46 CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly [QUARTER 1/2017] www.SupplyChainQuarterly.com
[RESEARCH FOR THE REAL WORLD]
The advantages of a holistic approach to
“Just-in-time retail distribution: A systems perspective
on cross-docking,” by Paul Buijs of the University of
Groningen, Hans W. Danhof of the Dutch retailer
Blokker, and J. (Hans) C. Wortmann of the University
of Groningen. Published in the September 2016 issue of
the Journal of Business Logistics.
Cross-docking—the process of moving goods through
the distribution network without placing them in stored
inventory at a distribution center—typically involves
moving products from an inbound trailer directly to
an outbound trailer or temporarily storing them on the
floor before shipping them out. Cross-docking improves
the processing speed of a distribution network while also
reducing the amount of inventory it needs to hold.
Many companies, however, struggle to effectively
implement cross-docking strategies. One of the main reasons is that most have implemented cross-docking without changing their organizational structure or metrics.
Most supply chain literature agrees that the best approach
is a holistic one, where cross-docking operations are not
only synchronized with inbound and outbound logistics
processes but also are managed by the same people with
the same or similar performance metrics.
But this does not often happen. Managers who oversee
cross-docking operations typically are not also involved
in external logistics processes, and the metrics they use
focus only on internal efficiencies, such as the distance
traveled by material handling equipment in the distribution center.
In this article, the authors sought to prove the
extent to which a holistic approach to cross-docking
provides a significant advantage over a more localized
approach focused only on the distribution center. To
accomplish this, they worked with a major retailer in
the Netherlands to identify cross-docking improvement
opportunities. The two possibilities they studied were
1) whether to change the dock-door assignment policy;
and 2) whether the retailer should cluster and sort loads
bound for the same store at the cross-dock itself or at
a facility farther upstream in the distribution network.
They also used simulation software to determine which
would create a bigger impact: focusing on local optimiza-
tion, or focusing on networkwide optimization. As part
of that process, the authors discovered that the retailer’s
current metrics were not fully communicating the bene-
fits of a holistic approach. To address that shortcoming,
they developed new metrics, borrowing from concepts
used in lean manufacturing.
Dr. Paul Buijs, the lead author, spoke with Supply
Chain Quarterly about what these findings could mean
for companies that are currently using cross-docking or
are thinking of implementing the technique.
What issues were you seeking to explore through this
We saw that most of the benefits of cross-docking are
lower inventory levels. But the lower inventory levels
also form the main challenge of cross-docking. Due to
the low inventory levels, a much tighter coupling arises
between the logistics inside the distribution center and
the inbound and outbound logistics networks. We also
saw that both the academic research as well as practitioners’ own strategies were geared mostly toward optimizing the operations that take place locally—in other
words, how to improve cross-docking operations at the
distribution center itself. But due to the tight coupling
between the local cross-docking operations and the net-
The Journal of Business Logistics (JBL), published by the Council of Supply Chain Management
Professionals (CSCMP), is recognized as one of the world’s leading academic supply chain journals. But
sometimes it may be hard for practitioners to see how the research presented in its pages applies to what they
do on a day-to-day basis. To help bridge that gap, CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly challenges the authors
of selected JBL articles to explain the real-world implications of their academic research.