Warehouse processes are the lifeblood of every business offering products to customers. Yet, growing customer demand is stalling warehouse operations that have not seen an upgrade for several decades. For companies to stay competitive, they must carefully evaluate the areas of their operations that have delayed their order picking and delivery processes. It's time to develop efficient operations to receive orders, find merchandise and increase staff productivity.
1. Adopt Technology
Adopting technology has to be the first order of business for better warehouse management. There is no longer any point in keeping your head in the sand when it comes to technology. It isn't going anywhere. Your competitors are using every technological angle to optimize their operations to gain a competitive edge. From WMS software that is organizing orders to conveyor belt solutions to fill orders faster, these technologies all have a place in your warehouse - if you are willing to take the time to determine which repetitive tasks could benefit from automation.
Warehouse management has even gone automated with mobile RFID and barcode reader apps for smartphones and tablets. Warehouse staff can use the apps online and offline to record inventory information and update data instantly, increasing the workflow productivity for your sales team to take orders and handle customer service calls. Companies can build personalized warehouse inventory apps and host them on mobile-application development platforms. This enables staff to have easy access to back-end data services at the touch of an app.
2. Select Effective Storage Options
The second strategy to deploy for efficient warehouse operations is to use the right storage options. Seldom would you think that the storage containers holding your merchandise could, in fact, be slowing down your operations. Yet, when employees have to dig through storage containers and bins as products tip off shelves, there has to be a better way to store your items. Fast-moving items that move in bulk can be kept in cartons and pallet racks on the floor level for easy handling when placed into the store or out to delivery trucks. Items that are slow movers can be put in the appropriate bins on shelves.
Always select the storage options that are the best fit for the types of products that you sell. Also, keep in mind that warehouse staff can have a faster time fulfilling orders for in-demand products when the items are in arm's reach. Storing merchandise at waist level allows the staff to "grab and go" when filling multiple orders. However, keep in mind that the weight of the item will also dictate where it is placed, as heavier products will need to be put on lower shelves or on pallets.
3. Streamline the Order Fulfillment Process
Another top solution to make operations more efficient is to streamline the much neglected order fulfillment process. Warehouse staff will waste time when they are running everywhere to fulfill orders. If you have people going to the first aisle to pick up an item, going to the end of the warehouse for another product, and then returning to the first aisle to pick up a different item to complete the same order, your warehouse orders desperately need to be re-organized. The right warehouse software can allow you to batch requested orders in a more organized method.
Your staff can get all the needed items that are in one aisle at one time before moving on. There are also other sequencing solutions where staff can pick up all the requested items in one warehouse zone before moving on to the next zone. For this type of order fulfillment to work successfully, it will still require a logical placement of merchandise, or else, staff will still waste time revisiting the same aisles in the zone to get all the needed items.
4. Reduce the Amount of Shipping Containers
Minimizing the number of shipping containers used in the warehouse seems like a small step in the process to streamline your operations, though it is an important one to increase staff productivity. You may think that having several different sizes and shapes for shipping containers can eliminate waste, but it can also slow down the workers who have to pick and choose which containers will be the right sizes for certain products. Warehouse staff may end up selecting too small of a box for the particular order, requiring them to use multiple boxes. The shipment will now be split when going to the same shipping address, which can cause further time delays. They may also pick too large of a box for a single order, which can increase your freight costs.
Select two to three standard sizes for shipping containers. Then select several custom sizes for merchandise that are in irregular shapes. It will cut down on order fulfillment and waste. You will also be able to manage and budget your freight costs more efficiently.
5. Keep Standard Equipment in Working Order
Lastly, a productive warehouse is one where all standard equipment is kept in working order. While organizing merchandise effectively can create the optimal working environment in the warehouse, old malfunctioning equipment can slow down your operations instantly. When workers have to be pulled off their jobs to fix equipment, such as forklifts or conveyor belts, all order processes come to a screeching halt.
Unfortunately, servicing the equipment is always a low-priority task. When managing the company budget, warehouse equipment is usually ignored until there is total equipment failure in the order fulfillment process, costing the company more money in downtime delays.
Developing a standard equipment maintenance schedule where all equipment is serviced during off times must become a top priority. Any equipment that is malfunctioning should be moved out of the main warehouse area so it can be repaired and returned to the main floor in a timely fashion. If you are constantly tinkering old equipment that is running on its last legs, it is seriously time to look into purchasing and upgrading the equipment.
An efficient warehouse requires time, patience and a full understanding of the current order fulfillment process to identify deficiencies and implement the right solutions. Automation techniques, sequencing orders, selecting the right storage options, lessening the number of shipping containers, and upgrading standard warehouse equipment are just a few of the ways to have a fully functional warehouse that can meet the growing demands of customers.
Source: Patterson Pope
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