Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2013    |    Volume: 45    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Getting out from 'away'

A long time ago, a newly married friend said that any domicile for the newly betrothed should come with a place called "away." After all, that’s where everything goes.

That came after a few conversations that went thusly: "Honey, what should I do with this?" "Put it away." "Where does this go?" "Put it away." "Where can I put these power tools?" "Put them away – and out of my kitchen!"

The concept of away should sound familiar to the ears of industrial engineers who work in logistics and manufacturing – particularly in this holiday month, where parents worldwide get to watch their children rip off colored wrapping paper to uncover shiny new toys and thingamajigs.

After all, these new toys all came from a place similar to "away" – the friendly neighborhood warehouse (or, in most cases, warehouses from well beyond your neighborhood).

Virtually every physical item, holiday-related or not, at some point reposed in a warehouse. If the warehouse operated efficiently and the entity’s supply chain was in touch with its customers, these items didn’t hang out there for long. If said warehouse was chaotic and disorganized, well, your shiny new thingamajig might not be so new.

Russell D. Meller, Lisa M. Thomas and the Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution have years of experience in warehouse design and operations. "Designing Better Warehouses" on Page 28 distills much of their experience into lessons useful for others who aim to accomplish the ideal of moving goods efficiently into and out of "away" on their journey to the end customer.

The authors apply a design methodology that, while it may not be the final answer, is a good starting place that helps warehouse personnel gradually achieve their goals. Testing the idea in a wide variety of settings yields new ways to look at sizing, configuration and peak operational levels.

So take a look at their work and their lessons. And remember, while "away" can be a useful place to put things, not much stored there gets used often. Efficiently getting things from the "away" of your warehouse on the road to their intended recipient means your child’s thingamajig really will be shiny and new.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at or (770) 349-1110.