How to Manage Handwork Efficiently and Profitably

Facility automation may be all the rage, but there are several fulfillment jobs that require kitting, packing or assembly by hand. Unfortunately, few DC managers plan adequately for handwork projects. Tom Quinn, director of fulfillment services for the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, offers some recommendations for making handwork successful and profitable:

Provide enough space. To be completed quickly and efficiently, handwork jobs must be given sufficient room in the facility. Often, these projects are squeezed into a space that does not allow for components to be laid out properly, making for inefficient workflow. If extra space is not available, additional time should be factored in to account for the same piece being handled several times.

Obtain a good quote. Make sure that your estimator understands your DC’s constraints, considers where the job will be done, figures out how it will be laid out, and determines the workflow.

Streamline your receiving process. Quinn strongly advises building time into the estimate to properly receive and check the incoming materials for the handwork project, and identify potential shortages well in advance of starting the job. Nothing will put off a client faster than being told at the eleventh hour that you have run out of raw material.

Prime the line. Staff a handwork line with enough permanent employees who understand and can control the workflow. Fill in with temporary workers as needed.

Plan for trash removal. “Nothing cuts down on efficiency more than workers standing in broken-down boxes to complete their work,” Quinn says. The most efficient lines will not have any trash on the floor

Fit the workforce to the job. A common mistake is to do the reverse—fit the job to the number of people available to do it. This results in multiple handling of the same product and considerable inefficiency. Make it a point to never start a job until all its components are available.

Keep the process simple. Quinn points out the majority of workers assigned to handwork projects do not speak or read English. Therefore, make items easy to distinguish and restrict the number of products that these workers collate so that they can quickly recognize the items for which they are responsible.

Move product past people. Use rollers, conveyor belts, or whatever it takes to carry the materials to employees and minimize walking, which ruins the efficiency of a handwork project.

By Rama Ramaswami,

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