Sponsored by Zebra Technologies

GPO distribution leveraging tech to do more with less

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) is looking into RFID in its distribution centers to streamline workflows and gather more inventory data.

With 68 federal customers, 130,000 square feet of climate-controlled warehousing space across two distribution centers, and more than 2.1 billion publications distributed since 1971, the Government Publishing Office has a lot of inventory to manage. Currently, that process is manual, but Tommy Hunt, operations manager for GPO distribution and warehousing services, said GPO is looking to change that in the future.

“We’ve come a long way. Obviously we’re doing more with less, just like everyone else is,” Hunt said on The Modernized Warehouse. “We have discussed for our future state possibly an RFID, so that when the trucks come in, instead of us scanning every pallet, it would be able to scan the entire code as it comes in with multiple packages on pallets. That has been talked about.”

That would be an improvement over the current system, where employees manually scan barcodes that refer back to individual agencies. That lets GPO warehouse employees know exactly where the items are when the customer orders them, and how many have been ordered. And that’s an improvement over the entirely manual process that was in place back in the 1970s, when it took 176 employees to complete just at the Pueblo, Colorado distribution center. Now that center only requires 27 employees to keep up with the workload.

But scanning packages isn’t the only place an RFID would improve the workflow; GPO uses a light rail conveyor system that it purchased in 2020 to allow employees to stand in a single place and rotate between multiple agencies, rather than walking to find each item. Hunt said putting RFID trackers on every single package would allow for those packages to automatically get labeled in transit rather than having to be scanned, then labeled manually. That would also make it easier to sort items to the correct delivery service – GPO uses the U.S. Postal Service primarily, but also UPS, FedEx and DHL.

“Where we stand right now is we are in the discussion phase, Hunt told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “We’ve moved from wireless to barcode scanning to automatic picking carousels. So we’re sort of walking up the chain, and now we are in the discussion of the RFID. And so we are in that state and we’re looking at that for our future state.”

Tracking trends through data

GPO also collects data on its inventory, and sends updates to its agency clients to help them make better decisions about the documents they’re ordering. For example, GPO looks at what is being distributed over 30, 60 and 180 day periods, as well as annually. This gives agencies a better picture of what is moving, what is relevant. That can translate to cost savings, where agencies can order smaller shipments, or more frequent, depending on the demand.

GPO also tries to help agencies move documents that aren’t going as quickly on their own. This takes the form of customer promotions. For example, GPO might recommend certain agencies stock up on a certain relevant document for Women’s Health Month.

“We look at our federal customers,” Hunt said. “What is their mission or what are their requirements? Because we want to make sure that that’s utmost in what we do.”

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories