Looking to transform your distribution center into a high-performance, precision operation? With the best and brightest minds in the industry, FORTE is a leader in world-class warehouse design, engineering, implementation and support. Our experts are here to help you understand key trends and technologies in distribution operations.

Contact us with questions or comments on our blog posts.

Why You Should Ignore the Results of Your Network Study
03/17/2015 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

While the title is intentionally provocative, my intent is not to bash the practice of network analysis. Obviously, very valuable information is typically discovered during these studies, and I cannot imagine making a decision to execute any substantial changes to a supply chain network without performing this necessary due diligence. Nevertheless, the point that needs to be made is that network modeling provides comparative cost and estimated delivery service timing information that is only one of several factors in reaching network structure decisions. In too many instances, the project team is busy running dozens of scenarios related to the number of distribution centers, replenishment centers and consolidation operations without sufficient guidance/oversight from the executive team. Though cost reductions with delivery service improvement are two objectives that are high on most executives’ priority list, many other considerations likely come into play before a decision to open/close/relocate centers within the network. Full Blog Post >

Add a Labor Management System to Reduce Your DC Costs, Improve Performance
03/10/2015 by Derek Sorensen - Senior Consultant

Consider this: Companies using a labor management system (LMS) report gains in overall distribution center (DC) productivity of 10 to 25 percent. When integrated into a warehouse management system (WMS), LMS has the following potential: Lower labor costs. Predict when and where more workers are likely needed. Provide companies with deep and real-time visibility into their operations. Significantly improve the performance of individual employees and overall productivity. Full Blog Post >

Stick with Good Ol’ RF or Make the Leap to Voice?
02/20/2015 by Derek Sorensen - Senior Consultant

In any warehouse, operational efficiency and accuracy in data collection are critical components of overall productivity. The key is adding the right hardware and software to make distribution center (DC) processes as efficient as possible while balancing the capital investment required. Full Blog Post >

It Takes More Than a Stopwatch to Reap the Rewards from Engineered Labor Standards
01/28/2015 by Will Nowak – Senior Consultant

Engineered labor standards are becoming more valuable across the supply chain with the continued growth of direct to consumer distribution, which encompasses an ever-increasing number of small orders that need to be processed in your distribution center. Although developing and maintaining engineered labor standards is important, the standards are irrelevant if your company’s material handling system, especially the warehouse software, cannot keep pace and ensure that work is evenly and fairly distributed among those being measured. Full Blog Post >

What Can Retail Giants Learn from Uber?
01/05/2015 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

With the holiday season now behind us, it’s time to reflect on just how successful major retailers have become in their quest to achieve true omni-channel fulfillment. This quest to fulfill all orders from one set of inventory and assets has become something of a holy grail for retailers, as has the attempt to provide consumers with instant gratification in the form of same-day or even same-hour delivery. And that’s where the rapid rise of Uber seems so relevant. Full Blog Post >

Amazon’s Big Bet on Kiva Systems Needs a Big Payoff
12/01/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

By now everyone even remotely associated with the supply chain industry knows about Amazon’s 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems Inc. for $775 million. According to an article by Greg Bensinger in the November 20, 2014, edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Amazon Robots Get Ready for Christmas,” that bet may be about to deliver an even bigger payoff. According to Bensinger, Amazon has now deployed as many as 10,000 Kiva robots in warehouses around the country, permitting employees to “pick and scan at least 300 items an hour, compared with 100 under the old system…” Full Blog Post >

Accessories Retailer Overhauls Its Pick Modules
11/03/2014 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

In our recent white paper, “Extending the Life and Productivity of Your Distribution Center,” we discussed a host of issues that can cause inefficiencies at distribution centers (DCs) sufficient to bring operations to their knees — from integrating e-commerce to expanding SKU counts. Significant gains in productivity, accuracy and labor costs can be made in existing DCs with thorough, expert analysis and smart implementation of automation. In this blog, we look at how Vera Bradley overcame significant issues in picking operations to deploy a straightforward but very effective multi-level approach to address its specific needs while making better use of its cube. Full Blog Post >

New MMH Research Report: Warehouse and DC Managers Need a New Breed of Software
10/08/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

In its September 2014 WMS and WCS Implementations and Best Practices report, Modern Materials Handling writes that evolving challenges in e-commerce and omnichannel retailing are forcing warehouse and distribution center (DC) managers to rethink their technology needs beyond the traditional warehouse management system (WMS). Full Blog Post >

The Ten-Week Retail War: A Survivor's Checklist
09/22/2014 by Will Nowak, Senior Consultant

Every year, expectations for the retail holiday season rise. Retail companies feel the squeeze of the economic recession and continue to look for cost-cutting outlets. As a result, suppliers across the globe must react to the competitive situation and develop a winning strategy for the holiday season. Here are several factors to consider and address before the upcoming holiday season: Full Blog Post >

Optimizing Your Consulting Engagement
09/08/2014 by Greg Kreis, Senior Consultant

Working with a consultant to improve your distribution operations can be a very effective way to optimize your processes and plan for the future. Consultants can help you improve labor efficiency, reduce space requirements or design a distribution center to handle growth. During my 20 years as a consultant in distribution operations, I have seen varying degrees of success with consulting engagements. The success of a project is often determined by the degree of involvement in the process on the part of the client and by the effectiveness of making maximum use of the consultant’s time. Based on my experience, I hope to provide some valuable input to help you maximize the benefits from your consulting engagement. Full Blog Post >

