Warehouse management is all about attention to detail
2015 February: Warehouse management has evolved from times when general cargo was discharged “loose” from ships. The wharfinger, a licensed warehouse practitioner, had more responsibility for keeping and caring of cargo as the ‘bailee of the goods’ while said cargo remained in his custody. He had to be cognisant of “damage mitigation” requirements, various aspects of the “sue and labour” clause as part of the need to protect his cargo and himself from claims of negligence in his duties of ‘caring for the cargo’. Some familiarity with “Hague Visby rules,” or charter parties, or maritime liens, or the proper use of cargo handling gears, would all be a part of his expertise. Not the least however would be how accurate he was at receiving and delivering cargo.
Warehouse management in today’s port environment, where domestic cargo consignments are delivered largely as individual items to hundreds of customers, requires relentless attention to detail.
One of the many challenges is the tracking of large numbers of packages of different types, sizes and of various ‘marks and numbers’. A successful end-result, getting the cargo to consignee, will happen only where there has been total accuracy in the delivery exercises. This demands undivided attention.
The warehouse system has to deliver with unfailing accuracy while maintaining the integrity of packages. The packages should be delivered in the same condition (except for fair wear and tear) in which it they were received.
While there are various advanced automated and electronic management systems devised to track inventories, the key is to employ systems which fit the particulars of the trade.
Warehousing activity carried out from a shipping terminal is mainly to support the stripping of containers. These can be Full Container Loads of homogenous cargos or, containers described as L.C.L or F.A.K (‘less than container load’ or ‘freight of all kinds’). Regardless, functions of stripping and stuffing, reconsolidation, repackaging, transfers, as well as the handling of bulk consignments all generate economic activity. They must be planned for, measured for utility and augmented accordingly.
In this regard, the logistics of establishing and determining the stripping or stuffing queue; along with the concomitant space requirements needed in relation to output expectations, assume paramount importance. And efficiency and accuracy have to be maintained while accommodating, for example, cargo intrusion checks, customs inspection, bills of lading or order authentication, as part of the daily exercise.
In this milieu, practising of safety protocols as they pertain to handling dangerous/ hazardous or disagreeable cargoes must also be on-going. The negative effects to the health and safety of employees are obvious and therefore must be kept in the forefront of consideration. Modern and functioning safety and protective gear; on-hand first aid access; timely fulfilling of fumigation requirements; and container airing requirements are all imperative and warehouse managers run dangerous risks by not holding to all safety protocols and procedures.
In order that the warehouse’s cube can be fully utilized, racking is compulsory. Palletized cargo can be handled easily enough. However, where pallets need to be sorted out in groups of like consignment or different package types, the manager has to be much more discerning. Heavy pieces must be racked or stowed lower. Lighter pieces can be stowed higher. That never changes.
The smart warehouse manager is prepared to receive numerous barrels and drums of ‘personal effects’, especially at the Christmas peak period. There is some challenge as to completeness when sorting and stowing this type of cargo. Most challenging are the reconciliations required to consolidate or stow the ‘returning residents’ mix. This might include anything, including the pigeon coop or old motor-bike parts… odds and ends and small items which can get mislaid quite easily.
Commercial cargos are much more ‘accommodating’ in their stowage needs. Shrink-wrapped packages (usually associated with the informal commercial trade) pose reconstruction problems after being subject to custom examinations because it is almost impossible to “re-shrink-wrap” without the shrink-wrap machine.
Special cargos lockers, necessary to protect high value or easily stolen articles, keyed by both customs and warehouse personnel, are useful security precautions. For cargo that needs to be loaded for export or in situations where reconsolidation and de-consolidation are undertaken, the proper chocking and dunnaging techniques must be applied. Properly trained technicians are a pre-requisite, as this application ensures the stability, integrity and safety of the cargo while in transit.
There is a particular damage certification clause that the au fait warehouse practitioner ought to know. It reads in part: ” …at the time of delivery and in the presence of the customer, customs officer and warehouse supervisor (or designate), found in apparent good order and condition, but upon examination, found to be rattling, broken, torn, dented …etc.”. In the event of insurance-related claims, this protects the warehouse from liability for damage incurred. Containerization has surely reduced the need for this type of damage certification. Improvements in packaging have also contributed to the minimizing of cargo damage.
Accuracy in the execution of the delivery process requires attention to detail at every stage. This is imperative for all who are a part of the process but managers and supervisors have to be on top of their game, as long as there is cargo under their care. 
by Alrick Mitchell *
*Alrick Mitchell, BSc. (Hons.) Marine Commerce, managed Planning and Operations at the Port of Kingston for 30 years.