Every warehouse faces its own set of challenges. Each has different suppliers and customers, has a unique geographic location, and serves a different supply chain. There are basic principles, however, that can benefit just about any distribution operation. All of these basic principles can be implemented and controlled through a warehouse management system (WMS), which will bring enhanced inventory accuracy, a more productive workforce, and improved customer service. Here are five best practices that will help get you closer to universal warehouse goals of efficiency, visibility, and accuracy:
- Use Automated Data Collection. Printed pick sheets, handwritten notes, and other manual data entry procedures not only reduce efficiency, they can also lead to picking and shipping errors. Barcode labels, RFID tags, and other types of automatic identification (AutoID) technology will make your warehouse operations faster and more accurate.
Barcode scanning makes it possible to get product on and off the dock more quickly, and it virtually eliminates counting errors. Pickers can receive automatic verification that they have picked the right goods, and inventory is automatically updated based on scan data. You can also eliminate manual cycle counting and other procedures, and improve your inventory visibility to enable better stocking, slotting, and re-ordering decisions.
- Maximize Space. Automation technology can help your employees work more quickly and accurately, but no amount of technology can create new storage space for your warehouse operations. When the bins and racks are full, inventory backs up into receiving, shipping, and other locations, making it harder to find goods and creating unsafe working conditions.
If you find yourself short of space, you can either build a bigger warehouse (an expensive proposition) or find ways to better utilize the space you have. One possibility: look up. Warehouse automation systems (more on that below) make it possible to safety extend your storage overhead. Look for racks and bins that can help get more goods into the same space, and evaluate how and where you are placing stock. Is there a better way to store your inventory?
- Keep Your Warehouse Organized. A messy, disorganized warehouse is difficult to navigate, unsafe, and a drag on productivity. Evaluate your SKUs based on demand and velocity, and shift the fast moving stock to forward pick positions to improve warehouse operations. More than half of your pickers’ time is spent traveling on foot or on a forklift. Place goods that are ordered together near each other on the racks. Optimize storage to reduce the amount of time your employees spend walking the warehouse floor.
Re-slot pick positions frequently based on new data. Efficient warehouse operations may re-slot fast-moving or highly profitable SKUs every week or even every day. By improving your slotting strategy, you can eliminate wasted travel time, improve working conditions, improve customer service, and save money.
- Real-Time Inventory Management. Your automatic identification data needs somewhere to go. A modern warehouse management or inventory management system not only provides a real-time view of inventory, but can provide analysis that helps you determine optimal inventory levels for your warehouse operations.
You can spot ordering trends, respond more quickly to seasonality or changes in demand, and make better decisions in the future. Inventory management also helps enable cross-docking, just-in-time shipping, and other processes that can further improve efficiency.
- Invest in Warehouse Automation. New technologies are emerging every year that take previously manual, labor-intensive processes and automate them using robotics and other types of equipment. Palletizers, conveyors, and robotics systems can make it easier to move goods from one end of the warehouse to other and quickly prepare them for shipment. Robotics systems can allow you to pick from very high racks without risk to employees, further enhancing warehouse operations.
These solutions are best suited for high-volume operations with fast-moving items in relatively standard sizes. While the upfront cost can be high, they can pay off in the long run when you consider labor costs, efficiency improvements, and safety improvements.
Any warehouse can benefit from following these best practices that will help it evolve into a strategic part of business operations, rather than just a cost center. More efficient warehouses control costs and ensure customer satisfaction, contributing to overall growth of the business.