Don’t Write Off the Post Office Just Yet
08/11/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) might be down, but it’s far from out. According to an article by Laura Stevens in the August 5, 2014, issue of The Wall Street Journal, while first-class mail volume decreased by 21 percent from 2009 through 2013, package volume increased by 20 percent. The reason, says Stevens, is that “FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. increasingly are moving their own packages through the U.S. Postal Service … For FedEx alone, the post office delivers an average of 2.2 million packages a day, or about 30% of the express-mail company’s total U.S. ground segment.” Full Blog Post >

Demand Growth Demands a New DC Plan for a Firearms Manufacturer
07/28/2014 by Derek Sorensen - Senior Consultant

Challenge: Growth is a double-edged sword. You want the increased sales, but you have to be prepared to deliver the goods to fulfill the demand. Full Blog Post >

There’s More Life in Your Old DC Than You Think
07/09/2014 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

For logistics managers and warehouse operators at companies working to make do with an aging distribution center (DC), it’s like squeezing blood from a rock. Full Blog Post >

Why AmazonSupply Is Flying Under the Radar
05/27/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is all too happy to talk about delivering packages by unmanned drones, same-day grocery delivery and a rumored foray into the smartphone market, but the real stealth bomber in his arsenal may well be AmazonSupply. Full Blog Post >

Growth Challenges: Expanding Network, Increasing Transportation Costs/Delivery Times, Disaster Planning, Software Considerations
05/19/2014 by Derek Sorensen – Senior Consultant

Challenge: The growth experienced by one of the largest restaurant and convenience store chains in the United States from new, remodeled and same-store sales growth and sales initiatives had pushed the limits of this company’s current warehouse operations and transportation network. Its existing software package exhibited deficiencies at its current throughput levels that were tolerable only due to its experienced and knowledgeable workforce, a situation that would not be easily replicated in any network expansion. The company was also experiencing a shortage of storage capacity needed to support business growth, requiring significant off-site storage. Although the workforce was still able to process the throughput, the situation was negatively affecting operational efficiency. The final challenge inside the distribution center (DC) was insufficient dock space for current activity levels. Full Blog Post >

Keeping It Fresh – DC Uses WES to Minimize Loss and Maximize Operational Efficiency
05/06/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Challenge: A leading brand of superior-quality delicatessen products worked with FORTE to overhaul its supply chain network strategy and distribution operations and implement a next-generation warehouse execution system (WES) to manage fulfillment overhauled in a new centralized distribution center (DC). Full Blog Post >

Growth Challenges: Insourcing E-commerce, Using a new DC, Accommodating Future Growth
04/21/2014 by Derek Sorensen – Senior Consultant

Challenge: A leading brand of premium fashion apparel distributes to its wholesale and retail stores from an 80,000-square-foot distribution center (DC) located on the west coast. Historically a wholesale distributor, the DC operated as a classic pick/pack warehouse, which supports this model well. Full Blog Post >

The Big Takeaway from MODEX
03/24/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Having just returned from several days at MHI’s MODEX at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, I was asked by many of my colleagues what the big takeaways were from this year’s show. Other than the obvious observation that MODEX is a growing and well-attended trade show and conference, I came away with the distinct impression that the traditional horizontal, labor-intensive approach to warehousing and distribution in the United States is right on the cusp of being eclipsed by the more highly automated, vertical European approach. Full Blog Post >

Looking Ahead to 2025: A Material-Handling Odyssey
03/05/2014 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

While it’s often difficult to look ahead to the end of the week, the most successful companies keep an eye on what’s coming months and years down the line. Modern Materials Handling worked with a number of industry leaders to assemble the “U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics” based on input from more than 100 thought leaders in the industry, including educators, end users, government, NGOs, suppliers and more. Full Blog Post >

Growth Challenges: Changing Product Mix, ERP Shortcomings, Insufficient Space
02/25/2014 by Derek Sorensen – Senior Consultant

Challenge: It’s not an uncommon situation. With year-over-year sales growth projected across all product categories ranging from 10 to 50 percent, a recreational eyewear and clothing retailer’s success was straining its manual warehouse operations and insufficient space to the breaking point. As companies look to grow, often the back office lags the front, and the warehouse has to try to do more with a distribution operation already at overcapacity. That’s where this company found itself. Full Blog Post >

Software Agents: Filling Gaps and Optimizing Operations
02/18/2014 by Tom Rentschler – VP, Sales and Marketing

In the latest issue of Modern Materials Handling, Bob Trebilcock has an excellent article titled “Looking Ahead to a New Year in Material Handling” that highlights industry trends for 2014. In the piece, there are a number of insightful interviews, including one with Steve Banker, a respected industry analyst with ARC Advisory, where he discusses his take on the importance of software agents. Full Blog Post >

Considerations Before Selecting a Supply Chain Consulting Firm
01/28/2014 by Robyn Poe, Director of Sales and Marketing

What are the criteria for making a well-informed, rational decision in the selection of supply chain consulting firm? The answer depends, of course, on the scope of work. Will you be examining broad supply chain issues or will you be focused on optimizing the operations within the four walls of your distribution center(s)? Or put more simply, do you require the services of a generalist or a specialist? While the old adage, “a mile wide and an inch deep” is an unfair characterization of broad supply chain firms, it does help us make a point about the key differences between FORTE and many of our competitors. Full Blog Post >

Behind the Software: Agent Framework — The FORTE Flexible Software Development Platform
01/07/2014 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Many people know FORTE as a leading firm for warehouse automation solutions. What they may not know is the reason, which is FORTE’s Smart Warehouse Suite™ software that makes every system work. As is often the case, it’s what’s behind the scenes that matters most Full Blog Post >

Improving WCS User Interface Design - Great Interface Design Is Everywhere … Well, Almost
12/16/2013 by Sean Johnson, Senior Software Engineer

