Volume 13, Issue 5 - September/October 2011

Supply Chain Dynamics
inside distribution

Streamlining the Supply Chain
by Dino Lanno

The auto glass supply chain has been hit hard by ever-increasing fuel, transportation, lease and labor expenses. We must consider ways to offset these rising costs through productivity gains, operating efficiencies and quality enhancements. Taking advantage of technology is essential in reducing these expenses.

Today’s modern glass distribution facilities rely on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) when ordering and receiving glass. Purchase orders are transmitted to the supplier electronically in a simple-to-read, flat file that can be automatically uploaded into its order processing system. Immediate confirmation of product availability can be shared along with the Advanced Shipping Notice (ASN).

The use of electronic ordering and billing has several advantages. It:
• eliminates data entry and human error;
• reduces the time to process the order;
• creates a paperless environment; and
• provides instant documentation and confirmation.

Barcode Boons
Improvements in barcode scanning also have helped streamline the supply chain once the glass enters the distribution center. Using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), barcode scanning allows immediate receipt of goods, which then are directed more accurately into the proper storage position through state-of-the-art warehouse management systems. Those systems optimize putting parts in the right place to improve efficiency of picking and density for outbound shipments.

Today’s barcodes have come a long way. Within a distribution center environment, most order fulfillment is picked on forklifts. Traditional barcode signage is flat and requires the barcode reader to be almost perpendicular to the sign. The barcode’s limited read angle causes a lot of wasted time while the forklift operators maneuver back and forth to achieve the required perpendicular position to the sign. Reflective barcode labels that can be wrapped around 12-inch diameter barrels hung from the ceiling are now available. The large, curved surface of the tube gives the forklift driver many angles from which to read the barcode, significantly reducing the time to scan.

New technologies also have improved the picking process by introducing a hands-free capability. Voice picking directs the worker to each pick position and prompts him to move to the next pick without having to scan a barcode. In barcode applications, ring scanners allow workers to pick glass with two hands while still reading the barcode for a more accurate and safe selection.

“The continual addition of new parts is very challenging, but technology helps us keep all the data current.”

Outbound Shipping
The next phase of the distribution process is outbound shipping. One of the biggest costs in distributing glass throughout the country is the freight. Based on this, maximizing the amount of glass in the shipment is critical. When you break it down to individual boxes, the number of windshields you can fit inside the box is a focus. One way to increase pack density, while not incurring breakage, is to pack windshields based on curvature and size to allow for proper nesting of parts. This becomes key when positioning windshields inside the distribution center for efficient mixed pallet picking.

The continual addition of new parts is very challenging, but technology helps us keep all the data current. A standardized part number makes this possible.

Another consideration that technology supports is the tracking of Department of Transportation codes, which are required in order to be compliant with the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard (AGRSS®). This includes recording batch codes, part numbers and expiration dates on adhesives, which can now be done using smartphone devices. This certainly allows distributors and retailers both to streamline the day-to-day business of buying, selling and returns as well as recall efforts when needed.

Technology Reigns
While investing in technology can carry a high price tag, the benefits are clear. It improves the accuracy and timeliness of a shipment while lowering the risk of damage. It helps improve the work environment of associates, keeping them safe, eliminating strain and improving productivity.

Dino Lanno is senior vice president of supply chain and manufacturing for the Safelite Group in Columbus, Ohio.

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