:  it is less disruptive operationally, less resource intensive and it helps identify warehouse process issues, sooner than later. An easy way to implement a cycle is to count all your pick locations at least once per week where, typically, you need the greatest accuracy.  Another method is, to use ABC Categories based on sales volume. ‘A’ category products account for 80% of your sales, ‘B’ products represent the next 16%, and ‘C’ represents the final 4%.  Count all your A’s every month, B’s every 6 months, and C’s once every year – adjust your count frequency based on inventory turns.  It is best to not let a product turnover too many times before cycle counting it.

2.     Get Mobility as in Real Time Data

Real Time Data means, collecting the data and uploading it to your inventory system at the point of transaction and this means using mobile technologies.  Today, there is simply no excuse from a cost or choice perspective.  Supply chain managers today can choose from traditional ruggedized handheld terminals to consumer devices like smartphones and tablets. Also, keep on the lookout for Cloud-based solutions based on BLE (Bluetooth low emission) Beacons, this is truly progressive technology and promises to light up the supply chain to levels of visibility never thought possible. 

3.     Get Connected

It is no longer sufficient to only track inventory within the four walls of your distribution center. Therefore, many best in class supply chains are investing in electronic technologies to enable communications and to allow tracking a product with key suppliers and customers.  The supply chain of the future will become the DC of the future.  Communications will compress supply chains and this will give distributors and retailers the ability to deliver products to your door the same day it’s ordered no matter your location. No supply chain can afford to be an island. The internet is the greatest supply chain for data on the planet.  Not contributing to or drawing from it, means, you will be left out on the vast majority of purchasing decisions

4.     Get Frugal

Get rid of the paper.  If you want to be more cost efficient, drive out the paper first and operations will be a lot easier to streamline.  And as the business grows you won’t have to buy more filing cabinets!

In this volatile market, where competition is running rampant, it is crucial to charge ahead, embrace and adopt the change to stay profitable. We sure hope these tips help you ensure that your supply chain management helps your organization achieve its financial goals.

If we missed out any tips or if you feel you have tried something that helped your organization achieve supply chain success then please share in the comment section below.

2016 in Review - WHAT a YEAR

2016 will go down as a year of surprises and change. Yet lost in the many headlines is the emergence of the new industrial revolution: Industry 4.0 and the continued double digit growth of online ordering and supply chain excellence as its principal enabler. 

For Pi, it was a great year. Here are my top highlights and what’s in store for 2017.

2016 Highlights:

·       New Releases - RF Plus V6.1 and TM Plus V2.41

·       Attendance at Infor’s customer conference: Inforum, NY

·       Attendance at Synergy’s customer conference in Mississauga, ON

·       Joining the steering committee of Visual Manufacturers Canadian User Group

·       Becoming the Director of Education for the Material Handling Society of Ontario

·       Product roadmaps for 2017 and 2018 – a comprehensive plan ensuring our solutions continue to provide value to our customers

·       Go Lives at key customer sites: Bio Botanica, Pharmasol, Ardisam, CP Supply, Stemcell

·       Opening our Spin Studio and new employee wellness program

·       24 Spin of Hope Raising $2,800 for a cancer cure

·       Substantial investment in R&D representing close to 30% of sales

·       Launch of our Industry 4.0 solutions (see what’s in store below)

What’s in Store for 2017

1.     New Pick module using location based services and augmented reality

2.     New demo facility featuring game changing Industry 4.0 technologies for the supply chain

3.     HTML5 web based screens for RF Plus

4.     TM Plus standalone version

5.     Merging TM Plus with RF Plus to create a unified control center with visibility and scheduling of purchase orders, work orders, and customer orders.

6.     New enhanced features for RF Plus including WIP Tracking, picture capture, and document display

7.     Attendance at Visual Connect user conference in Kentucky

8.  Release of new Customer Portal

I’m sure come this time next year I’ll likely be adding few more items to this list. As the late great Ted Rogers said: “The best is yet to come”.

Happy Holidays and Only the Best in 2017!

- Jeff Lem

President - Portable Intelligence Inc.

Pi Customer Quotes and one of our Core Values: Continuous Learning

Recently we brought a prospective customer to one of our existing customer locations so they can see the RF Plus software live in action. Amidst the discussions, inventory and material handling personnel from our existing customer made the following comments:

“increases productivity like you wouldn’t believe - you can’t imagine how much time I save every day” -Bobby

“I’m 57 and I’ve learned it, it’s simple, at first it was scary, but it didn’t take long at all, I want to go further with it at this point…” -Warren

They weren't prompted to say these things, they were interacting directly with the prospective customer and speaking from the heart. While preparing this blog, I made the connection of their quotes to one of Portable Intelligence's Core Values: Continuous Learning. Below is a description of that core value.