Recent upheavals in popular software applications are a reminder how important user interface (UI) design is. In the desktop world, a drastically redesigned Windows 8 interface elicited strong reactions across the user base. A refreshed “flat” UI of Apple iOS 7 continues to make waves throughout the mobile handset community. And, the frequent fine-tuning of Web interfaces in applications we use every day — such as Facebook and Gmail — further illustrates the importance of usability. Simply put: UI design matters. Full Blog Post >

Software Development: A Partnership between Developer and Customer
12/09/2013 by Chris Jenkinson, Senior Software Engineer

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You’ve got an important software endeavor, you compile your requirements, you hand them off to a developer or project manager, and months later you get a monolithic application. If you’re lucky, it was on time, on budget, and met your needs, but according to the 2013 CHAOS Manifesto from The Standish Group, only 39 percent of surveyed software projects in 2012 met those standards. Forty-three percent of projects were late, over-budget, or missing features. Eighteen percent were cancelled outright and never used. Full Blog Post >

Can a Fast Follower Truly Prevail Against a First Mover in Supply Chain?
12/02/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Prior to the “dot com” bubble bursting more than ten years ago, being a “first mover” was considered an unassailable advantage. But over the last decade or more we have seen countless examples of “fast followers,” or second movers if you will, prevailing against the original innovators in countless categories. Witness Samsung’s ability to continue to erode Apple’s dominant share in Smartphone’s as the latest high-profile example of a very rapid follower achieving new levels of success. Full Blog Post >

Pushing Your Automation Project Over the Goal Line
11/18/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

With the assistance of your trusted financial teammate you’ve assembled what you believe to be a compelling case for your warehouse automation argument. The numbers look good, as the payback period and IRR are comfortably within the company’s criteria. But remember this: Your request is only one of several other “critical” projects seeking capital budgeting approval. You may need additional support to propel your request to the top of the list. Full Blog Post >

Assessing DC Automation as an Investment Opportunity
11/11/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP Consulting

Capital budgeting--planning for the acquisition of long-lived assets--is serious business. Capital investments have a major financial and operational impact, often determining scalability and operating efficiencies for years to come. As a result, these investment decisions are critical if the organization is to achieve its long-term profitability goals. Full Blog Post >

Making the Financial Case for Automation, Adding up the Numbers
11/04/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

Business investment decisions always come down to the numbers. You'll need to document cost savings, cash flows, impact on burden or overhead, contribution to profit, etc. And, then you'll have to estimate ROI by using the simple payback formula and/or one of the more sophisticated discounted cash flow methods. In this blog, we'll focus on the quantitatively verifiable savings opportunity achievable through software and MHE automation systems. Next week we'll turn our attention to ROI. Full Blog Post >

Automation Must be the Answer
10/28/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

This is no easy task. Even before the explosion of e-commerce and multi-channel marketing, the nature and complexity of product distribution and order fulfillment have been dramatically changing. Pallet shipments have been replaced with cases and split-cases; and now eaches are overwhelmingly predominant. Management expects continuous improvement to provide higher throughput at quicker speed and with greater accuracy, including 24-hour and even same-day delivery. Plus, competitive pressures to lower prices while continuously containing if not reducing costs make automation a pragmatic alternative to expensive labor. A FORTE-sponsored study conducted by the Peerless Research Group (July 2013) for Modern Materials Handling magazine confirms these priorities as the nearby chart shows. Full Blog Post >

The Big Boys in Supply Chain Know Something You Don't
10/21/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

What do the world’s largest, most sophisticated companies know that many emerging, mid-market companies don’t? Put simply: They know innovation in their supply chains can lead to enormous competitive advantage. Full Blog Post >

Multi-Channel Success
10/07/2013 by Robyn Poe - Director, Business Development

In the September issue of Modern Materials Handling, the cover story focused on Vera Bradley’s efforts to achieve multi-channel distribution success. As the systems integrator and WCS provider for the phased implementation of their scalable distribution center master plan, we are proud of our partnership with Vera Bradley which started nearly a decade ago, in 2004. Full Blog Post >

The Implementation Phase: Going Live
09/30/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

Design phase drawings are fleshed out into detailed installation drawings. MHE systems and ancillary equipment have been ordered. System software and electrical controls have been final-engineered. And painstaking attention has been paid to the seamless integration of the automation systems and the WCS software that operates them with the ERP/WMS. Finally, the system comes together on-site. Comprehensive testing and precise commissioning protocols are the final steps before going live. Simultaneously occurring with these activities is perhaps the most essential requirement of all: Training. Full Blog Post >

Retrofit or Build New? Test. And Then Test Again.
09/23/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

Think back to those painful days of high school geometry, with their endless exercises of theorems and proof statements. Engineers designing and building structures or process layouts still rely on them today, only now they are built into powerful software specification and simulation testing and retesting regimes. Every conceivable detail and scenario is considered to make sure that bridge does not collapse or that polyethylene plant does not explode. Full Blog Post >

The Design Phase: Plan for the Future
09/16/2013 by Jeff Ross, VP Consulting

With the assistance of a consulting engineering firm like FORTE, you’ve completed the preliminary requisites of strategic and operational assessment, data collection and interpretation, and conceptual development/ planning for the ideal new or improved DC facility. Now it’s time to refine the best of these concepts during the design phase. Full Blog Post >

Are Warehouses the Final Frontier for Technology Investment?
09/09/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

The engineered conveyor and sortation systems, pick modules and the like prevalent in many distribution centers appear to be in widespread use. But the fact remains that the majority of warehouses are still based on the traditional approach of pallet racking, shelves, carts and forklift trucks. And many of these operations lack even rudimentary warehouse management systems, relying on old-school, paper-based operations. Full Blog Post >

What Makes a Great Supply Chain Partner?
08/26/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

