Founded in 1957, School Health Corporation is a leading national provider of supplies and services to health professionals in educational settings from pre-school to college. The company offers more than 20,000 products ranging from health supplies, sports medicine equipment and early childhood products to physical education, recreation and special needs aids.
The Challenge: Maximizing the Layout of a New Warehouse
With School Health’s success and growth, the company recognized that it had outgrown its primary warehouse facility. It committed to build a new, larger facility in suburban Chicago.
“While we are adept at warehouse operations and order fulfillment, our current team had never designed a warehouse from scratch before,” said Beth Reed, School Health’s project manager/training developer.
How should the company slot its product inventory for maximum efficiency and throughput? How best to handle seasonal spikes in demand for certain products that typically occur at the start of each new school year? How should it number and label its bins for optimal performance with its existing warehouse management software?
"It takes more than educated guesswork and spreadsheets to properly slot product inventory,” Reed said. “We wanted to do things right from the start, so we soon recognized that we needed to bring in outside expertise.”
The Solution: Engaging Experts in Inventory Slotting and Labeling
School Health worked with Alpine SupplyChain Solutions to help with warehouse location methodology and slotting plans. The project’s goals included minimizing the time and distance required to replenish key products; reducing workers’ bend-and-reach requirements for placing and picking products; and more efficiently organizing its inventory for greater throughput.
“The Alpine team asked great questions to understand our needs,” Reed said, “and they have access to cutting-edge tools that were fundamental to the project’s success.”
Alpine is a strategic partner with Optricity, a provider of software solutions for warehousing optimization. Its OptiSlot DC™ tool was used to analyze a variety of School Health’s unique factors, including product dimensions, weight and velocity, pick paths, material handling equipment like their conveyor system, pallet building, inventory seasonality requirements and more.
“In my role, I hadn’t previously spent a lot of time thinking about warehouse location address methodology,” Reed noted. “But working with Alpine made the entire project team appreciate the science involved in slotting our products. An optimally slotted warehouse supports efficiency and profitability. Just as important, it also minimizes the time and effort involved in key tasks like product putaway, or picking and order fulfillment, which our employees appreciate.”
Smart Labeling for a Smart Warehouse
At the same time School Health engaged Alpine SupplyChain Solutions, it also reached out to ID Label.
“Since we were investing in doing things right in our new warehouse we decided we should upgrade from in-house rack labels that wouldn’t perform to the requirements of our new environment,” Reed said.
After seeing an ad, School Health requested sample labels and product information. Due to the seasonal velocity of some of their products, the team knew they needed flexibility in how rack slots were labeled. Magnet-backed labels were an option, but they can occasionally be knocked to the ground from daily encounters with forklifts and other traffic.
“ID Label did a site visit and showed us their removable label, Clean Release™. We immediately knew it was the perfect solution for our flexibility needs,” Reed said.
Clean Release features an innovative adhesive that makes these labels fully removable and repositionable without any scraping or leftover residue, yet they can remain fully in place for years at a time.
“Now we can easily adjust and move our location labels to match our slotting strategy,” Reed said. “As an added bonus, ID Label was able to match our corporate color, so our rack labels are a colorful extension of our corporate brand!”
Optricity and ID Label Collaboration
Additionally, Optricity and ID Label have teamed to ensure that the design and barcode symbology used in ID Label’s custom-manufactured labels complement Optricity’s data logic and slotting algorithms for maximum operational efficiency and scanning accuracy.
Advice for Others
When asked what advice she might offer to industry colleagues facing a similar project, Reed recommended the following:
-Start your planning early. You will need more time than you think.
-Be inclusive and engage key personnel to tap your company’s internal knowledge.
-Engage knowledgeable consultants and vendors. Leverage their expertise to fast-track large projects.
-Track, measure and manage. Build a timeline and document your milestones. Know that issues and obstacles will arise along the way.
-Run a dress rehearsal (or three!) before going live.
"Finding the right experts to work with was definitely a key to the success of this important project,” Reed concluded.