As with most businesses, efficiency can make the difference between profit and loss. In warehouse management, this is particularly true. The most resourceful warehouse operators use some or all of these techniques to stay ahead of the competition.
1. Smart Layout
Successful warehouse operators have a carefully thought out plan for storage. It makes sense to store the most commonly picked items near the front of the area and items that are often sold together near one another. To ensure maximum utilization of available space, store items of a similar size and shape on the same racks. This prevents misplacing small items that slip behind large cartons, and allows the most consistent use of vertical space.
2. Review the Layout Periodically
There are thousands of potential space and rack configurations for most warehouses, but there are only a few that allow maximum use of the available space. Since unfilled space rarely changes but product mix evolves over time, it makes sense to review your warehouse layout every one or two years to be certain it is still optimum for the current product mix. For example, many products get smaller in subsequent generations, but the space between shelves may still be utilized for the behemoths of early generations.
3. Think Up
Before relegating popular items to the distant reaches of the warehouse, which could have an adverse impact on efficiency, consider using more of your vertical space. You might store overstock on high shelves to make space on lower shelves for more items near the front of the warehouse, for example.
Many people don’t realize how standardizing on bins, cases and shelves can improve the productivity of a warehouse. When material is stored consistently, it’s easier to find items or to put away items, Shelving can be set to the optimum distance for the standard bin sizes, for example, ensuring full use of the entire space. Standard packaging also makes it easier to find items when picking, improving organization and adding further to efficiency.
5. Eliminate Non-Value Added Actions
The journey to lean consists of a relentless pursuit and elimination of waste. Examine all of your processes, at least annually, to ensure that unnecessary steps haven’t crept in. It also makes sense to review product mix to confirm that newly popular items are stored near the front rather than at a distance. If the warehouse is equipped with data collection, ensure there are enough stations and that they are positioned to make it easy to perform transaction entries. Check for shortages and open orders when material arrives, so the team doesn’t put it away and pick it again immediately.
People retain only a small percentage of the material they learn, and that percentage dwindles even further over time. While some people chafe at spending time on training warehouse personnel, the increased productivity that is gained when the team knows the best way to perform their duties can more than offset any lost time. Even long-term team members should undergo periodic refresher training. According to research published by Vanderbilt University, learning builds from previous knowledge. The more exposure learners have to information, the more of the information they will retain. A well-trained team is a proficient team, but that takes time and repetition.
7. Sophisticated Picking Methods
Assuming they still get pick orders in batches, well-organized warehouses use wave or consolidated picking to eliminate the number of times warehouse personnel make the long trek to the back of the warehouse. By consolidating orders and picking for multiple orders on a single trip to a section or aisle, efficiency increases dramatically. Automated picking for routine products is the ultimate in efficiency.
Today, many warehouses receive pick orders in a continuous flow, which doesn’t lend itself to wave picking. These warehouses can still be effective by using streamlined business processes and working toward best practices for picking and storage.
8. Eliminate Paper
Paper takes space; it gets lost; and it has to be printed, filed and stored. There is nothing resourceful — or green — about paper-based warehouse processes. Convert to electronic picking lists, radio-frequency (RF) devices and other paperless methods as often as possible.
9. Consider Automation
Going through the above efficiency checklist is a great step towards improving overall profitability. For those operators still using manual systems, these steps are a great way to prepare for automation. Implementing an IT system to help with warehouse management doesn’t tell you what steps to do – it merely performs them with greater speed. Given the advanced capabilities and sophisticated planning options now available, you are really operating at a disadvantage without some sort of IT system today. Take the time to understand how your processes can work best before hiring an implementation team when considering this paperless option.
Efficiency is a combination of best practices, vigilance and common sense. Stay up to date on the newest material-handling techniques and equipment, and make sure to review all your practices and procedures frequently to ensure continuous improvement and a successful warehouse.
If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:
- Do Forklifts Have a Place in the Warehouse of the Future?
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- Applying Lean Principles to Warehouse Management