So how do those passionate FORTE advocates define a great supply chain partner? The director of distribution for a major sportswear company submitted the following nomination for 100 Great Supply Chain Partners: “I consider FORTE a partner in business, not a supplier. Their ability to build cost effective solutions, designed specifically for our order process flow is without equal in this industry. Customer service has achieved the highest level of sustained performance in our history, during the years following installation of their automation. Cost management and meeting timelines are critical when developing the scope of any project. In the years of our association, FORTE has exceeded expectations in both of these key decision making components. They offer options and alternatives, which save time and money without compromising the desired outcome. This is all done as a matter of course and initiative, doing the right thing comes naturally. FORTE is abundant with very talented resources who provide the trust and confidence to act more assuredly on the next steps. I proudly nominate FORTE - there is no other supplier more deserving. Please accept my sincere thanks in advance for this consideration.” Full Blog Post >

Mobility in the DC
08/16/2013 by Brian Lewis, Senior Software Engineer

In today’s automated DC, cartons and staff are constantly moving about, often resembling a chaotic yet choreographed perpetual motion machine. While each DC has its unique aspects, virtually all share these similar layout patterns and operational characteristics: • Human Machine Interface (HMI) systems are positioned at a few fixed points on the floor • People are shuttling to and from these systems to perform their jobs, thus interrupting their routine work flow and procedures • Comprehensive back-end software provides mountains of data but minimal information of timely value • HMI software is geographic in nature, i.e., it’s built around the DC map while staff require immediately available local intelligence Full Blog Post >

Will the Looming Labor Shortage Force Your Hand on Automation?
08/05/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Automated material handling equipment is a relatively mature technology today. The engineered conveyor and sortation systems, pick modules and the like prevalent in many highly efficient and effective distribution centers seem more like the norm than the exception. But even with the widespread use of such technologies, the vast majority of warehouses (including most 3PLs) are still based on the time-honored approach of pallet racking, shelves, carts and forklift trucks. And many of these operations lack even rudimentary warehouse management systems, relying on old-school paper-based operations. In other words, they are heavily labor dependent. Full Blog Post >

Retrofit or Build New? Planning Phase, Part 2: The Concept
07/29/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Part 1 of the planning phase — the Numbers — has been completed. Mountains of recent DC operating data have been mined, analyzed and digested. From this information we’ve gained a fairly accurate assessment of current fulfillment capabilities and capacities. We’ve identified system strengths and weaknesses. We’ve confirmed past performance versus KPI goals. And we’ve exploited this intelligence to project at least short-term volume, the impact of seasonal events, product mix, and the predominant channels through which these products will be sold and distributed. And finally, we’ve established ideal KPI goals for our new DC paradigm. Full Blog Post >

Retrofit or Build New? Planning Phase, Part 1: The Numbers
07/23/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Here’s the situation: Your current DC capacity is nearly maxed out. Marketing is pushing hard to add new channels of distribution, which ultimately translates into multi-channel distribution. And if you come anywhere near the five-year corporate projections for growth — both organic and through M&A opportunities — you’ve got to do something. Whether that is expanding existing facilities and capacities, the building of a new optimized DC, expanding the distribution network or something in between, it begins with planning. Full Blog Post >

Retrofit or Build New? Balancing Short-term and Long-term Objectives
07/15/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

In our previous “Don’t Panic” blog, we offered a scenario where explosive sales growth seriously outstripped your DC’s ability to satisfy customer demand and expectations. We recommended stopgap action based upon a review of current corporate strategies and goals, analysis of the data within the WMS/WCS systems, and the aid of a consultant to provide breathing space for a more deliberative and effective solution. This approach has historically worked well for FORTE’s clients. But there is something else to consider in the “retrofit or build new” equation: The impact of multi-channel distribution and its consequences not only for retailers, but also for distributors and manufacturers. Full Blog Post >

Don’t Panic. When Business Booms Unexpectedly, Find a Stopgap…Then Plan
07/08/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

At one time or another, everyone in business has joked about the dog catching the car analogy. Day after day, the canine persistently and tirelessly chases the car. Finally securing his quarry, the question urgently becomes: Now what? Full Blog Post >

Build the Foundation for Productivity With Smart Slotting Strategies and Wave Planning
06/19/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

Doing more with less is a common theme among the nation’s distribution center (DC) management teams. During the economic downturn, reductions in force played a key role in most companies’ overall survival strategy. As we climb out of the recession, we are faced with the challenge of meeting continually increasing demand with limited resources. There are many strategies and tools that can be employed to improve the collective output of a distribution center staff. Developing a sound operational platform sets the stage for successful deployment of operational improvements. Full Blog Post >

WCS Software Is the Glue of Your WMS
06/10/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

In software parlance, the term “middleware” is used to describe software that provides services to other applications beyond those available from the operating system. Sometimes referred to as “software glue,” middleware is most commonly used to enable communications and the management of data in distributed applications. One instance where the benefits of middleware are readily apparent is in the context of a warehouse management system (WMS). Full Blog Post >

Selecting Enterprise Software: Why Strategic and Tactical Decisions Require Alignment
06/03/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Your CEO has decided (or has been persuaded) that enterprise software is “mission critical” for the organization to achieve its “vision” over the next five to ten years. Or it has been determined the decade(s) old software, which has become a burdensome, Frankenstein patchwork, needs to be replaced. Making this decision is the easy part, although deep down in your soul you know there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth with the expenditure of millions of dollars to purchase, install and debug the software over several years of disruption during implementation. But to some extent, this inevitable aggravation can be mitigated if the tactics of the process deployed in software selection are closely aligned with the overarching corporate strategy driving the decision to implement. Full Blog Post >