Continuous Learning

The LCBO was our first major project, from that experience we learned the importance of developing in house skills around our core competencies. If we didn’t teach ourselves system design, coding, project implementation, network installation and integration we would never would have made that project a success and that success launched the software group.  

Continuous learning means not allowing a lack of knowledge or experience from venturing forward rather it is the bell we answer when we face new challenges. It also means we will continue to invest in ourselves as we are truly only as good as what we know but also knowing what we don’t know.

Despite all our degrees, certifications, and accomplishments, we will always remain humble. Confident in our knowledge and experience - we embrace the future making change and uncertainty our strength. 

As Ted Rogers said: “You can never be the smartest person in the room but you can always be the most prepared.” 

- - - - - - - - - - 

Bobby and Warren were not afraid to continue their learning despite uncertainty and embraced their company's vision to succeed. 

We are happy to provide on site live demonstrations at nearby existing customers wherever appropriate. If you are interested in such a demonstration, we look forward to coordinating such an event for you. Please contact us at your convenience.

Daily Cycle Counts – Inventory Accuracy Insurance

It can be said that your health is a function of a number of daily disciplines such as getting enough sleep, eating right, and even flossing. Similarly your warehouse health is a function of daily habits such as labeling, receiving, putaway, picking, shipping, and cycle counting

In theory if you practise perfect warehouse processes, the need for cycle counts is eliminated. However we live in the real world and stuff happens or doesn’t. Just as we buy insurance to protect our property and valuables, daily cycle counts are your insurance against losing inventory accuracy.

Daily cycle counts.   There are several considerations and approaches for performing a cycle count.

ABC Categories- This consists of categorizing your inventory into three categories. The ‘A’ category products are counted most frequently and account for 80% of your sales, while the ‘B’ products represent the next 16%, and ‘C’ represent the final 4%. However this approach makes sense if your sales fall into the 80/20 rule whereby 20% of your products represent 80% of your sales. The number of inventory turns for those products will determine how frequently you count those products.

Pick Location- A simpler approach is to count every pick location at least once per month.  Locations with greater through-put should be counted more frequently. When counting pick locations it is important to not have any picking or replenishment activities being performed. 

Raw Materials- You can take a value based approach whereby the most valuable items are counted more frequently or a volume based approach which counts the items most frequently used. I prefer a hybrid approach of counting items that are the most valuable and most frequently used. However even the lowest value items are important in that their sudden absence can affect production.

Trace- When counting it is also important to note trace information such as expiry dates and lot numbers. As result cycle counts is often followed by turning over inventory that has expired or about to expire.  

Schedule It- Whatever way you decide to count your inventory requires that you create a schedule and execute daily on that schedule. Choose a time during the day that you are not picking or performing replenishment activities. In fact replenishment activities should be performed after the daily cycle.

 If performed correctly and consistently, cycle counts allow you to maintain a high level of inventory accuracy with a minimum of disruption to warehouse operations. 

Truly cycle counts are that ‘stitch in time that saves nine.’

All the best!

Jeff Lem

Inventory Best Practises for Shipping

As the economy improves and more shopping moves through the internet, companies are seeing an increase in shipping volumes and are looking to scale their operations. However many shipping processes in warehouses today are manually based and will result in a disproportionate cost increase if shipping operations are merely expanded based on current businesses practices. 

Shipping is the warehouse activity where the ‘rubber meets the road’. This function typically generates your invoice, ASN (advanced ship notice), a series of EDI transactions, and numerous metrics such as cases/totes shipped, inventory turns, on-time shipments or lines shipped vs scheduled.

Nothing less than 100% shipping accuracy and execution is acceptable; the general viability of your business is at stake.

With that in mind here 10 best practises to consider:

1.      Two Stage Shipping – at first this may sound like we’re imposing an extra step. However we’re advocating that the order be staged before it is shipped.  Too often warehouses don’t recognize the staging function as a critical part of the shipping processes. Staging is used to consolidate an order, pre-plan a load into a trailer, inspect the order, generate labels, and other documentation.

2.      Shipping Processes - take steps to automate basic shipping processing as a means of leveraging existing shipping resources as volumes increase. This could include functions such as automatic generation of the shipping and packing slip when picking is done or picking direct into the carton to be used for shipping.

3.      Hot Loading – increase flow through the warehouse by having product coming off the manufacturing line go direct to shipping. This involves developing the appropriate systems to divert picks to the production area and coordinated scheduling between shipping and production.

4.      Cross Docking – goods arriving in the receiving area where there isn’t sufficient quantity in the warehouse, means diverting picks to that area. Also certain products by their nature and value e.g. bread and dairy products must be cross docked. In any event systems, must support the cross dock processes and the shipping area or receiving area personnel must be trained to support this pick/ship process.

