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Blog: Supplier Support Critical to DC Throughput

By James A. Cooke

Speedy receipt of parts and products into a distribution center is critical today to maintaining inventory visibility and having the right stock on hand for serving customers.  To make this happen, though, electrical distributors need support from their suppliers.

For starters, all suppliers should be doing Advanced Shipment Notices (ASN) – an electronic message from the supplier that provides detailed information prior to delivery. ASNs help the distribution center prepare for a shipment arrival into a warehouse by giving a “heads up.” Along with information on the shipment contents, the ASN should give information on the carrier bringing the load and the arrival time.

When the shipment arrives, the barcodes on the boxes should be scanned as way to double check and make sure that supplier sent what was requested. Warehouse workers can use handheld scanners to read barcodes, and that scanned information sent to a computer to record the receipt of the supplier’s shipment for match up with purchase orders.

One way to speed up induction of supplier material into a distribution center is to automate the receiving process, thus eliminating the need for workers to do the bar code scanning. A conveyor can be extended into the delivery truck and warehouse workers simply unload the boxes onto the conveyor. In that situation a fixed mounted scanner is placed over the dock door of the warehouse to decipher the barcodes.

Automation of receiving works well if the barcodes are placed in specific locations on the box or pallet for the stationary scanners to quickly make sense of the bar code symbols. If the symbols on the barcode labels are smudged, or placed in a location not in the scanner’s visible range, then a worker has to do the scan. And manual scanning, of course, defeats the purpose of automated receipt.

To avoid those problems, many companies, especially in the retail industry, have established bar-code label compliance programs on suppliers over the past decade. If your electrical distributorship hasn’t done this already with its suppliers, it’s a program that should be considered to expedite inbound receipts.

A bar-code compliance program specifies the barcode symbology (the language used for the bar code), the size and type of label for barcoding, and the exact location on box for the supplier to affix the label to ensure accurate scanning the first-time. These specifications can be published online or issued in a document to suppliers. To ensure compliance it may be necessary to schedule meetings with suppliers to review the specifications.

If suppliers are reluctant to cooperate in this endeavor, then it might be necessary to wield a stick. In many industries, such as retail, the buyer will impose a fine or chargeback on a supplier who fails to adhere to the barcode label specifications. Generally, penalties for failing to meet barcode specifications are spelled out in the terms of the purchasing contract.

Automated receipt at the warehouse helps to ensure inventory velocity. Since assistance from suppliers is necessary to achieving this goal, distributors should require ASNs and insist all barcodes on inbound product shipments follow prescribed requirements.

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