Warehouse Logistics Optimization

United Distribution Services (UDS) is an established presence in the textile warehousing industry, known for innovation in freight and logistics services. Founded in 1995, the privately owned and operated 3PL got its start in the motor freight transportation sector. Consequently, UDS company culture is a standout among competitors as particularly in tune with manufacturer and retailer priorities. 


Supply Chain Planning and Execution

UDS invests significant resources, time, and energy into advising customers to make the right logistics decisions to ensure optimal efficiency and cost savings. The company’s leadership believes in harnessing the power of technology to customers’ advantage, making QSSI an ideal partner. Both our companies ultimately want to liberate clients from supply chain planning and execution, freeing up time and resources for them to focus on primary business functions: manufacturing, marketing, and sale of goods.

Fortune 500 manufacturers and retailers turn to UDS to solve logistics challenges, but so do designers wanting to move their well-structured start-ups to the next level. The company has collaborated for years with experts in warehouse material handling, engineering, and design. 

The goal is to leverage the latest technological development to raise customers to the next level of productivity and competitiveness. QSSI followed a similar strategy when initiating discussions about the effectiveness of UDS processes related to warehouse management, execution, and controls.

To effectively leverage technology, we started by asking UDS pointed questions about their current WMS. Could it provide detailed answers to inquiries, like “How is handling different (or more difficult) this time?” We learned that critical information, such as the precise cost and time investment to fulfill an order, was absent from decision-making protocol.

I had worked with other WMS software in the past and understood the potential for improved CRM. But, ROI for PowerHouse is exponential. With implementation, we went from 10 users to more than 100. You learn PowerHouse, you can now do whatever you want with it, which means my WMS and my company grow together.

Carl Ingargiola, President, UDS
Strategies for Rapid Response to New Customer Demand

For UDS operations to expand exponentially, their WMS needed to support the rapid onboarding of new customers. PowerHouse successfully connects various new revenue streams with a series of warehouse functions and services. UDS now had the ability to configure, reconfigure, and scale its operations (equipment, people, space) in response to evolving customer demands—without expensive modifications to the WMS application.

PowerHouse also supports multiple business models simultaneously—another key strategy employed by UDS to meet increased customer demand. In response to the shift in recent years to Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) shipping, UDS has engineered fulfillment processes and procedures to position its partners to meet their online consumer’s immediate expectations. 

Communication is the key to converting process changes into business opportunities. PowerHouse is a systems integrator for complementary supply chain management software and for all leading e-commerce, marketplace, and carrier software, including shopping carts and customer portals. Therefore, we worked effectively with UDS to handle volume fluctuations flawlessly and at a moment’s notice. Increased flexibility also translated into reduced overhead and the ability to specify a fixed cost per unit.

Tactics Employed for a High-Volume Operation

UDS is an exceptionally high-volume operation, as demonstrated by the 200+ packing stations that keep business booming. The QSSI team partnered with UDS to identify and develop optimal solutions for a full range of customer requirements, from shipping DTC via an e-com site to drop shipping via a carrier. Orders are mapped specific to their type, e.g., flagged as e-com.

UDS is giving its customers the ability to compete with the largest e-com outlets out there. Orders are processed instantly, leaving the warehouse within 12 hours from when the transaction was first initiated.

Ed Troianello, President, QSSI

Through constant reporting, PowerHouse delivers high-level order management and oversight. Quality, actionabledata is made available for informed decision-making. According to the UDS website, automated reporting, among many factors, contributes to the company’s “impeccable fill rates and turns.”

  • Item velocity analysis
  • Pick flow setup
  • Inventory count
  • Location accuracy

Clear order visibility is another important strategy for delivering within a high-volume operation. UDS keeps its customers informed through many PowerHouse capabilities, including transmitting EDI transactions, pushing order status, and tracking information. UDS can also send a branded, yet personalized, email alert, generated by Powerhouse and containing all order information, tracking numbers, and customer service contact information.

Consolidated Dedicated Returns Processing

UDS prioritizes returns processing. The company has dedicated facilities to handle vendors and retailers’ consolidated return services. PowerHouse is an integral part of this process, as well as key to capturing revenue through additional efficiencies and improved customer satisfaction.

