Cross docking is a process that can potentially save businesses a considerable amount of time and money, making operations within warehouse facilities far more efficient. Although the benefits will be felt right across the business, cross docking is not a suitable process that will suit every type of supply chain.

So what is cross docking and when should it be used to ensure business owners can create a more productive environment that benefits the supply chain and improve customer satisfaction? And what role does WMS software play in creating an efficient cross docking process?

What is cross docking?

Cross docking is a procedure within the supply chain that moves products directly to a customer from the supplier or manufacturer without additional handling or storage time. This occurs within a specific docking terminal where trucks are loaded and unloaded and supported with a small amount of storage space.

In basic terms, cross docking means the receipt of inbound goods on one side of the dock before moving them across to the outbound dock where they leave once the trucks are fully loaded and ready for departure.

When should cross-docking be used?

Although it has its clear benefits to many businesses, cross docking is not a suitable fit for every kind of warehouse. This means a clear analysis of the facility should be done to ensure cross docking will improve productivity, reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction.

It works best for high turnover products that have a constant demand and short lead times. For example, temperature controlled or unpreserved goods such as food rely on being transported quickly and efficiently to maintain their condition. These are items that would benefit greatly from the implementation of cross docking. This is also the case for pre-packaged products which are able to be sent to a customer with far more efficiency.

Reasons why cross docking is added to the supply chain include:

  • It creates a “hub and spoke” process that allows a combination of similar products to be sorted and delivered to a multiple destinations quickly and effectively.
  • A number of smaller product loads can be combined into one mode of transport which will reduce transportation costs. Also known as “consolidation arrangements”.
  • Larger product loads can be divided into smaller lots to create an easier delivery process, which is sometimes referred to as “deconsolidation arrangements”.

WMS Cross docking solutions

To ensure your cross docking processes are able to positively impact the supply chain, the WMS system must be able to manage four key criteria. This includes data and inventory visibility, traceability, operational adaptability and supply chain agility.

This is because the cross docking process is heavily reliant on being able to access live inventory data, while also being able to receive information regarding orders in advance. This enables warehouse staff to be fully prepared for orders that need to be despatched, which in turn will increase the rate at which the inventory is processed.

Cross docking requires a high level of data visibility to ensure it performs effectively within the warehouse. Automated data collection devices such as barcode scanners, conveyors, mobile computers, RF & RFID and wireless networks need to work seamlessly with the warehouse management system.

This will enable the devices to capture important information such as weight, expiration date and SKU before sending it directly to the WMS. This allows staff to instantly access this data that can impact decisions made elsewhere within the facility.

The success of any cross docking process is reliant on how quickly the inventory data can be accessed, which will impact how effectively each order is fulfilled. All incoming and outgoing order information must be stored on the WMS permanently. This will create an audit trail that will make product recall and order enquiries much easier in the future.

It is also beneficial to integrate the shipping management software into the WMS. Once done it will enable staff to search for better rates, locate carriers based on their availability and link this information to specific outgoing orders. It will also improve shipping data visibility and help to reduce transportation costs.

Returns play a key role in any cross docking process and the WMS should feature reverse logistics functionality. This will then enable you to track orders as they are returned to the warehouse, unpacked and re-processed where required.