An Effective Alternative to Traditional Supply Chain Optimization Modeling
05/27/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

A singular (although challenging) pleasure of my position at FORTE is assisting clients in the identification of the optimal supply chain network for their specific business models. Full Blog Post >

Is Same-Day Delivery Trending Toward Next-Hour Delivery?
05/20/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

No sooner has the supply chain industry become accustomed to the new reality of same-day delivery being implemented in test markets by Amazon than a new, even faster paradigm may be about to emerge. In the April, 2013 issue of Wired magazine, Marcus Wohlsen asserts that we can “Forget next-day delivery. The standard in online shopping is rapidly approaching next-hour delivery.” Full Blog Post >

The True Cost Of Delaying Investments in Distribution Operations
05/13/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

I have to admit I had a terrible tendency to procrastinate in my junior high years. In fact, I turned the advice of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard on its head by never doing today what I could put off till tomorrow. And though I survived and even moved on to high school and beyond, I paid a price for regularly delaying what I knew needed to be done promptly. Late nights, lower performance (measured in grades), pleading discussions with teachers and my parents — all could have been avoided but were painfully routine due to my dilly-dallying. Full Blog Post >

It’s a Puzzlement! Evaluating DC Automation to Keep Pace With Business Requirements
05/06/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Evaluating warehouse systems and operations to determine if automation is the next step in the distribution center’s (DC) evolution has perplexed both IT and DC managers since the marriage of effective software with reliable material handling and equipment (MHE) systems. The incisive executive looks to innovation through automation as a means to keep pace with expanding distribution requirements while maintaining a continuous focus on market-driven customer needs and expectations. Full Blog Post >

Balancing Analytics and Empirical Knowledge
04/29/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

When contemplating the principles of the “smart” warehouse over the weekend, I was reminded of the comments of Master Po from the iconic 70s television series, Kung Fu: “Balance, grasshopper. Balance,” he implored his protégé. Particularly during the situation assessment phase of distribution center design, the concept of balance is especially important, as statistical data must be properly balanced with more empirical evidence of stakeholders and the advice of industry experts. Full Blog Post >

Which Comes First, Warehouse Automation or WMS? Gartner Offers Some Sound Advice.
04/22/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Gartner’s Dwight Klappich published a new research note on March 18, 2013 entitled Consider 10 Criteria When Evaluating WMSs. Among the factors that Klappich recommends Logistics and IT leaders should evaluate when replacing a legacy WMS or buying a new one is the degree of Warehouse Automation employed in the distribution operation. In fact, his recommendation calls into question the traditional practice of evaluating and implementing WMS prior to tackling the layout and design of the material flow through the warehouse. Full Blog Post >

Data, Data Everywhere, but not a Drop to Drink
03/25/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

The sheer variety, volume and velocity of information — both structured and unstructured — currently available to DC managers and operators is both incomprehensible and, for the most part, indecipherable. A mobile, streaming avalanche of data overwhelms us and “Big Data” defies the structure and compartmentalization of traditional enterprise applications. Yet, this external “miscellaneous” information can be of great value, providing insight to the SCM/SCE team. Full Blog Post >

Why it’s Great to Wait
03/18/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

In today’s multi-channel distribution environment, fulfillment operations are squarely focused on better, cheaper and faster order delivery to the customer’s doorstep. Consumers have come to rely upon the Internet as an instantaneous resource to evaluate, compare, purchase and receive products. Automation, along with supply chain execution (SCE) software, is turning extraordinary performance into routine service. Customers have come to expect next-day or second-day receipt of their entire order with complete accuracy as the norm. For many customers, such service is a big factor of the e-commerce buying experience, greatly influencing their future purchasing decisions. Fulfillment, therefore, has become an important supplier differentiator, which progressive businesses are converting into high levels of customer satisfaction and repeat business — the holy grail of customer loyalty. Full Blog Post >

Buyer Beware: Part 2
03/11/2013 by Bob Babel - Vice President, Engineering and Implementation

In the preceding blog, we covered the cost, quality and performance caveats of using pre-owned MHE components. In this second and last installment, we'll review the practical issues which are sometimes overlooked. Full Blog Post >

Buyer Beware: Part 1
03/04/2013 by Bob Babel - Vice President, Engineering and Implementation

Return on investment (ROI) is frequently used to measure the success of a capital-expenditure (CAPEX) improvement project. Project leaders are often tempted to maximize ROI but minimize CAPEX, even if it means gambling on component quality. One tactic used to reduce the cost of a high-priced line item is the selection of pre-owned equipment rather than the purchase of new material handling equipment (MHE). This may be equipment you purchase from a second-hand dealer or that you already own and have used. Full Blog Post >

Who’s in Charge, IT or Operations?
02/25/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Historically, operations management has been firmly in charge of logistics and distribution in most companies. But with today’s increasing emphasis on consolidating applications with global ERP vendors, IT is more commonly calling the shots when it comes to supply chain management (SCM) applications. Gartner analysts C. Dwight Klappich, Greg Aimi, William McNeill, Jessica O’Brien and Chad Eschinger published Predicts 2013: Collaboration, Cloud and Evolving Strategies Will Drive Global Logistics on November 19, 2012. According to their research, “Two compelling technology megatrends are the accelerated move to the cloud and the growing dominance in SCM applications of application megavendors.” The Gartner analysts predict that those megavendors will control one-half of the global supply chain execution market by 2016. Full Blog Post >

