I am writing this e-tip while sitting at O’Hare after attending another fantastic PARCEL Forum. One of the most prevalent discussions I heard at the conference was everyone trying to predict this year’s peak volumes, or more specifically, the percent of available capacity in the carriers’ networks. Some studies predict significant excess, while some people are skeptical of that premise. For this year, this uncertainty will require a high degree of flexibility and patience. Hopefully next year’s peak will be more predictable, and the following tips will help you be better prepared.

· Know your non-peak average high volumes – This means really understanding what volume you should generally be planning for on a constant basis. This is key to developing and implementing the most cost-effective systems for your operations. This is particularly important for automated systems because automating for worst case scenarios is often difficult to justify.

· Try to predict your peaking factor – As noted before, this year is going to be difficult to predict how much higher peak volumes will be over normal volumes. Established companies can often make that prediction based on historical data and forecast based upon consistent customer communications throughout the year to identify trends and potential anomalies.

· Determine what’s reasonable – Once you have a peak volume estimate, it’s time to come up with a reasonable plan to handle it. In many cases, it’s been simplex to put more people on it, but we’re all familiar with the labor challenge. Often additional flexible equipment (manual, semi-automated, or even fully automated subsystems) can help hit your numbers. And in some situations, additional short or long-term facilities like last-mile annex building can be the right answer.

· Prepare properly – Much like any project, a critical step to be ready for peak is to prepare to use the newest processes, equipment, or labor. You need to over communicate to all stakeholders on what will happen, have an efficient training plan for temp labor, and then practice the plan at peak level volumes to the extent that is practical. To use another popular expression, ‘hope is not a strategy’.

Even though this year’s peak season forecast may be murky, working through the tips above should help provide some ideas on how work through the uncertainty.

Jim McLafferty is the Director of Post & Parcel Sales at DMW&H. With over 25 years of experience in the material handling industry, Jim is a thought leader in postal deliveries and parcel shipments, and the equipment and systems needed within a warehouse or distribution center to facilitate package deliveries. He can be reached at JMcLafferty@dmwandh.com or 201.635.3439.