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Cross-Docking

By Matt Wastradowski

stock warehouse cross docking example

What is Cross-Docking?

At its most basic, cross-docking establishes a speedy, efficient system for unloading inbound shipments, sorting and consolidating materials, and immediately loading the shipments onto outgoing vehicles. Cross-docking allows facilities to move materials or product with little or no warehousing, as quickly as possible, during the shipping process.

Taking these steps eliminates the need for and reliance on warehousing; with cross-docking, the distribution center is essentially a sorting center, and materials can pass quickly through on their way to the final destination.

How does Cross-Docking Work?

Cross-docking relies on physical space that allows efficient organization and effective sorting.

A facility that employs cross-docking may use a long, narrow building with loading docks on either side, all aligned to maximize the number of loading docks and minimize the amount of floor space.

Shipments in a cross-docking facility generally follow the same basic pattern:

  • The material arrives on one side of the building
  • It is sorted, consolidated, and organized in the middle
  • It is then loaded and shipped (via conveyor belt, forklift, pallet jack, or another tool) on the other side of the building

With cross-docking, incoming materials have already been assigned to the next link in the supply chain, eliminating the need to sit in a distribution center while waiting to be “sold” or allocated. In an ideal cross-docking scenario, they may be transferred directly to an outbound truck upon arrival at a shipping facility. Materials may spend more time in a distribution center, however, when additional materials must be collected to fully stock an outbound truck or railcar.

Given that every company has different needs, space, and capabilities, there is no one right way to implement cross-docking in any given facility. Some organizations unload incoming shipments directly onto outbound trucks; others combine numerous smaller shipments into fewer, yet larger outbound deliveries; and other organizations break down, rearrange, and combine larger deliveries into smaller outbound shipments.

Cross-Docking Facility “I” Configuration

Cross-docking facilities generally take a long rectangular shape—hence the “I” configuration designation—with loading docks and doors on the two longer edges. This configuration allows for the greatest number of doors and docks, which maximizes the number of shipping options within a facility. This also minimizes the amount of space available for long-term storage, necessitating and promoting a smooth, continuously-moving operation.

Larger, more complex organizations may adopt other shapes to facilitate additional doors and loading docks, but an “I” configuration generally provides efficiency and cost-effectiveness for most companies.

What are the Benefits of Cross-Docking?

Companies that utilize cross-docking may enjoy many benefits. Successful cross-docking may:

  • Minimize the need for warehouse space and the amount of inventory on hand at any given time
  • Keep all on-hand materials in a central space, reducing the time required to search for particular items
  • Streamline the shipping process, using fewer resources along the way
  • Reduce transportation, inventory control, and labor costs
  • Consolidate shipments, better utilizing transportation resources
  • Shorten the time it takes to get products into the hands of customers

What are the Disadvantages?

Cross-docking isn’t for every company, and the move isn’t without risk. A few disadvantages include:

  • Cross-docking might not save much time, given the economic, space, and logistical resources necessary to ensure it works smoothly
  • Cross-docking may encounter difficulties without regular, open communication to ensure materials are in the right place, at the right time
  • The designated cross-docking space may not be sufficient for when materials linger at the facility longer than anticipated

Successful Communication of Cross-Docking

Communication at all links in the supply chain—and within a facility—is paramount when employing cross-docking in a facility. A facility worker may need to know what’s on a shipment, when it’s arriving, where it’s going, when it’s departing, and other pieces of data to facilitate a smooth process.

Successful communication of cross-docking involves the following:

  • Electronic data interchange (EDI), which allows the links of a supply chain to communicate updates, delays, and other notifications
  • Advance system notification (ASN), which relays the contents, expected delivery dates and times, and other key information about incoming and outgoing orders
  • Effective barcode systems, which communicate to employees the contents of a shipment, as well as where it should go and how it should be organized
  • Warehouse management systems, which enable employees to see the status of a shipment, make plans for handling shipments, and, if necessary, make changes to improve efficiency

How Industries Use Cross-Docking Systems

Numerous industries may use cross-docking to improve efficiency, decrease shipping times, and save costs.

  • Retail Cross-Docking is the most common application of cross-docking. In this instance, a distribution center receives product from a number of suppliers; the products are then sorted, combined and sometimes repacked onto pallets, and then sent out to multiple retail locations. This is especially helpful when transporting back-ordered items, popular products, and seasonal merchandise, all of which requires timely, expedient shipping to meet consumer demand.

    What does this look like in the real-world? Let’s say three trucks arrive at a facility, each carrying a different product. The trucks arrive separately, and their goods are sorted, organized, and combined as needed before being loaded onto outbound trucks a short while later.

  • Manufacturing Cross-Docking works when a central distribution center receives incoming materials and products, then sorts and configures the goods for shipment to various manufacturing locations, whether elsewhere in a facility or to an outside location. Each manufacturing location receives exactly what is needed for a defined production order.

  • The spoke-and-hub systems employed by airlines is an example of a cross-docking system designed to transport people as efficiently as possible. Travelers, for instance, arrive at an airline’s hub airport from a variety of locations; they are then sorted, consolidated, and loaded onto outgoing planes and delivered to their destinations. Ideally, they spend a minimum amount of time in the airport, although passengers may wait longer at the airport when traveling to smaller, less popular destinations. Broadly, the planes just move back and forth along the same routes. They collect and bring people into the hub, then reverse direction and distribute outgoing traffic back along the same route.

How can Graphic Products help with cross-docking?

Labeling and signage are key components of successful cross-docking facilities. Labels and signs, as well as floor and aisle marking, give workers the information required to move items around a facility, understand where to put goods, and the locations of relevant areas.

DuraLabel industrial label and sign printers by Graphic Products can help develop clear, custom visual communication. With a variety of printers and more than 50 specialty supplies, you’ll find the right tools to properly label your cross-docking facility.

These signs and labels promote employee safety, provide direction around a jobsite, and alert workers to vital information.

Strategic floor and aisle marking products can further your efforts to develop a cohesive cross docking facility. PathFinder floor marking, wayfinding, and safety tape by Graphic Products can create safe, well-marked routes; identify storage areas, safe workspaces, and other important areas; and route traffic throughout a facility. This vital communication creates a smooth shipping process and promotes safety among all links in a supply chain.