From the outside perspective, an automotive parts distribution center might look like any other distribution center. Big rectangular building with high walls and dock doors for freight trucks, store delivery trucks and parcel carriers with a walk-in section for will call pick up are definitely not unusual for many warehouses. However, when stepping foot inside an auto parts warehouse for the first time, one might notice that there are some pretty big differences compared to warehouses in most other industries. Yes, inventory is received, put-away into storage, picked, packed and shipped just like any other distribution center. However, the variety of inventory items do not look alike at all. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of high velocity SKUs being picked, but instead, order pickers scurry around their areas pulling from various storage locations and not seeming to return to the same one very often. Also, there is an area for returns that isn’t tucked away in an ugly corner away from the facility tour route. In fact, in order to compete for business in this $300B market to provide parts to the 254 million cars and trucks on the road today in the US, auto parts distributors must consider some critical and unique aspects about their industry when planning and designing a distribution center.
According to Ronnie Ransome, Vice President of Fulfillment Operations at Eckler’s Industries in Titusville, FL, “the automotive parts distribution industry is unique in that we need to keep a large inventory of slow moving items that can vary in physical attributes; consequently maximizing the available cubic space with the proper storage medium is critical for being able to store, pick and ship efficiently and meet customer needs. If we can’t provide that one part for our customer in a quick and efficient manner, they will go somewhere else, and we simply can’t have that!” Therefore, incorporating a means to fulfill orders quickly and accurately out of the various storage medium is critical to system design.
Finally, a conveyor system that has multiple pick zones to route and destinations to sort will accommodate the various service level commitments that are common with automotive parts distribution. Priority orders for mid-day delivery, regular store replenishment orders with late afternoon cutoff times, will call orders, and direct to consumer orders for parcel shipment can all be fulfilled using the zone routed conveyor and sortation system as a common backbone.
In addition to order fulfillment, a major aspect of the auto parts industry is the handling of returns, to include cores, warranty items and regular items. According to APH’s Dennis Gregory, “Returns are a significant factor in the automotive aftermarket. The returns process from the customer to the store, the store to the distribution center and the distribution center to the supplier needs to be accurate, timely and efficient to avoid the considerable cost associated with the activity while providing a high level of customer service.” Therefore, an efficient material handling system design should take into consideration the restocking process, which is often accomplished using carts or pallet jacks. These carts or pallet jacks require a floor path not obstructed by the conveyor system in order to give restockers access to the appropriate storage locations, which can be done through lift gates or bridges. Having these conveyor lift gates or bridges designed with the conveyor system can also satisfy necessary personnel egress requirements.
For more information on the Automotive Collision Parts Distributor Certification Program, including information on becoming an NSF International certified collision parts distributor, email .
The NSF International Automotive Collision Parts Distributor Certification Program closes the supply chain gap between parts manufacturers and repair shops by addressing the key role distributors play in providing quality parts. The program was developed with input from collision repair shops, collision parts distributors and insurers, and is publicly supported by a leading body shop trade association. Key requirements include automotive parts traceability and recall processes.