Planned vs. Predictive Maintenance
02/18/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Recently, the CIO of a client company contacted me regarding the maintenance of information systems infrastructure and hardware supporting his DC’s physical conveyance and automation systems, otherwise referred to as MHE. Our discussion quickly led to an IT systems maintenance solution based on OEM recommendations and facility factors (e.g., temperature zones, energy zone, eco-friendly considerations, etc.). MHE maintenance, however, was a knottier issue. Certainly, the OEMs publish suggested maintenance schedules. But the client’s business has been growing steadily, and demands on the facility’s MHE are increasing. So what strategy should we pursue to ensure maximum MHE uptime and DC efficiency? Full Blog Post >

The recovery is for real. It’s time to retrofit the Distribution Center - Part 2
02/11/2013 by Bob Babel - Vice President, Engineering and Implementation

Implementation. With a one or two shift operation, retrofits generally are installed during off-shift periods and over weekends. Where there is a three shift operation, the work is generally done on the lowest volume shift when parts of the automation may need to be turned off periodically. The other option with three shift operations is to utilize multiple crews on weekend shifts, which extends the timeline and increases cost. Full Blog Post >

The recovery is for real. It’s time to retrofit the Distribution Center - Part 1
02/04/2013 by Bob Babel - Vice President, Engineering and Implementation

Gradually, almost imperceptibly it happens: Your shiny new, state-of-the-art distribution center has reached its design horizon. In an increasingly dynamic marketplace, ever-higher customer expectations, coupled with innovative competitor responses, pose challenges that may threaten your continued prosperity. Your business has changed, and you need to respond. Full Blog Post >

WCS 2.0 Is Talking. Are You Listening?
01/28/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Before joining FORTE, my career in distribution center (DC) operations had largely been focused on enterprise-level software applications, such as as warehouse management systems (WMS). To me, the warehouse control systems (WCS) - the software that interfaces with the WMS - simply ran the “iron,” the material handling equipment (MHE) - to move product efficiently and fulfill orders accurately. The WMS was the “brains” of the DC…the WCS its “central nervous system”…and that was that. I made the mistake of not recognizing, much less understanding, what the WCS could really do: its power to harness available information to more productively operate the DC in the “now” and more insightfully manage it in the future. Full Blog Post >

Gartner Initiates Coverage of Warehouse Control Systems and SCE Specialty Consulting Firms
01/21/2013 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

The esteemed research analysts at Gartner published their comprehensive Supply Chain Management Market and Vendor Guide, 2012, on December 14. For the first time in the history of this guide, Gartner has initiated coverage of both Warehouse Control Systems (WCS) and Supply Chain Execution (SCE) Specialty Consulting Firms. Although 87 pages in length, this research provides a concise listing of the supply chain management application and technology categories and vendors covered by Gartner. FORTE has earned recognition in both of these brand new Gartner categories. Full Blog Post >

WCS 2.0 Smart Warehouse Suite™
01/14/2013 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

A “Heads Up” to Optimal DC Operations: I had just finished my presentation on FORTE’s new WCS 2.0 Smart Warehouse Suite™ (SWS) when a marketing consultant in attendance asked: “What main value or benefit does this application provide a potential customer?” Reflexively reverting back to the PowerPoint script, I responded: “SWS is a ‘technological enabler’ to identify and remedy poor performance while empowering sustainable operational excellence.” Dazed but not confused, the consultant pressed the question: “As plainspoken as possible, tell me the main reason a customer would want to buy WCS 2.0.” Full Blog Post >

Facility Design: Automation Is Not Always the Answer
01/07/2013 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

Many distribution organizations believe a Warehouse Management System (WMS) will solve all their problems while others believe automation is the solution. Neither assumption is correct. Full Blog Post >

Bridging the Gap from Data to Intelligence
12/18/2012 by Michael Howes - Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Wikipedia defines “enterprise software” as a collection of computer programs with: common business applications; modeling tools that capture the processes, enabling an organization to accomplish its work; and development tools for building applications unique to the organization. This software is intended to solve an enterprise-wide problem, rather than a departmental problem. According to Martin Fowler, an internationally recognized author and international speaker on software development, “Enterprise applications are about the display, manipulation and storage of large amounts of often complex data and the support or automation of business processes with that data.” Full Blog Post >

From the Kitchen to the Distribution Center - Part 2
12/10/2012 by Derek Sorensen - Senior Consultant

Optimal warehouse space utilization, reduced labor costs and increased throughput are all achievable through effective slotting. Years of industry consultant research confirm that slotting alone typically can (1) increase picker productivity between 7 and 20 percent, (2) reduce replenishment labor costs from 3 to 13 percent and (3) increase storage space cube capacity utilization by as much as 40 percent. Full Blog Post >

From the Kitchen to the Distribution Center - Part 1
12/03/2012 by Derek Sorensen - Senior Consultant

Arriving early for a party at a friend’s house, you offer to help the harried host — by offering to unload the dishwasher and straighten up the kitchen. They demur; you insist. Springing to the task, you immediately realize you don’t know where everything goes, and your friend must continuously advise you where to store the mixing bowls, glassware, heavy cast iron skillet, oddball gadgets and so on. Over time, your friend has slotted every item in the kitchen to optimize their productivity and maximize limited storage capacity. They have attained labored space efficiency (at least temporarily), which is precisely the goal in managing your DC operation. Full Blog Post >

Is There a Hotter Topic Than Multi-Channel Fulfillment?
11/26/2012 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Whether you call it “multi-channel” or the currently trendy “omni-channel” fulfillment, few topics have generated more interest and analysis in the supply chain industry this year, and with good reason. Retailers are experiencing dramatic revenue growth by adding a direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel, certainly aided by the ubiquity of smartphones. In fact, some analysts are predicting that retail e-commerce sales will grow to $279 billion by 2015. Full Blog Post >

The Unconventional View
11/19/2012 by Larry Boroff - Director, Automation Systems Engineering

