Warehouse operators and managers worldwide are pressured to react to shifting demands, meet heightened customer expectations, and optimize throughput. In addition, they must protect margins as real estate becomes more costly and labor is increasingly difficult to hire, afford, and retain.
- Retail has been disrupted by the explosive growth of e-commerce, requiring faster fulfillment and the creation of microfulfillment centers to meet customer expectations for same-day or next day delivery.
- 3PLs need to remain competitive by meeting the demands of retailers and delivering innovative business models, quick time to market, and low cost to serve.
- Industrial distributors and manufacturers need to maintain or increase their level of throughput to meet ecommerce-driven SLAs without hiring additional resources or adding square footage.
- Healthcare is struggling to maintain business continuity without compromising accuracy and regulatory requirements, in addition to continuously battling cost pressures.
- The pandemic has created a sense of uncertainty and urgency to address the increase in e-commerce orders, demonstrating that warehouse operators don’t have the luxury of taking months or years to plan and / or deploy a solution, nor can they afford to do so.
Traditional, capital-intensive automation systems have failed to deliver a flexible solution that enables organizations to adapt and digitize the warehouse. As a result, most warehouses are not automated and struggle with hiring new associates and managing their warehouses effectively.
Warehouse Management Improved
Warehouse managers across all industries know they need to improve their productivity and efficiency. It’s tough to make that focus when firestorms of labor challenges and getting orders out the door cause warehouse optimization to take a back seat. It’s time to look at your warehouse operations and be tactical and proactive instead of just reactive to changing daily priorities. Take a look at these top tips that you can implement for warehouse optimization.
Create an Ergonomic Warehouse
Provide sufficient lighting in your warehouse to reduce time searching for items and eyestrain on your associates. If workers will be standing in one spot for most of the day, invest in anti-fatigue mats to cut down on feet, legs, and backaches. Place signs around your warehouse reminding workers to stretch at various intervals. You should also incorporate regular breaks into work schedules to keep people sharp.
Plan for the Full Year
As companies rush to automate, they often focus just on what’s going on at that point in time instead of long-term thinking. When companies move to warehouse automation during the peak season, they could build too big for the rest of the year and be stuck with conveyors or other fixed structures that don’t provide a return on investment. If you bring on automation during a non-peak time, you’ll find yourself struggling to keep up with orders at peak. The best warehouse automation solution is one that will adjust and scale for peak season.
Establish a Clear Process Flow
Help your warehouse associates understand how the entire warehouse works, advises JP Lichtenberg, Warehouse Design Engineer. Organization charts are helpful for managers and associates to see the workflow as a whole for warehouse optimization. As you’re looking at the flow, you might see that one department is being shortchanged. For example, if your packing associates receive from picking and do not take action right away, any productivity gains from an improved picking time there are lost in the overall warehouse productivity.
Warehouse associates are typically trained only for the specific tasks for their job. Steve Branch, Senior Director of Sales Engineering, advises against that, stating that “your warehouse is going to have call-outs. While you don’t need every warehouse associate to be able to do everything, you should train them on the tasks that happen before and after their area so they can move around and help out as needed. ”
Think of the Four Walls
Warehouse managers who are trying to solve fulfillment issues are looking for ways to efficiently get ecommerce orders out on time, but sometimes only focus on putaway and picking. Mike Johnson, Locus’s President, advises warehouse managers to “Think about how you can improve productivity throughout your entire warehouse, not just in one area. If you pick faster, you also want to pack faster to get the orders onto the trucks and out the door. Otherwise, the operational efficiency is lost. ”
Minimize Work in Process
Most warehouses work in the model of picking multiple orders at the same time, putting them into one main batch, and then sorting at the packing and sorting section into various outbound cartons. There are a number of ways to implement warehouse optimization. One suggestion is to pick directly into the box that is shipped out, which eliminates the need for separate packing and reduces the number of touches. The other is to do batch picking for a single-unit pool.
Automate with Robotics
AMRs such as those from Locus Robotics will help improve warehouse operations in all areas, from putaway to packing; each (or piece) picking to pallet transportation and case picking with pallet moving and heavy payload robots.
The Locus solution dramatically improves worker productivity 2x to 3x, enabling higher pick rates, lower labor costs, and faster cycle times. In addition, your warehouse associates can seamlessly alternate between picking and re-stocking / putaway, helping to improve the overall efficiency of your warehouse operation and save labor costs with true task interleaving.
Ready to take your warehouse management to the next level? Visit us at booth B8811 at MODEX or book a demo.