9 Ways to Improve Warehouse Productivity

Feb 06, 2013 6:00 AM  By

No matter where you decide to locate your facility, your order fulfillment operations are critical when it comes to creating a positive customer experience. So it’s imperative that your warehouse functions at peak operational efficiency.

Here are some steps merchants can take right now to improve their warehouse productivity:

Sort bins by top hits. If product is properly binned, most of your picks will be done in the first 20% of hits. Re-evaluate the top-hits items regularly. Inventory is a living, breathing animal that is always changing.

Separate bulk items from the small picks. Fifty-pound cases are brutal picks. They should come directly from a pallet to the final staging area if yours is not a giant conveyor warehouse.

Use picking manifests so that multiple orders can be pulled at once. Large orders can be picked separately, but you can combine five or six small orders together in one picking manifest, where they are separated in final boxing.

Give your customer a special touch. The packing station of your warehouse should be one where employees think about the product they are about to ship out—not about which box to use, or how to best wrap something for shipments. Instead, have several package-size options already available that have been predetermined to fit your products. This will save you not just time, but also shipping costs.

Start kitting. Kitting is a great way to save time and materials—and to streamline the pick-and-pack process.

Always keep your employees’ working conditions in mind. For example, if there are concrete floors within the warehouse, there should be fatigue mats placed where your employees stand. If it is a quite area, have some music playing to help boost morale and, ultimately, productivity. Climate control is a must within your warehouse; be sure you think about spaces that should have fans or heaters.

Include your employees in the decision-making. It’s not just the working conditions that will help productivity within the warehouse. You need to make your employees a vital part of your operation. Many successful merchants incorporate their employees’ feedback when they are making business decisions. Let your employees voice their opinions—some of their ideas might do amazing things for your business. Remember, if you care about the working conditions and opinions of your employees, they will care about their jobs.

Automation

Another way to improve efficiency within your warehouse is through automation. Not only does it decrease the physical demands on your employees, it can also help retailers meet their ecommerce demands.

Companies around the globe are also leveraging automation in the warehouse to improve the distribution center work environment. Automation has become more affordable, and many retailers have found that it has also increased productivity.

Automated fulfillment systems leverage faster robotic technology, data inventory systems and a re-examined strategy of how warehouse space is utilized. They can also save workers time and energy. As ecommerce grows, companies should consider automated storage and retrieval technology to accommodate fulfillment needs and also improve workers’ quality of life.

Some vendors and merchants are now beginning to use robotic workforces within their warehouses. One such vendor based in Massachusetts uses 70 robots within its 275,000-square-foot facility that serves several online retailers and aids in the shipping of 24,000 units a day.

Warehouse Management Systems

Another key to efficiency within the warehouse can be found with order and warehouse management systems.

According to MCM Outlook 2013, 52.6% of respondents are currently using some type of order management and fulfillment system. The survey also found that shipping and delivery systems are used by 49.6%, warehouse management systems are used by 41.5%, customer relationship management systems are used by 46.3%, and 23.7% use enterprise resource planning.

The Report also showed that 13.8% of respondents who work within operations and fulfillment anticipate purchasing an order management system in the next 12 months, although the majority of respondents, 59.3%, said their main focus was to upgrade.

Since most warehouse management systems are able to manage inventory as products are being assembled, there are several benefits to implementing a management system in your fulfillment center. Some of these include:

• Improved customer service and reduction of errors

• Improved labor management, increased productivity and reduced costs

• Improved inventory control and inventory location, pinpointing of aged inventory, decreasing shrinkage and, often, reduction in overall in­ventory levels

• Savings on inbound and outbound transportation

• Maximization of space utilization in the warehouse

• Improved order management throughput and meeting same-day ecommerce shipping requirements, thus increasing capacity

• Ability to manage multiple product and order profiles for direct, retail and wholesale channels in a single system

• Optimization of the supply chain, including trading partner and vendor managed inventory

But before you commit to a type of system, you need to identify what within the warehouse needs productivity increases and cost reductions. Then you should ask yourself, do these functions require a WMS?

If your answer is yes, do a formal RFP process. During this process you should ask for vendor demonstrations, make reference calls, visit the sites of companies given as references by the potential vendor, etc. In other words, do your homework. Then, make your final decision.