So your idea hit the spot – you’ve managed to build a business around it, cash flow is no longer an issue and your Sales & Marketing teams work to consolidate profits. That sounds like you’re on course with the master plan, huzzah!
But what if the ‘Operations’ department starts skipping a beat? What if you end up bleeding money on inefficient supply chain processes that should support (not hinder) your growth? What if it takes a while before you actually find the pain point? Why would you risk it? …especially when there’s a full range of tools you can use to prevent it.
If you are at a point where you need to increase yield in order to stay ahead of the game, then put warehouse productivity on your Need-to-Change check list, definitely. You’ll find below a few pointers that might be help you start-off the research.
Warehousing, Ground Zero for Productivity Improvement
A reliable inventory tracking & management system plus a high degree of mobility (within the warehouse) represent the ‘bare minimum’ requirements for achieving seamless, time compliant distribution processes. They are vital components of an efficient delivery system, which is one of the most important contributors to business-running costs and customer satisfaction. These two reasons alone are solid Pro arguments when it comes to improving productivity. That being said, we’ve reached the first items on the above-mentioned checklist:
- Maximise Storage Space
Your business will have extra growth juice if you are able to store more, locate & move freight quicker and have a firm grasp on the unoccupied slots, at all times. Go for narrow aisles and tall storage layouts if you want to make the best use of your total warehouse (storage) space. As you clearly guessed, a space-effective organizational layout will increase storage capacity and eliminate expansion costs.
- Push for Mobility
Anything and everything that ensures better mobility should be considered. From warehouse layout, to customized equipment, to making sure you have the necessary staff to support operational workflows, you should balance all puzzle pieces to make sure things move at a fast pace.
- Use a Warehouse Control System (WCS)
Keeping and updating inventory using pen and paper is no longer sustainable. Using warehouse management systems is not really a question of choice these days, it’s the norm for the majority of industry-related businesses. A WCS will allow you to instantly track & retrieve any freight item in the warehouse, consequently reducing the time needed to search for goods and get them ready for delivery. You can also view stock levels in real time, which is something very useful in maintaining a specific stock availability.
- Rely on Technology
Beside the numerous WCS-s on the market today, other niched technologies are up for grabs as we speak. RFID – the radio frequency identification is such an example (among many others); it is meant to increase operational accuracy by enabling greater visibility into essential process points, allow real-time inventory management and coordinate with the supply chain.
- Improvement Needs Data
Two words: Velocity Analysis, one priority. Placing the fastest moving items closest to packing areas reduces the actual number of steps a team member has to make and optimises for slotting. Placement within arms-reach also helps productivity by saving on (search an) load times.
- Simplify Processes
It’s inevitable that, over time, new functions have made their way within the warehouse day-to-day operational routine. Do product flow and order flow still make sense and intersect each other? Map the current steps that make up product flow and order fulfilment and aim for the ‘less is more’ pattern as less steps mean fewer touches and lower costs.
- Don’t lose sight of your team
Last, but definitely not least, focus your attention on the team. There are a few common-place options that you could use to test & refine your approach, in accordance with the company’s HR vision. Having a fully motivated workforce can mean anything from an increased workplace comfort, to setting up a performance-based incentive program, to a higher management presence on the floor. You could also test deadheading reducing strategies – i.e. rolling out an order picking cart (with power) feature. This could help diminish situations in which workers pick products, drop them off at the loading dock and return to the picking area without considering any other applicable tasks such as picking near-by products for another active order.
Increasing productivity in warehousing seems to rely on a set of universal rules: observe the present situation/ identify the weak points and formulate solutions/ match objectives to sustainable activities/ test options and – finally – adjust working methods accordingly. The blueprint is complete, now: Action Required!