Receiving Part 1

How much has the receiving process changed since the 1940s? How about the 1970s?

The basic process may not have changed much, if at all, if you look at it from a macro viewpoint. It is the same four linear steps:

  1. Unload the cargo/freight
  2. Sort and segregate (palletize)
  3. Check-in the materiel
  4. Put away

This is the same process that has been carried out in warehouses for over 100 years. Although the four basic steps have not changed, the ways warehouse personnel accomplish the steps has changed. In the 100 years since powered equipment arrived, conveyors, carts, tuggers, elevators, fork lift trucks, and other material handling innovations have changed the physical handling of the freight.

Transportation tools have changed too. Horse-drawn wagons have been replaced by trains and trucks. A teamster no longer drives a team of horses, but a truck with the equivalent of 400 horses of power. Packaging has changed too, with cartons on pallets replacing crates and barrels.

Even the information-gathering step of checking in the goods with a pencil and paper on a clipboard has changed. While the original WMS applications of the 1970s and 1980s depended on paper documents, today’s systems use barcode scanners and radio frequency terminals to eliminate paper in the check-in steps.


Perhaps the biggest change to the warehouse receiving process has come from 360 degrees of influence on the process. Both internal and external factors affect typical warehouse receiving processes. More external factors influence receiving operations today than existed just a decade ago. We believe that at least eight major factors influence the complexity of a warehouse’s receiving mission, and changes in each of these major factors have influenced the physical process, information flow, and planning efforts. Inbound managers today deal with far more complexity than they did a decade ago.

The eight major factors (and some of the minor factors), include:

  • Transportation
    • Equipment Utilization
    • Decreasing Carrier Population
    • Shrinking Driver Pool
  • Packaging
    • Recycle – Waste
    • Quality
    • Labeling
  • Business Policy
    • Inventory Policy
    • Frequency and Documentation
    • Accuracy
  • Labor and Culture
    • Skills and Abilities
    • Wage Costs
    • Quality of Life
  • Banking Systems
    • Capital Requirements, Collateral
    • Documentation
  • Supplier Capabilities
    • Communications
    • Performance
  • Internal Capabilities
    • Operator Skills
    • Management Skills
    • Systems Requirements and Capability
  • Regulatory Policy
    • Hours of Service
    • OSHA
    • Health Care

The everyday challenge for the manager is balancing these and many other issues. Receiving operations managers face the increasing expectations of cost control while addressing a far more complex operation. These expectations create a receiving process far more complex than the simple linear four-step flow discussed at the top of this article.

Internal Complexity

Today’s warehouse receiving managers face many of the same challenges as receiving managers of the past. The basic decisions that need to be made about location, personnel, equipment and schedule are the same today as in the past.

The receiving manager must balance the use of these four resources by making decisions based on knowledge of the internal capacity of these resources, and knowledge of the amount and disposition of the inbound freight. In the mid 1980s, many warehouses started to use receiving dock appointment scheduling.

The concept is simple — require all inbound deliveries to make an appointment to deliver at least one business day in advance of the arrival date. The tools are simple — a notebook and a written policy. As surprising as it may sound, many warehouse operations today do not use dock appointment scheduling as a tool. Nor is the problem confined to just small operations. I know of some major food distribution operators still working on a first come, first served program.

There are a number of benefits to dock scheduling. The obvious one is to eliminate the tendency of carriers to all show up at the same time, putting pressure on the dock personnel to hurry up and unload. At the most basic form, dock scheduling ensures some flow control, buying sanity for the operations.

One of the more significant benefits for inbound appointments is the ability of the receiving manager to get some forward visibility of the volume of work. A basic requirement we insist our clients embrace is getting a list of the purchase orders the carrier plans to deliver, with the pallet and/or carton count for each order. Enterprising receiving managers, using the purchase order details and their experience, can estimate the time and effort required to process the daily load.  Truly skilled managers adjust receiving manpower to projected workloads.

Two Basic Questions

There are two basic questions a receiving manager can ask about each delivery to assist the decision-making process for dock activity flow:

  1. How much freight or cargo is scheduled?
  2. What kind of freight/cargo?

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