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Cross-dock versus Flow-thru warehouse?


Dynamic flow-thru warehousing minimises both handling equipment and inventory whether it is being used to support high-throughput manufacturing or finished goods distribution. Flow-thru warehousing shares much in common with cross docking. Both strategies support high-throughput manufacturing plants and distribution centres. Both are designed to maximise the handling and storage of inventory in warehouses through the frequent deliveries of merchandise.

Cross-docking vs Flow-thru warehousing:

First is the unit size. While cross docking involves the reconfiguration of pallets and cases, flow-thru warehousing may see the break down of the contents of a case to manage the redistribution of individual SKU items.

The second differentiator is time. Cross-docked pallets move through the distribution centre with a sense of urgency. Flow-thru warehousing allows for staging, processing, and the addition of value to a product. When merchandise arrives, it’s delivered right to temporary storage at a pick face, where it will be until processing.

If cross-docking could be summed up as “here today and gone today”, then flow-thru warehousing might be thought of as “here today and gone sometime this week”.

Operational characteristics of flow-thru warehousing:

  • Frequent deliveries of inventory to warehouse;
  • Acts primarily as a staging centre for large quantities of inventory for many customers;
  • Receipts go directly to the pick face;
  • Inventory on hand matches only expected demand for the immediate future, typically 48 hours to 1 week;
  • Pick face is sized to that immediate future demand;
  • Able to support on-site manufacturing as well as distribution of finished goods.

Prominent technologies of flow-thru warehousing:

  • Carton and pallet flow racks;
  • Pick-to-light and pick-to-belt systems;
  • Carousels and sortation systems;
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI);
  • On-demand bar code label printers.

The future of Flow-thru warehousing:

While flow-thru warehousing is common in the grocery and retail industries, the impediment to its widespread use has been the reluctance of manufacturers to be partner in this strategy. Most manufacturers want to manufacture and ship full truckloads of a product with minimal warehousing on their parts.

When looking at the next millennium, one can see that roles are changing, especially as commerce on the Internet continues to evolve. The distribution centre of the future may well be a clearinghouse for information as well as for products. Centres will be a combination of order assembly and value-added services in a flow-thru environment.

Rather than shipping their products to a distribution centre, manufacturers will hold inventory at their facility until a distributor has received an order. In fact, they may utilise postponement strategies or adaptable manufacturing to reduce their inventory carrying costs. Materials delivered to the warehouse will be assembled with other inventory at a pick face, value will be added, and it will flow on out to the customer.

Such warehouse is a reminder that strategies such as flow-thru warehousing will make today’s expectations for more efficient operations, a reality in the next millennium.

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