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5 Best Practices: Bin Locations in Lumber and Building Materials

March 26, 2020

There are many common misconceptions about why a Lumber and Building Materials (LBM) business can’t or hasn’t been optimized with bin locations. These include material size affecting proper bin location, fear of complicating existing processes, disjointed warehouse layouts, unequipped ERP software, and perceived difficult maintenance. But these challenges have solutions. Read on to discover five best practices.

1. Material Size Affects Proper Bin Location

For many LBM companies, the sheer size (or shape) of their product presents problems with bin location. If you’re nodding right now, you're not alone. In this case, your definition of a bin location needs reworking. It seems the word people hang onto is “bin,” rather than the more important “location.” While a four-foot rack is easy to label as a location, you can grid a zone, aisle, level—any spot you store material—as a location. Here are some ways adding bin locations may be best for your facility.

  • Determine the format for your locations
    • The most common format is Zone/Area, Aisle, Bay/Rack and Level using a combination of numbers and letters for organization. Alternating between the two makes it easier to read, for example Zone 10, Aisle A, Bay/Rack 01, Level B would have a location of 10-A-01-B, indicating Zone 10 in your warehouse, in the first (A) aisle, on the first rack, on Level B (second from the ground).
  • Don’t get lost in formality
    • What if your location is on the ground and there is no rack? Just end your location after the Bay/Rack and list as 10-A-01, as there’s no level needed for the floor.
    • If you want to further designate your location—say, indicate smaller compartments on a rack—just continue the pattern, i.e., 10-A-01-B-01.
  • Develop ways to label the hard to imagine areas so employees can identify each location easily
    • Racks are easiest to label, which helps employees know they're in the right spot.
    • For floor storage, get creative:
      • Use construction pylons to mark bays
      • Build pylons out of scrap material
      • Hang signs from the ceiling

2. Fear of Complicating Existing Processes

Just because your team knows where everything is, it doesn’t mean they always will. This is a great steering tactic to avoid change and perfection. This mindset prevents advancement, whereas if you take a step back and evaluate the efficiency of your process, it’s easy to see how bin locations are a long-term solution. Here are a few points to help sell your team:

  • Quickly train new hires
    • Bin locations expedite the training process, as trainees can rely on your location format to find the material with only a campus map—instead of asking where materials are until they commit it to memory.
  • Increase your capabilities of cross training
    • Departments are often siloed without bin locations, because employees often stay in the departments they know. Bin locating allows employees to help with demand without having to ask where to find individual materials.
  • Easier Warehouse Management System (WMS) migration
    • Most WMS systems operate on bin location, so if you already have it in place, this once overwhelming project to go digital is more achievable.

3. Disjointed Warehouse Layouts

While most LBM companies weren’t blessed with a 300,000 square foot facility with gridded aisles and zoning division, and instead inhabit different buildings with sections of yard storage in between, there are ways to achieve organization. Though you may consider these reasons you can’t use bin location, they are the reasons you need bin location.

  • Map it out
    • Start with a map of your entire campus, numbering buildings as yard areas/zones
    • Try leaving spaces between zones in case you missed something
  • Move inside
    • Once you define the zones, start breaking them down individually
    • Try to be as logical as possible (aisles going the same way), as having building numbers/yard zones defined helps get your material handlers find the right place.

4. Unequipped ERP Software

Most modern ERPs will have item locations as a standard field on the product and logic built-in, allowing you to track material by location (even if you're limited to one location per product). If you aren’t familiar with setting these up, there are steps you can take:

  • Support or Professional Services Groups will help your company’s system administrator set up location tracking and take full advantage of the logic built into your software.
  • If your ERP doesn’t have a natural field, these groups can help create a User Defined Field (UDF) or take advantage of a seldom used field that may work.

5. Bin Locations are Difficult to Maintain

So now that you’ve sold your team on bin locations and set them up in your system, you might run into delays with adding new locations or moving materials to new locations because of a lack of automation. The best way to avoid this issue is to give the warehouse control through the Warehouse Management Solution (WMS) we discussed earlier:

  • WMS makes the location and inventory control trackable and usable on mobile devices or computers. Making these changes in the warehouse allows for real-time location updates and benefits the operation.
  • WMS easily tracks overflow locations and can send real-time alerts to move end users to secondary locations when the primary location is out of stock or not optimal.
  • WMS keeps inventory live, so things like Cycle Counting and Replenishments are easy to set up/configure.

Ready to Set Up Bin Locations for Your Business?

The benefits of implementing bin locations far outweigh anything that’s keeping you from doing it for your business. If you think it’s time to make the change, Epicor BisTrack ERP can define and assign bin attributes built-in with expert support at every step for a smoother transition. See it in action and learn more about Epicor WMS and what it can do for your business.