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Rarely do healthcare supply chain executives and professionals have the luxury of limitless resources where money is no object. It is certainly an interesting thought exercise to imagine intelligent sortation, image-based dimensioning equipment, automatic de-stacking and sortation, automated storage and retrieval systems, robotized order picking, automated AGV loading, routing and stocking — the list goes on.
Every warehouse and storeroom should be viewed as a queuing system where products received join a queue (stored) and are waiting to be serviced (shipped or used). The holy grail of that queue is when technology, time (labor) and space (storage) are synchronized so perfectly that inbound and outbound flow at a constant rate. No matter how deep your pockets, that fundamental concept should guide you.
The reality is that most healthcare facilities are constantly being challenged to navigate within the confines of a constraining budget. Ultimately, though, we ought to think about diminishing returns on the technology we implement, both financially and logistically.
When tasked with designing/redesigning a storeroom or warehouse within the confines of a very tight budget, it’s oftentimes difficult to decide which technology tools to implement or ignore. Have no fear because there are solutions that will help make product flow more effectively, efficiently, fast and seamless — without breaking the bank.
Below are recommendations to consider for your next project.
In the warehouse – An inexpensive and simple pre-slotting analysis can determine optimal storage types to be installed based on your inventory mix. Low tech racking solutions can easily satisfy minimal storage requirements: single or double deep selective racking for forward pick or reserve, carton flow racking for each pick, or simple shelving.
Invest in a warehouse management system (WMS) with core functionalities and interface it with your host system. You can scale up with your growing needs. Don’t omit installation of a barcode scanner data collection system; it is budget-friendly, improves inventory control, virtually eliminates human error and provides potential labor savings.
In the storeroom – The simplest and most efficient economic solution to implement is a two-bin kanban system equipped with shelves or drawers. This should provide a reliable and satisfactory system to support almost every storeroom unit. Kanban systems work with tags which should be barcoded to facilitate replenishment activities. If budget allows, these can be upgraded to RFID tags for a more automated storeroom operation.
I caution customers against getting hung up on tech at the expense of processes in general and the people who perform them. No investment in technology replaces the need to put process first. In fact, studies show that business reengineering efforts often fail when it doesn’t factor in an organization’s people and culture. Once the people and processes have been defined, technology can then be applied to tasks to reduce or eliminate human intervention that doesn’t provide added value.
Look for where the impact-to-cost ratio of technology is the greatest; generally, the 80/20 rule applies. The incremental productivity gains of high-tech equipment and complex automation is likely a non-starter; opt instead for proven technologies like intuitive UIs, good software, barcoding, RFID, pick-to-light – these are the budget-conscious technologies that make good processes great.
Portions of this text have been previously published in Healthcare Purchasing News.