A multi-pronged approach ensures the timely reconciliation of return charge backs and consumer credits. UDS leverages as much PowerHouse data as possible to monitor returns volume, eliminate manual data entry, apply credits, and quickly refurbish and transfer goods back to appropriate fulfillment centers. 

PowerHouse captures and monitors data on multiple levels.

  • Return authorization validation
  • Carton level ASN EDI 180
  • Quality inspection
  • Refurbishing to first quality condition
  • Damage and disposal maintenance
  • Trend analysis and advanced BI reporting
A Reliable Partner in Retail Distribution

“Accuracy, accountability, and speed” are the crucial factors in the retail distribution pick & pack environment, according to UDS. The company maintains a 99.98% financial and statistical inventory, achieved through “stringent receiving variance approval procedures, obsessive cycle counting, and utilization of UPC and RFID barcode scanning” (UDS website, 2021). 

All these disciplined procedures are sustained through PowerHouse.

United Distribution Services

Cranbury, NJ

Distribution Center
  • 2,000,000 square feet
Customers
  •  Apparel
  • Home goods
  • Manufacturers
  • Retailers
Warehouse Environment
  • Garment-on-Hanger and flat pick & pack fulfillment
  • Just-in-time retail replenishment
  • Direct-To-Consumer shipping
  • Same-day e-commerce fulfillment
  • Full case distribution
  • Retail deconsol/consolidation
  • Domestic transportation
  • Overseas pre-packs
Solutions in the Design
  • Systematic wave modeling
  • Bulk pick line zones
  • Scale counting
  • Pick-to-light
  • Flow racking
  • Automated customized compliance labeling
  • Automated rate shopping
  • Reserve to active replenishment location

Automation-Aware Order Releasing

Origami Owl’s business model is difficult to categorize. Forbes magazine once characterized the privately owned, multi-level marketing custom jewelry company as the 14-year old’s $250M “big idea” (Oct. 2013). Currently, 45,000+ independent sales consultants (“designers”) purchase materials and tools from Origami Owl for product direct sales to customers, primarily via in-house sales parties. What is clear is that this level of thinking outside the [jewelry] box requires that technology evolve and adapt with similar innovation and agility.


Product Customization and Personalization

PowerHouse supplied the logic to make the floor automation in Origami Owl’s warehouses work for the company’s changing requirements, regardless of original design intent. 

Technology needed to evolve to keep pace with the company keeping ahead of developing market conditions, including trends toward product customization and personalization. All aspects of operations needed to work as a single unit to achieve the desired enhancements in materials handling. The “choreography of movement throughout the warehouse,” as described by QSSI’s Chief Product Manager, Rob King, required a turnkey solution.

We considered the entire order journey, more than 1.5 miles of cabling, with the objective of quadrupling production capacity.

A Turnkey Solution for Logistics Automation

PowerHouse enhances the production of automated material handling technologies and concentrates the power of robotics. In effect, it provides the logic for releasing orders using an efficient, business savvy protocol that is specific to the user. 

Origami Owl needed individualized solutions for when, where, and how to sequence various fulfillment scenarios and trigger restocking items. By gaining oversight and control over all moving parts in the warehouse, we were able to affect overall productivity and deliver greater efficiencies. Automation-aware order releasing (as well as automation-aware pick pod selection, path planning, and labor scheduling) helps ensure a productive, cohesive work pace across all work zones.

PowerHouse safeguards that no element within Origami Owl’s warehouse is working in isolation.

For example, scan a box and the system will assess which worker and what route he or she should take, depending on where the remainder of the order is located. Also, no worries about flooding the pick-to-light system, because automation awareness means that the right number of picks will be released into the system in the first place.