24 VDC Motorized Roller System vs. the Traditional Motor-Reducer Conveyor System: When confronted with distribution center capacity and efficiency problems, the traditional solution focuses on a typical conveyor system where 480 volts is delivered to widely distributed AC motors and transferred to a gearbox (drip pan included) that drives several long belts needing continual tracking. In many cases, and for many reasons, these mechanical Rube Goldberg monsters are the practical choice. But they are not necessarily the best choice. There are applications where motorized drive roller (MDR) conveyor systems utilizing low-voltage, 24-volt DC brushless motors may be the best, albeit unconventional, solution. Full Blog Post >

Avoiding the Costs of Non-compliance
11/12/2012 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

During the mid-1990s, several of the country’s retailers initiated vendor compliance programs that included substantial financial penalties for failure to comply. Penalty-based compliance systems are now prevalent among large retailers, resulting in challenges to operational efficiencies within the shipping distribution center (DC) due to the need to pull orders off-line from the standard fulfillment process and perform specific labeling prior to shipment. In the worst case scenario, the additional work to print and apply labels is not completed with 100 percent accuracy, and the DC incurs tens of thousands of dollars in penalties for noncompliance, in addition to the investment in labor. As a DC manager, I unfortunately had some first-hand experience with the challenges of complying with very detailed demands as well as a limited, but very painful experience with the cost of an instance of non-compliance and the resulting penalties. Full Blog Post >

Supply Chain Mastery: Differentiator or Mere Table Stakes?
11/05/2012 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

In the October 22, 2012, issue of Forbes Magazine, publisher Rich Karlgaard, whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the course of my career, challenged us in his Innovation Rules column to understand that winning companies “excel in both the hard stuff and the soft stuff of business.” Whether you think of this dichotomy as tangibles and intangibles, science and art, left brain and right brain, or yin and yang, the truly great companies (e.g., Apple) have gained mastery over both sides of the equation. Although we think of Apple’s success as a result of Steve Jobs’ relentless obsession with getting the “soft stuff” right (making Apple’s products “insanely great,” to use one of his favorite expressions), the truth is that Apple also excels at the “hard stuff.” Full Blog Post >

Distribution Operations: Market Leader or Laggard? Part 3
10/29/2012 by Charlie Rizzo - Program Director, Strategic Accounts

The previous blog focused on the processes and procedures — the maps and metrics — of daily DC operations vis-à-vis customer expectations and competitive pressure. Now we turn to an assessment of automation systems. Order processing throughput speed is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal and absolutely essential to achieving a competitive advantage. You can realize significant improvements through process flow charting — (cut out the wasted and no longer necessary activities); by using the functionality in your software systems to minimize excessive entries or steps; by maintaining up-to-date slotting; and, lastly, by fostering a true team effort with cross-functional training and a staff dedicated to a common goal … get every order out on schedule or ahead and go home on time! Full Blog Post >

Distribution Operations: Market Leader or Laggard? Part 2
10/23/2012 by Charlie Rizzo - Program Director, Strategic Accounts

Be Proactive and Thrive: If your goal is to be the leader in your competitive space, you must begin with a cold and hard assessment of your current capabilities, and then identify and prioritize those areas where you need to immediately improve. In this installment, we'll look at increasing customer expectations and competitive pressures that expose potential weaknesses of your fulfillment processes and procedures. The next and concluding segment will focus on automation, controls and software which may have aged and are now ineffective. Full Blog Post >

Distribution Operations: Market Leader or Laggard?
10/15/2012 by Charlie Rizzo - Program Director, Strategic Accounts

This is the first of a three-part blog regarding competitive leadership in distribution center (DC) "order drop to out the door" cycle time performance. This first installment discusses the threats and opportunities of rapidly changing technologies and heightened customer expectations. The following blogs will examine specific DC obstacles and constraints that need to be addressed, including all team members who are required to enable you to move forward. Full Blog Post >

Best Practices in Supply Chain Management: The “It Will Never Happen to Me” Report
10/08/2012 by Michael Howes - Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

You are ready for another busy day. Critical orders need to be picked, packed and shipped. Customer service and your well-earned reputation are once again on the line. Your teams of associates are humming like a well-oiled machine. You’ll meet your deadlines! All of a sudden, you notice that totes and cartons are recirculating or being rejected on the shipping sorter. Then you notice nothing is moving in the pick modules. At a sortation rate of 150 cartons/minute, the product is stacking up quickly and everything is in gridlock. Time (and space on the conveyor systems) cannot be recovered. Full Blog Post >

Business Development or Trust Development?
10/01/2012 by Robyn Poe - Director, Business Development

When I began my career in business development at FORTE a number of years ago, I wondered, “What will it take for me to successfully engage senior-level supply chain executives in meaningful conversation, or for that matter, have them return my call or reply to one of my emails?” I started doing some research and came across a well-known sales strategist who provided insight that simply made sense to me. Jill Konrath is a sought-after public speaker and accomplished author of two bestsellers, “SNAP Selling” and “Selling to Big Companies.” Fortune magazine named the latter one of eight “must reads” for sellers, along with “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” “The New Strategic Selling” and “Getting to Yes.” It has also been an Amazon Top 25 sales book since 2006. Full Blog Post >

Today’s “Throw-Away” Apps Mentality Requires a SMARTer Approach
09/24/2012 by Michael Howes - Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

Today, the proliferation of technology in our day-to-day lives is changing the way business gets done. The instant gratification offered by mobile apps and Web-enabled services is shaping the paradigm through which traditional software packages are viewed. Consumers are accustomed to highly targeted apps that offer the streamlined services they need — nothing more, nothing less. And, if one app doesn’t meet the consumer’s needs, there is a long line of low-priced (sometimes free) competitive apps waiting for a chance to do so. Full Blog Post >

