When it comes to warehouse operations, any improvement in productivity or efficiency can go straight to the bottom line, through reduced costs, less labor, and increased throughput. A more efficient warehouse can improve customer service and create the capacity you need to take on more business.
While every warehouse is different, there are a number of common approaches to achieving a more productive and efficient warehouse:
1. Use automatic identification and data collection technology in combination with a robust WMS.A strong warehouse management system (WMS) will help you streamline warehouse operations by generating automated pick lists, managing inventory, suggesting pick/put-away routes, and eliminating the need for paper pick sheets.
Using mobile computers and barcode scanning will eliminate manual data entry, reduce mistakes, and significantly reduce the labor and time needed for verifying shipments. If you are in an industry that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, handheld RFID scanners can scan dozens or hundreds of ID tags at a time — producing an even bigger efficiency gain in shipping and receiving operations. Hands-free picking solutions that use voice technology can also speed up warehouse operations while improving the ergonomics of your technology.
2. Take advantage of your vertical space. Warehouse operators should take advantage of every square foot of space they have. If floor space is in short supply, then consider building up instead of out. By extending your shelving and racking upward you can greatly increase the volume of goods you can handle without eating up additional room on the floor.
Pallet racking and other systems are easy to use and can improve workplace safety (as well as warehouse operations) by reducing clutter and making it easier for employees and material handling vehicles to move around the facility. Invest in a variety of racks and shelves that fit the size of your goods. That can include using standardized bins for smaller items. With well-organized racking and shelving, it will be easer for employees to pick and put-away inventory.
3. Consider robotics and other material handling automation solutions. With the use of more racking and shelving, you may find that you need more automated material handling equipment. Conveyors can make it easier to move goods across a facility while reducing strain on employees. Storage systems that can automatically move bins up and down through high shelving systems can also increase efficiency of your warehouse operations.
Robotic picking systems are also increasingly popular in warehouse and manufacturing environments. These robots can be used to pick items from shelves/bins at any height and accurately return the goods for sorting or shipping. They can operate across multiple shifts (saving labor) and perform work that might otherwise result in workplace injuries for regular employees.
4. Organize your warehouse for maximum efficiency. Evaluate your picking paths and methodology as well as how you have organized goods without your warehouse. The workflow in your warehouse should help ensure speed, accuracy, and accountability. Fast moving items should be placed close to shipping; items commonly shipped together should be co-located on the shelf/rack.
De-clutter the warehouse to remove obstacles that can slow down pick operations, and find ways to reduce the amount of walking that staff members have to do in order to complete their work. Have processes in place so that employees don’t have to leave their work areas in order to address problems. For example, create a space for packers to place incorrectly picked goods so that pick/put-away staff can retrieve them. Use your WMS to create efficient picking plans. Constantly re-evaluate your inventory and order patterns, and reorganize based on changes in order volume.
5. Institute continuous improvement. Don’t consider an efficiency initiative as something that will eventually be completed. You will need to continuously measure and monitor performance, and then adjust your warehouse operations to match any changes in your business. Don’t just focus on short-term improvements; set goals and objectives, and measure against them.
With the right physical infrastructure, organization, and technology in place, you can improve the efficiency and productivity of your warehouse operations while also boosting customer service and making your warehouse a safer place to work.