ORIGAMI OWL

Chandler, AZ

Distribution Center
  • 100,000 square feet
Customers
  • Custom jewelry design 
  • Apparel and textile
  • Direct sales
Warehouse Environment
  • Complicated sourcing requests
  • Split orders
  • Low minimum order requirements 
  • Combined order and customer processing
  • Just-in-time delivery
Solutions in the Design
  • Embedded TMS
  • Real-time order visibility
  • Scale counting and scan & pack
  • Automated customized compliance labeling
  • Automated rate shopping
Global Supply Chain
  • US
  • Puerto Rico
  • Canada

It’s almost always about managing the release of work. So, you begin by learning how a company does pack & ship—because everyone does it differently, in response to specific programs and compliance requirements.

Russ Schumacher, QSSI’s VP of Applications
Simplified Integration Strategies for Complex Order Management

Origami Owl averages approximately $70 per order. However, multiple highly individualized orders are typically shipped to the same location, at the same time, for the company’s sales events. This reality is a fulfillment challenge experienced by many companies in the creative industries, and the solution is gaining full operational oversight and control.

Who: Origami Owl
What: WMS implementation focused on operational solutions
Where: new state-of-the-art warehouse
When: 3 months leading up to holiday season
Why: optimize $4M already invested in floor automation
Wow: up 45,000 orders avg. per day, down 70% pickers

User-friendly, simplified integration strategies for Origami Owl involved solutions for specific equipment and controllers on industrial networks. Increased oversight and control over automated equipment gave our client distinct advantages.

  • WMS + print & apply labeling—triggers next fulfillment step
  • WMS + handheld devices—enables geofencing and positioning data
  • WMS  + predictive analytics—enhances routing, picking, slotting, etc., processes
Connection between Visibility and Capacity

During a critical period of growth, as Origami Owl ramped up for the holiday season with a brand-new facility, we helped with enhanced interface management. PowerHouse delivered full ERP function integration and directly/indirectly supported enterprise application software. We also supported seamless communication with our client’s EDI, OMS, supply chain management software, and the numerous e-commerce, marketplace, carrier, and customer portals employed by the company.

For Origami Owl, a direct correlation now exists between real-time location visibility (product, assets, people) and a real-time view of warehouse space and storage capacity. PowerHouse’s location capabilities include constant insight into an order’s journey through the entire facility. Floor managers have access to useful data that can be immediately acted upon.

  • Dwell times/congestion analysis
  • Equipment overload mitigation
  • Optimization of underutilized resources
  • Asset tracking 
  • Cross-docking strategies
WMS as the Brain that Drives the Muscle

We built a WMS for Origami Owl that excels with evolving warehouse planning and execution processes. We understood from the start that operations would be routinely impacted by changes originating from variable markets and a global supply chain. Small-scale, transient disruptors, such as influencer driven trends and seasonality, would also be the norm. Operations would need to scale up to meet sales goals.

In response, PowerHouse is made more intelligent with real-time quality data about automation system use and material flow. It is the brain that can adjust to changing conditions—even on an hour-by-hour basis, grouping work for increased efficiency at certain times but also automatically increasing capacity for hot orders or imminent carrier pick-ups.

PowerHouse is effectively thinking for the many systems that comprise the warehouse. For an e-commerce enterprise facing complex order fulfillment requirements, like Origami Owl, this depth of knowledge is a huge competitive advantage.

High-Volume E-commerce Fulfillment

Inc. magazine twice listed Mud Pie as one of America’s fastest growing private companies (“Inc. 5000”). Woman-owned and woman-led, the innovative wholesale company is known for its popular lifestyle brand and rocket-fueled growth to national prominence. Mud Pie award-winning baby & kids apparel, fashion & accessories, and home pieces are available in 16,000+ specialty retailers and department stores worldwide.. 


Warehouse Automation with ERP, WMS, and WCS Integration

Mud Pie’s move to a totally automated environment was rapid and seismic in terms of operational impact. Just two years before the transition, inventory control was entirely paper based and fulfillment utterly reliant on labor-intensive piece picking.

The company followed a common trajectory for high-volume, fast-paced e-commerce fulfillment environments: sizeable investment in physical automation in response to increased demand—but without adequate ERP, WMS, and WCS integration. 

When QSSI was first engaged, Mud Pie had already implemented robotic systems for piece-picking and packing. PowerHouse brought improved visibility and operational insights to conveyance and sortation, as well as to automated storage and retrieval. In effect, PowerHouse brought the business intelligence for effective automation orchestration.

