Warehouse efficiency is key to the success of any large scale storage facility. Unfortunately even the most carefully managed warehouse can suffer from suboptimal levels of productivity because of some unseen issue that you might not have considered.
With that in mind, here are 8 effective ways you can enhance warehouse efficiency today, covering both logistical solutions and staffing policies.
Even if you are equipped to move stock in and out of the warehouse in an orderly fashion, you might encounter problems if your shelves are either overflowing or underutilised. Overstocking is a particular problem, since if supply exceeds demand then you might end up with a surfeit of a certain product that takes a long time to shift.
Tracking stock levels in real time is possible using modern warehousing technologies, so remember to take advantage of these systems where possible. That way you can make the most of whatever management procedures you decide to deploy.
If you want to take this further, introducing location-based stock tracking can be a major benefit. This lets you pinpoint particular products and keep tabs on them as them move through the warehouse. You can then see if there are any hold-ups or speed bumps that should be smoothed out, rather than relying on guesswork when hard data is a better solution.
This is important not only from a warehouse efficiency perspective, but also when it comes to on-site safety. If your warehouse is not laid out correctly, it will hamper employees as they fulfil their duties and could also lead to incidents involving injuries.
The best way to reduce the likelihood of any accidents occurring is to arrange shelving logically and make sure that there is enough room for staff and equipment to manoeuvre. Avoid the temptation to squeeze the most out of your available space at the expense of safety, as this will be a false economy in the long run.
Having your warehouse intelligently laid out and supported by efficiency-oriented policies is all well and good, until you realise that staff need to be armed with the right information and training to take full advantage of this state of affairs.
Employee training should be seen as an ongoing process; one which needs to be revisited at regular intervals to ensure that standards are being upheld. In turn this will boost warehouse efficiency and deliver more in terms of safety as well.
Just as you should teach employees about the importance of following procedures to maintain warehouse efficiency, it is also important to be willing to listen to staff and actively seek their input.
Often if there is a problem with any of the practices you have put in place or the changes you have made to your operations, the best way to find out about this is not to delve into the metrics you are measuring but instead to simply ask a front line warehouse employee.
Providing staff with a means of giving feedback will also lead to improved levels of job satisfaction, so it is a win-win situation for all involved. This can either be rolled into the training process, or handled separately on an ad hoc basis, according to your requirements.
Unless you have a goal to aim for, your warehouse may never live up to its true potential. Of course setting productivity targets is half the battle, as you also need to make sure that there is an incentive involved in achieving them.
The most straightforward way to encourage staff to increase their productivity and performance is to make it pay to do so.
You also need to be able to measure relevant performance parameters accurately so that this can be converted into actionable data. Stock tracking systems will once again come into play, so for warehouses that have yet to make the leap to more modern solutions, there may be upfront costs to consider.
The cost of running all of the hardware required to operate a modern warehouse on-site can be steep, as touched upon in the previous section. Thankfully it is more affordable to embrace cutting edge solutions thanks to the availability of cloud-powered platforms.
Being able to take advantage of fully scalable, flexible services running on remote servers that are owned and operated by a third party provider is a boon in many industries. For warehouse owners, this is especially relevant since SaaS (software as a service) subscription packages can expand and contract along with seasonal shifts in demand. In short you need not over-pay for IT resources ever again, while also making it easier to track and measure a multitude of warehouse efficiency metrics.
The market for warehouse-oriented IT is fairly competitive, so it makes sense to compare the different solutions and providers that are out there before settling on a suitable selection. Also remember that any costs can be offset by the efficiency savings that are achieved.
While it might seem obvious, having a forward-thinking strategy for your warehouse operations which accounts for all of the changes that are to come is essential to efficiency. If you do not put a proper plan in place to help you cope with the ebbs and flows that are inevitable over the course of the year, you will likely be overwhelmed and underprepared when they arrive.
The benefit of using modern warehouse management solutions is that these will offer integrated forecasting capabilities as well as a number of tools tuned towards automating some of the more tedious aspects planning for the future. This can even include the ability to place orders for relevant products in a timely fashion ahead of a projects spike in demand, rather than leaving you struggling to find available stock elsewhere in the supply chain.
This is especially pertinent for warehouses that are focused on the consumer retail market, where competition is increasing and outside economic factors are making conditions challenging at the moment. Maximising your ability to capitalise on peak shopping periods throughout the year will also mean that you can survive and thrive even during the lulls in between.
This is arguably the core tenet of working towards efficiency improvements in any industry. The simpler you make the processes on which your organisation relies to perform its main functions, the faster those functions will be fulfilled.
Of course achieving simplicity is ironically a complex process, particularly if you have been taking a fragmented approach to rolling out ‘improvements’ to your operations over the years. Unpicking the multiple layers that have been added to warehouse management procedures, seeing which ones are doing more harm than good and tossing them aside without upsetting the applecart in the process is not easy.
Establishing which processes should be in line for simplification is not that challenging. The physical processes which take place in the warehouse, for example, should not have more steps or touch points than are strictly necessary. Any which do should be scrutinised and optimised.
Ultimately it is important not to get complacent about warehouse efficiency. As soon as you start looking, you will likely see ways to enhance your operations that you might otherwise have missed.