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Six steps to a successful retrofit

Is a DC retrofit in your future? Here are some tips from the experts for keeping this type of complex project on track.

By Peter Bradley

Even the best run, most modern, most productive distribution centers have a life cycle. Equipment ages; newer, faster, better technology comes along; or the business changes and with it, the demands on the DC. Eventually the day comes when it becomes apparent to all concerned that an upgrade is in order if the operation is going to stay competitive.

Although some companies take that as an opportunity to move to a newer, more up-to-date facility, that's not the only option. Another alternative is to retrofit the existing DC, replacing older equipment with modernized parts or systems.

But a retrofit can be daunting, with the potential to interrupt business operations. So we asked some experts who oversee retrofits for a living for tips on getting it done with minimal disruption. Here's what they suggested:

1. Find a partner. Certainly, specialists in DC retrofits have a vested interest in touting their capabilities. But they make a cogent point in urging clients to find partners who are familiar with the process to help with design and implementation issues.

Who that partner is depends on the scope and scale of the project, says Seth Taylor, a director for the consulting and systems integration firm Fortna. "You want to make sure you partner with the right people, people who do this for a living," he says. "You want them providing a thorough analysis of the existing facility and planning how to get the job done. Not all companies are set up to do retrofits. It is a bit of an art, and mastery of that art comes from experience."

2. Keep the entire business involved. "The facilities I've seen be successful take an all-in approach," Taylor says. "They bring all facets of the business into the planning and execution. Any part of the business that will be affected needs to have a member on the core team." That could include DC management and line personnel, maintenance, engineering, human resources, IT, and sales and marketing.

Taylor also stresses the need for ongoing communication throughout the process. Keeping all parts of the business informed about what will occur during the implementation of each phase, what the risks are, and the expected outcome can help build support throughout the organization, he says.

External clients also should be kept in the loop, so they are not surprised by any changes in business processes that result from the retrofit. Taylor notes that these project updates can be parlayed into a marketing tool. "It's another touch for the customer, letting them know you are improving the business," he says.


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Logistics Engineering, LLC
517 Patterdale Lane
Blythewood, South Carolina 29016

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