Distribution Lingo Used Frequently at Planning Board Meetings, But What Is A Cross Deck Facility?

I thought a little discussion on warehousing and the confusing terminology used in “distribution”, “fulfillment” and “last mile” facilities might be helpful, or at least help me be a little less confused. I don’t know if you have been listening in to the public meetings on the proposed Hillwood “Hudson Logistics Center” but these terms are thrown around quite a bit. It is hard to keep things straight.

The developer has presented at length the differences between building A and building B.

Building A: In one project narrative presented at town meeting, building A is described as a facility where your Amazon order is being fulfilled. In short, items that would easily fit in a TSA tote that you might see at an airport, being consolidated into your order, which would subsequently be palletized and sent to a final mile facility (like your local post office) for delivery to your home. Alternatively, in some cases, Building A has been described as a facility that would handle products slightly larger than that which would fit in a TSA tote, they’d be palletized and sent out to the final mile facility. I don’t recall the specifics, but I seem to remember an analogy to a microwave, while it might be handled by one person, it might also be physically awkward. I would assume from the description in the second narrative that items larger than that which USPS could handle going to your post office box, would likely be going to an Amazon delivery station.

Building B: The developer has been more consistent with this building. They alternatively describe it as a “once in a lifetime” purchase, or bulky items such as furniture or appliances. Twenty foot box trucks would be delivering these products, either directly to the customer or to a final mile station. Again, there is some confusion. In some project narratives, the developer states that there is NO direct delivery to customers, but for this building there may be direct delivery to customers. Still confused? So am I. It’s like being pregnant, either you are or you are not. You are either delivering direct to customer or you are not.

I guess unlike being pregnant, you can be both delivering direct while delivering to a final mile station, maybe some analogy to an adoption. I will let that go for now, just noting that it is confusing.

And what the heck is a “cross-dock” facility?

Building C: And now onto the mysterious Building C. One thing is for certain; all project plans submitted consistently show Building C as a “cross-dock” facility. In the project narratives presented to the BOS recently, the developer stated that approval for Building C could be deferred until a later date after Buildings A and B were running. In the same week, the project narrative presented to the Conservation Commission stated without ambiguity that Building C was a cross-dock facility and that the economic success of the project demanded that it was “essential”. In essence, nothing but full approval of Buildings A, B and C would result in the economic success to the project.

So is the mysterious Building C essential or not? I guess it depends on which board or commission the developer is presenting to. So at the recent Board of Selectmen meeting a few days later, I did ask the developer to clarify. The response was that “all the buildings are cross-dock in nature, and all are distributing products”. Well, I kind of get that and it seems kind of a cursory response. Of course they are all distributing products and from a material handling, it seems intuitively obvious that product enters on one side of the building and exists on the other. The response was, in my opinion, lacking.

Learning more about cross-dock:

So I wanted to learn more about this “cross-dock” configuration. I don’t profess to be a logistics engineer, so I consulted resources on the web.

Cross-docking warehousing is a fulfillment and distribution process that involves unloading incoming trucks directly onto outgoing trucks. There is minimal storage in between.

Read more here.

I found that ideal applications would include perishables, like food or other items which need to be turned around very quickly. Imagine if you will distribution of perishable foods. Nobody would want a three week old steak.

I found discussions on the concept of deconsolidation arrangementsinteresting. From my understating, in this case, a truck arriving with a shipment of produce, as an example, might “deconsolidate” that multiple pallets of product (say a consignment of broccoli) onto multiple outgoing pallets. Similarly a shipment of cheeses might be deconsolidated. On the outbound side, the trailer may then contain a pallet of broccoli, a pallet of cheese and associated pallets of other produce going to a grocery outlet.

Who Cares?

Well as a consumer of groceries distributed to my local Market Basket, I care how fresh these goods are. I hope the cross-dock is as efficient as possible, bringing me the freshest of product.

The developer’s project narrative to the Conservation Commission indicates that Building C is essential to the economic success of the project and will operate at higher levels of efficiency than Buildings A and B. At the Board of Selectmen meeting, Building C is still negotiable. Why is that?

I envision that, due to the higher efficiency, as indicated in the developer’s narrative, figures on traffic impact may be understated for Building C.

Can somebody please help to clarify my understanding; the developer, to my direct question, was unable.


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