5.      Packing materials – kraft paper, foam, bubble wrap, and lined bags, allow for general re-use and are recyclable. Being green in the shipping area is an expectation by today’s environmentally conscious consumer. If you must use Styrofoam peanuts consider putting them a plastic bag.

6.      Rate Shopping Systems – Evaluate rate shopping software sometimes called Transportation Management Solutions to make carrier choices for each shipment. These solutions take into account cost, delivery time and daily shipment volume to arrive at the lowest overall cost.

7.      Packing Slip – Perhaps my biggest shipping pet peeve is that many companies pick by a packing slip and not a true pick ticket which would show locations to pick from, order of picking, and any instructions. Much happens during the pick processes such as substitutions, short picks and even over picks. Any change to the order means manually re-entering what was picked and re-printing the pack slip thus creating re-work and inefficiencies. The packing slip should only be generated upon completion of the picking and inspection functions.  

8.      Labelling – cases and pallets should be clearly labelled with scannable barcodes (smudges or badly printed barcodes) for proper identification by downstream workers and by the customer.  Amazon’s best practise for labels placement is no less than 1.25” from any natural edge. Multiple pallets belonging to the same shipment should have identifiers such as “1 of X.”

9.      Shipping Weights – for safety purposes cartons weighing no more than 50 pounds (and if over clearly marked with warning label). Pallets no more than 1500 pounds gross weight and pallet contents should be secured with stretch wrap or twine.

10.   Parcel and LTL Automation – Many solutions from freight forwarders and transport companies provide the means to develop a transportation strategy that encompasses optimal shipment of parcel and LTL/freight shipments. In fact many transportation consultants earn their living by keeping a portion of any savings when they develop a cost saving shipping strategy.

The exponential growth of online and mobile technologies has changed the way we shop and buy. Driven by omni-channel marketing and 24/7availability, same day fulfillment and delivery will become the new benchmark of warehouse performance.  

Warehouses today must absolutely evaluate, automate, and adopt best practices if they are to stay relevant in this new paradigm. 


All the best!

Jeff Lem


7 Ways to Minimize Inventory Obsolescence and Get a Proper Inventory Turnover during Replenishment

Replenishment is the physical act of moving product from a bulk or storage location to a pick location where product is selected for shipment to a customer. Some call this process a forward pick or letdown and it usually involves breaking down a pallet into the selling unit of measurement such as cases or eaches as part of the re-stocking function.

The replenishment function is critical to getting proper inventory turnover. How and when you replenish will have a direct bearing on the quality of those turns and keep inventory obsolescence to a minimum. Here are some best practices to consider.

1.     Advance Replenishment
Triggers for replenishment of pick locations are typically based on minimum-maximum quantities in a location. Adding the day’s order flow to your replenishment quantity allows you to do advance replenishment. If the day’s picks exceed available spaces in the pick locations, where possible, a temporary pick face will be created at the end of an aisle. Always aim to have enough stock on the floor to support that day’s picking activity. 

2.     FIFO Replenishment
Have your material handlers pull stock from bulk locations that contain the oldest stock. This is often easier said than done as it requires some sort of pallet identifier like license plating, lot number, or even an arrival date in order to differentiate which pallets to select for replenishment. If you’re like many warehouses that use double deep storage racking, which is only accessible from the front, you’re going to use a modified form of FIFO replenishment for the sake of efficiency. 

3.     Directed Putaway
When stock in the pick faces are low or empty, your putaway logic should support receiving to pick location replenishment. This may include the capability to break down pallets in the receiving area into units of measurement acceptable for the pick locations. 

4.     Prioritize Replenishment
Ensure pick faces that need to stock up in support of the day’s picking activities are prioritized ahead of min-max or what can fit into a pick face. Constantly monitor picking backlogs and add additional manpower as needed if replenishment is falling behind.

5.     Multi-Task the Replenisher
Have the person doing replenishment perform cycle counts when a location is zero or near zero. Make that person responsible for ensuring stock is properly arranged, location labels are visible or present, damaged stock is replaced, and inventory is neatly arranged, making sure it is easy to pick.

6.     Replenish Directly to a Staging Location
If a picker can’t find what he needs, don’t make him circle back to the warehouse; instead, send the replenisher directly to the pallet in the staging area. One of our customers designated a person to this function and nicknamed him ‘Shorty’; his job is to fill all orders just by drawing stock from other locations in the warehouse.  

7.     Replenish by Zone
As with picking, over 50% of replenishment activity is spent in transit, moving from location to location. Economize that movement by organizing replenishment by zones or groups of locations in the warehouse.

In summary, replenishment is a balancing act; too much replenish activity means wasting resources, while too little causes fill rates to suffer. You know you’ve achieved the right balance when you’ve scheduled just enough replenishment activity to support that day’s picking.

Jeff Lem