Primed with ideas
Product delivery is dominated by Amazon, which ships an average of 608 million packages each year. So if you want to improving delivery and inventory control, watching operations at an Amazon Fulfillment Center is a good place to start.
Recently, a Y-12 cross-functional team visited the Chattanooga fulfillment center to benchmark best practices and to learn about innovations in warehousing and transportation.
“Amazon has some sophisticated algorithms, but the predominant tool was barcodes and barcode readers. We use barcodes and barcode readers at our sites, so this showed me that there is still a lot we can do with the tools we have,” said Reed Mullins, Production Operations director.
The team was able to follow the path from when products enter the center until they ship. While Amazon uses advanced automation in its fulfillment centers, tour participants observed that they also employ surprising storage practices for quick and efficient supply chain management. They rely on sophisticated computer systems to manage their inventory, but smaller, unrelated items are stored randomly for more efficient “picking” by employees.
Amazon fosters a mindset of “start with the customer and work backwards.” They ask the questions: What do they want? What do they need? What can I do to make the next operation better?
“It’s these simple questions that we can ask ourselves each day that invokes change and best practices. The team plans to use these observations to challenge the way we think about delivery and inventory control of items here at Y‑12,” said Paula Goins, program manager for Materials Stewardship. “For example, I was not expecting to see small items stored in random places, but, after it was explained, it makes perfect sense for their operations,” Goins said.