Helm’s business model is different than that of most companies – and the supply chain challenges it faces are equally unique.
The business provides branded merchandise, third-party fulfillment and technology solutions to a group of high-profile customers. Clients range from Domino’s Pizza to Merrell Shoes to auto giants like Ford and BMW. Products fulfilled from Helm’s two warehouses range from apparel to car owner manuals to refrigerators and everything in between. Every customer has personalized requirements, and that means Helm must have dynamic, flexible processes.
One of Helm’s central challenges in meeting customer expectations is shipping 90 percent of its orders same-day. Many of the products Helm ships out for its clients are for one- or two-day events – timing is everything.
Adopting Dynamic Waves
Dynamic waves are a way for the company to ensure customer needs are always met. Under this system, orders are pushed out to the warehouse floor for fulfillment in real-time. The order pool is constantly re-prioritized based on carrier cut-off times, promised delivery date, equipment availability and more.
Throughput increases and order cycle times decrease with waveless processing because orders are picked and prepared for shipment as they come in. That makes dynamic waves far more efficient than traditional waves – where orders are grouped into batches – for a company like Helm that has a large percentage of orders that need to be shipped right away.
Waveless processing made particular sense for Helm because it has about two dozen wave profiles tailored to different customers, workflows or order priorities. Those variations make it more difficult to group orders into batches.
“What we’ve discovered through dynamic waving is we literally take those orders as they come in and send them down to the floor to be fulfilled. Then the operations environment can determine when to release those orders,” said Michael Wacht, executive vice president of marketing and operations at Helm. “So now what’s happening is we’ll have an order that comes in at 10 o’clock, and instead of waiting to be released to the warehouse for two hours, it is being released to the floor. At that time, more than likely, it will be picked and ready to ship within 10 minutes to one hour after that order actually gets down to the warehouse.
“The advantage that has given us is now we don’t have to wait for the next batch to come through. Especially for rush orders and urgent orders, those can be released to the floor immediately and now those are picked, packed and ready to ship, sometimes within minutes.”
Order pool prioritization is controlled by Helm’s HighJump warehouse management system (WMS), which replaced a homegrown system built around the organization’s particular needs. The WMS ensures the next pick is always the next-highest priority so that no order arrives late or incurs additional expenses to reach its final destination on-time.
The operations team also modified the cartonization process to ship 90 percent of its order same-day. When an order includes products that meet specific dimension, weight, destination and carrier specifications, the shipping label is printed to initiate the picking process. The warehouse associate then picks directly into the shipping envelope, affixes the label and it’s ready to send. These “slapper labels,” as Helm calls them, led to a 50 percent increase in productivity in one zone of the warehouse
“It was a great collaboration between our warehouse ops, HighJump and Helm IT to get all these parts moving so we can ship an order in no time flat,” IT Architect Jim Bernatowicz said. “I remember when we launched this the warehouse was calling it rocket fuel because they were processing hundreds of orders an hour, which was a remarkable improvement.”
What’s next for Helm?
Helm recently opened a second, 65,000-square-foot warehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, to complement its 140,000-square-foot facility in Livonia, Michigan. That DC in Salt Lake City opens the door to new opportunities on the West Coast.
Helm also has critical inventory visibility into both sites through its new WMS. That means customers can get the up-to-the-minute updates they want about their orders and inventory.
“The single greatest benefit is that there is such a higher degree of visibility about where every order is in our warehouse at any given time,” IT manager Paul Carmouche said. “That’s true for the people in the warehouse and the people in the front office who are in contact with our customers. When they call for a status for an order, they can tell them whether the order’s been taken off the shelf, whether it’s at the packing station, whether it’s about to be shipped or whether it’s already shipped.”
With cutting-edge fulfillment processes, fast delivery and improved visibility – all at a sustainable cost – Helm is poised for continued growth. The company has optimized its supply chain to provide unmatched service to customers across the country.
Helm is proof that no business model is too unique to satisfy the fast delivery times and exceptional service clients expect today.
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