Adapting to Existing Warehouse Automation

“Steel is steel,” said Russ Schumacher, QSSI’s VP of Application Services, referencing the hard reality of working with an existing complex conveyor system. “You adapt the software to the steel, not the other way around.”

QSSI developed a customized, multi-pronged strategy, involving both people and infrastructure-driven processes, to ensure that Mud Pie would see maximum returns from their significant capital investment.

For example, we made labor more efficient with task interleaving and wave planning. We also equipped people with the right tools for the task at hand. Our team was there for Mud Pie at every step of the transition from pick-and-pass to more complex order picking/restocking methodologies (zone-batch-wave) using tablets and wireless handheld devices with pick-to-light technology.

 In addition, we simultaneously made smart functionality for warehouse controls a priority.

Split Orders and Other Integrated Decision-Making

PowerHouse provides Mud Pie with insights into any number or combination of automation performance metrics (pile-on, pod-station visits, throughput, etc.), but order sequencing decisions ultimately reflect a deeper logic. During PowerHouse implementation and on an ongoing basis, the results of models in different instances are compared with various potential sequential methods. The result is a structured, integrated response. 

A standout scenario for Mud Pie is splitting orders.

Diverse retailers mean diverse customer orders, which can lead to severe inefficiencies in how search and travel tasks are performed. Therefore, it’s critical for the wholesaler to be able to differentiate between oversized, non-conveyable items and conveyable items for warehouse pricing flow. In response, the QSSI team concentrated on the operational logistics of splitting an order. PowerHouse introduced pick pod selection and path planning protocols to improve automation controls. Similarly, pod repositioning protocols address the replenishment process.

MUD PIE

Stone Mountain, GA

Distribution Center
  • 250,000 square feet
Customers
  • Furniture/home furnishing 
  • Apparel
  • Gifts and novelties
  • Wholesale trade
  • Small independent retailers
  • Big box stores
Warehouse Environment
  • B2B, B2C, D2C 
  • Complicated sourcing requests
  • Split orders
  • Low minimum order requirements 
  • Combined order and customer processing
  • Just-in-time delivery
Solutions in the Design
  • Scale counting and scan & pack
  • Automated customized compliance labeling
  • Automated rate shopping
Global Supply Chain
  • China (manufacturing)

Order picking can constitute 50%-65% of Mud Pie’s operating costs. Processing orders quickly and accurately is a competitive advantage. PowerHouse brings the brains to the machinery that is the company’s lifeblood.

Redesigning a Warehouse for Optimal Efficiencies

Mud Pie has continued to grow its business exponentially. Subsequent warehouse floor modifications and expansions build on the efficiencies originally introduced by QSSI. As part of our next project for the company, PowerHouse supported 9,000 new locations. The new multi-level facility contains 24 zones/pick modules. With Mud Pie, the QSSI team developed and then helped implement a high-bay, narrow-aisle picking concept to maximize the space for a new conveyor system, an impressive 28’ in length. 

Our collaborations also extended to Mud Pie’s manufactures with innovations in packaging. “More conveyable” items inevitably lead to less touches with each induction. With the improvements, 60% to 70% of boxes interface with the conveyor only. This work also resulted in measurable improvements in quality control and speed to resolution.

WCS-Based Automation Visibility

The PowerHouse dashboard is credited with much of the success of the narrow-aisle picking concept. “When you can see all, you can direct all,” said Schumacher. “And, more importantly, you can direct with specificity.” 

The dashboard captures critical information, which means that even in tight spaces it’s possible to follow a serpentine, one-pass packing method. In addition, floor managers can access a graphic of each cart’s contents. RF devices also incorporate graphic displays.

So much more than the sum of its parts, PowerHouse serves as data aggregator and integrator, as well as smart middleware. It eliminated the need for Mud Pie to interface directly to control systems for individual pieces of automation. But, perhaps, most importantly, we introduced a higher level of accountability into the fulfillment process. Warehouse planning and execution are made more intelligent precisely because of the quality information coming from the automation level.