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The Case for Put-Away

In a previous blog entry, I discussed receiving, which is likely the most important process within a distribution center (assuming inventory ownership and establishing inventory accuracy). The put-away process, however, probably has a broader effect than any other function within the four walls of a distribution center.

  • Simplifies Training, Improves Receiving Capacity and Inventory Availability:
    • Well-defined system-directed put-away logic improves the training curve for new employees and correspondingly limits the need for supervisor intervention.
    • Speeds the clearing of product from receiving (improving receiving throughput).
    • All of the above accelerates the speed by which inventory received will become available (to fulfill outbound orders).
  • Improves Storage Utilization:
    • Supports consolidation of new product with existing inventory, improving cube utilization while controlling for other business rules (mixing of lots, etc.).
    • Allows for the preferred storage device for an item to be prescribed (better support inventory rotation/churn by aligning a device’s cubic capacity with the item’s cubic velocity and inventory management methodology (weeks of supply).
    • Configurable cascading rules control in what sequence storage areas will be considered.
    • Optional parameters can protect a storage area from being disproportionally consumed by an unexpected large receipt of an item, preserving the ability to support the broader set of SKUs intended to share storage positions in that area.
  • Reduces Cycle Time to Fulfill Outbound Orders:
    • Leverages the initial put-away to best posture product for rapid fulfillment of outbound orders, minimizing non-value-added movement to another storage location.
    • Supports dynamic “re-slotting” of product (from one put-away strategy to another) by not simply following-the-leader of existing inventory (directing new inventory based on the current strategy; naturally consuming/clearing existing inventory through picking, minimizing the need to manually re-position/move inventory).
    • Speeds the replenishment of pick locations by placing inventory in adjacent/proximate reserve locations.



The capabilities of the WMS to determine accurately the maximum capacity of a location for an item is the critical foundation for achieving the functionality listed above. The most robust systems will use the “discrete dimensions” of products and locations (length, width, height), not “water cube” (aggregate cubic size).

In the example below of storing cases of product in a carton-flow location, evaluating each dimension will result in an accurate capacity of 24.0 cases of product. In contrast, evaluating aggregate cube will cause an overstated capacity (36.2 cases of product), which is operationally unacceptable.

The WMS should also allow the stack-height limit to be defined for both the storage device and the product. The more restrictive of these settings, storage device or product, will limit the capacity within a given item/location combination. In the example above, the carton-flow storage device would likely be configured* to only one case high. For items with crushability and/or stability concerns, we may prescribe a product stack limit to prevent (for example) stacking more than three pallets high in a bulk floor location.

This and other approaches to determine the maximum capacity for each item/location is key and core to efficiently and accurately managing the movement of inventory within a distribution center, including:

  • Fostering a system-directed operated-verified method of performing put-away
  • Effectively generating and prioritizing replenishments to a configured pick location
  • Determining consolidation opportunities within floating reserve locations
  • Monitoring utilization (cube utilization vs. operational effectiveness)

A WMS is capable of better supporting put-away in these and so many other ways. Your attention to this likely under-leveraged facet of operations will be rewarded. The overall aim of system-directed put-away is for the suggested location to be appropriate and feasible 95% or more of the time. The remaining transactions should be actionable exceptions, improving system configuration, reinforcing teammate training, and adjusting product and item attributes through review and research. By expecting and demanding more of your WMS, put-away can become a habitual process, freeing your teammates’ energy and experience toward other aspects of your business.
–Kail Plankey, St. Onge Company

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