After the warehouse picks the order, it has to pack and ship the order. These are the rest of the “outbound processes” and are typically where the operation ‘rings the register’ as it sends inventory to a customer. Let’s explore further.
Many of the steps in the processes of packing and shipping can be automated. Technologies are available and being developed that target specific steps in the product flow, including handling, movement, sorting, and loading. They aren’t mentioned specifically here because their use depends on the operational requirements. We’re not covering an technology survey here or even all available process variations, so just be aware that each of the processes below can likely be automated.
Pick and Sort
Once the picker selects the inventory, the inventory must be sorted into orders for shipment. The exact method of this varies widely depending on the warehouse technology, product handling characteristics, and outbound modes of transportation. But the common characteristics of all these processes is that outbound orders’ constituent goods are assembled at the point of shipment.
If the product needs to be boxed to ship–think of your typical Amazon items, or the Starbucks store replenishment orders–then the product needs to be packed. This means that the product must go physically to a pack station where the orders are put into shipping boxes. If the orders are going direct to consumer, then the boxes will have a packing slip inside. If they are going to other customers like stores, then the boxes may be labeled or have other indications of what to do with them.
Once boxed then the boxes will have labels applied. This is usually with a “print and apply” station where a printer applies the labels to the boxes as the boxes move along a conveyor on the way to shipping.
Pallet or LTL quantities may also require packing steps. These may require order separation, pack slips, labels, PRO numbers, or other paperwork applied to the goods.
Once the goods are separated by order with the proper shipping packaging and information on them, they’re packed and ready to ship.
Shipping is the process of sending goods systematically and physically out of the warehouse.
The warehouse first loads the shipments into the outbound mode of transportation. This includes full truckloads, less-than-truckload, parcel shipments, or container (intermodal) shipments.
How do goods get into the truck trailers? If the orders are palletized then the warehouse will usually load them by forklift.
If the orders are shipped in boxes, as is often the case in direct-to-consumer e-commerce, then the packages are often diverted from a sorter into the trailer using extensible conveyor, where employees finish loading by hand.
The goods are usually scanned into the trailer location (assuming the site is WMS-controlled). Otherwise the inventory loaded is tracked by hand and recorded by a clerk after the shipment.
After the warehouse team loads the truck, then it’s time to ship the goods. The warehouse completes the “Goods Issue” or “GI.” This is the actual instance of “shipment” and triggers the creation of the Bill of Lading (BOL). The driver signs one copy of the BOL to leave it with the warehouse and takes one or two more copies for the final destination and his own records.
Some steps in this process that vary by site and mode of transportation include exactly when the trailer is closed, when it is sealed, and sometimes even who loads the trucks. For example, in some Less-than-truckload transportation, the LTL driver may actually load the truck. This may also happen with parcel pickups by carriers such as UPS or Fedex.
So while the individual sequencing and steps and responsibilities of the shipping may vary, the final result is the same:
- Goods are placed onto their outbound transportation
- The goods are systematically released from the warehouse inventory records
The last steps of warehouse operations are where the DC packs, loads, and ships orders. Crisp execution of these are critical to sending the right goods to the right customer at the right time. While they are not usually the most labor-intensive activities in the warehouse, shipping is where the warehouse impacts the customer. It is the last place to correct order or quality problems. Executing on time means the customer gets the order on time. It is where the customer relationship is made. As such, warehouses should focus on delivering high quality inputs to the outbound processes and monitoring them closely.