Third-party Logistics Providers: Should We Bid Frequently or Not?
09/17/2012 by Drew Forte - Senior Director, Strategic Account Sales

I was recently asked a question by a prospect regarding the use of a third-party logistics provider (3PL). The question seemed simple enough, but definitely had strategic implications. This is the question as it was posed to me: What are the benefits of having a 3PL operate a specific facility for 10+ years vs. sourcing 3PLs every three years with the chance that a different 3PL would win the business? Full Blog Post >

Are You a Supply Chain Leader or Follower?
09/10/2012 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

In a webinar entitled, Supply Chain Solutions: Growth Opportunity for Software Providers, conducted in July 2012 by Gartner, analysts Chad Eschinger and Dwight Klappich shared some of the strategic differences between supply chain leaders and followers, noting that the leading supply chain organizations are shifting from playing defense to playing offense. According to Gartner’s research in the supply chain management (SCM) space, 2011 was the year in which business priorities shifted toward customer satisfaction and growth initiatives, away from improving efficiency or productivity and reducing costs. Improving customer service was the number one priority in the 2011 survey, having been no higher than third in each of the preceding three years. Driving business growth through targeted supply chain contributions became the second priority, rising from only the sixth position the prior year. What is really fascinating about the survey is that “innovation” is now the third-highest business priority. Clearly there’s a pent up demand for SCM innovation that has been stifled by the slow growth and continued uncertainty in the economy. Full Blog Post >

System Debugging Prior to Implementation
09/04/2012 by Michael Howes - Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

“…There must be a million things that have to come together for this DC to start up. There’s no way!” I can remember saying these words when I stepped into my first automated distribution center startup. Looking back, what I didn’t realize was that I was being naive; there are 2.7 million things that have to come together. Back then, a typical software implementation would take weeks and often required long days. And after all that effort, issues often arose. Full Blog Post >

The Evolving WCS
08/27/2012 by Michael Howes - Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

I am often asked by prospective and current customers to describe what a Warehouse Control System (WCS) is and what it does. Depending on the situation, I find an analogy helps. The one I use most often is that of the computer in a car. For many, I talk about that period when we transitioned from distributer caps and points to electronic ignition: the transition from being in control to turning it over to software and some piece of silicon. Those times were challenging because it seemed that one device instantly became responsible for every problem you encountered with your car - at least that's what the service tech told you. And because it was there, you lost control. Full Blog Post >

Receiving: Gateway to Operations Excellence/Productivity
08/20/2012 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

Like the padlock and key that protect a building’s contents, the receiving operation safeguards the overall efficiency of your warehouse. The typical approach when receiving product is to get it unloaded and put away as quickly as possible. At the end of the day, many warehouse managers equate a clean receiving dock with a successful operation. Unfortunately, this approach can often create downstream problems and mask internal inefficiencies. Speed should not be the focus of receiving; in fact, speed as the primary objective can negatively impact an efficient warehouse operation. Full Blog Post >

Total Objectivity: The Value Is More Than Subjective
08/13/2012 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Whether you choose to call it “vendor agnostic” or “supplier neutral,” there’s no question that a truly objective approach to the evaluation and implementation of facility automation solutions and supply chain execution system (SCES) software offers real value to clients. At FORTE we call our objective approach to the business “client-side services” because we don’t have commercial arrangements with any suppliers of equipment for expected volumes of business and we don’t resell SCES software. In other words, our only allegiance is to our clients and recommending the most appropriate level and blend of technologies best suited to address their specific challenges. Full Blog Post >

WCS or WMS? How About WCS 2.0?
08/06/2012 by Michael Howes – Vice President, Software Engineering and Services

In the July issue of DC Velocity, editor at large James Cooke poses the question in his Techwatch column, WCS or WMS: Which is right for you? Cooke correctly notes, "Not so long ago, software used in distribution centers fit into neat categories. There was the warehouse management system (WMS), the market's dominant application, which essentially ran the DC operation, overseeing activities like receiving, putaway, and picking. Then there was the warehouse control system (WCS). Designed for distribution centers that utilized automated material handling equipment, the WCS primarily served as an interface between the WMS and the automated devices." Today, however, as Cooke notes, "… the boundaries between WCS and WMS applications have blurred." Full Blog Post >

Corporate Culture: Top Down or Bottom Up?
07/30/2012 by Tom Rentschler - VP, Sales and Marketing

Is a company’s corporate culture something that is imposed from the top, or does it emerge organically from within the organization? Recently I had the privilege of attending the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference where the keynote address was delivered by legendary management guru Gary Hamel. Hamel, for those not familiar with his work, is “the world’s leading expert on business strategy,” according to Fortune. In his address to approximately 1,500 senior-level supply chain executives, he argued persuasively against the old, hierarchical, command-and-control management style spawned by the Industrial Revolution. Drawing on his latest research and book, Hamel demonstrated that it is innovation in management—rather than in operations, products or strategies—that is most likely to create long-term advantage. He literally calls for nothing less than a revolution in how large organizations are structured, managed and led. Full Blog Post >

Taking Simulation to the Next Level
07/20/2012 by Jeff Ross - VP, Consulting

I recall the excitement and awe I experienced the first time I saw simulation of a material handling system 30 years ago. The screen displayed cartons being transported and sorted on a conveyor system that appeared to be exactly like the one I had risked my career to purchase several months prior. The simulation, I was told, would guarantee that the system to be installed in the service parts distribution center I operated would function correctly and without merge, congestion or sort issues. Being young and relatively naïve, I felt completely reassured by the simulation and the positive aura around me as each carton flowed efficiently throughout the conveyor system and diverted to the appropriate sort lane for palletizing. Full Blog Post >