Maximizing the efficiency and productivity of warehouse operations is a big priority for many businesses. With eCommerce placing increasing demands on many warehouses, most are looking for ways to trim wasteful spending and make smart investments with good ROI. Creating an optimized warehouse can be a daunting task. So, what are the most cost-effective steps you can take to get started?
Modernizing your warehouse doesn’t have to involve redesigning the entire system from the ground up. In fact, there are many systems and improvements you can implement one at a time that offer great value for your time and money. Here are seven of the most popular ways you can begin to improve efficiency, cut out waste and build a better warehouse!
1. Waste Disposal Systems
Starting small is a good way to achieve some quick improvements in your warehouse operations. One of the best “little things” that’s actually not so little? Making sure that your methods for disposing of packing waste are efficient and that employees are using them effectively.
A warehouse that processes a lot of orders also tends to produce a lot of packaging waste, particularly when receiving shipments. Shipping wrap, cardboard boxes, discarded pallets and other waste should all have easy-to-find receptacles, and employees should empty them on a regular schedule that doesn’t allow excessive waste to accumulate. If possible, you should also look at implementing more efficient packaging solutions to reduce the amount of waste that’s coming in to begin with.
2. Warehouse Management Systems
Organizing and streamlining your operations through warehouse management software is one of the best investments you can make. Warehouse management systems (WMS) are sophisticated software platforms giving you an all-in-one way to view and organize all of the day-to-day operations of your warehouse, from layout to pick order to inbound and outbound shipments. WMS platforms also make it easy to track KPIs in real time and generate reports to give you vital insights.
Warehouse management software is definitely a significant investment, but it’s actually gotten much less expensive recently. That’s because cloud-based deployment is the new norm for WMS, meaning that you’ll usually pay a monthly subscription fee rather than a high upfront cost. These innovations create faster time to value and allow you to maximize ROI more quickly.
3. Mezzanine Storage
Storage space is a constant concern for many warehouses, so it’s important to make sure you’re maximizing the utility of what you already have. Besides building your shelving higher, adding mezzanine storage is another good option to consider. Mezzanine storage is a platform built above your current space, adding a whole new “floor” to your warehouse.
Numerous mezzanine storage designs are available, including free-standing models and models that are supported by existing racks but provide greater utility than simply building up shelving. It’s a particularly good option if you have goods that aren’t picked by forklift, and it also allows you to maximize your space by putting storage over non-storage areas if you choose a free-standing design.
4. Shelf Storage Optimization
Optimizing your shelf storage is another key technique for creating maximum value from your existing investments. Consider using shelf storage bins to improve the number of SKUs you’re able to store on each rack. Remember also that not all SKUs may need to be easily available at all times.
It may make sense to adopt a double-deep system that places less frequently-picked items on the inner parts of your racks. The best solution is the one that leads to faster pick times and more productivity, so make sure to consult with your warehouse employees to find the system that will help them the most.
5. Layout and Organization
Optimizing the layout of your warehouse is another cost-effective way to improve existing storage facilities. Many WMS products allow you to create and manipulate virtual layouts that show you where your most-picked items are and help you visualize your optimization processes.
Some techniques to consider in deciding how to organize your warehouse are:
- Slotting similar items or items that are often picked together in the same area.
- Using an ABC slotting system to give employees easy access to the most frequently picked items.
- Adopting zone picking systems that keep employees in the same area rather than having to walk all the way across the warehouse during picking.
- Creating aisles that are wide enough for forklifts and/or employees to travel safely and efficiently, but not so wide that they waste space.
- Measuring and clocking employee travel distance and time during picking to gain insights.
- Creating a dedicated area for processing returns.
6. Labeling Systems
A good warehouse labeling system is an invaluable investment in your efficiency and productivity. Make sure that all SKUs are accurately labeled and that labeling practices are consistent across your warehouse. Color coding your labels is also a good way to help employees quickly identify which rack level and bay they’re working with. You should also be sure that all of your labels are changed after any kind of slot reorganization.
7. Barcode/RFID Systems
Barcode and/or RFID scanning systems are among the best investments a warehouse can make for accurate inventory control and management. They’re important because they greatly reduce the capacity for human error, particularly when employees are picking technical and often similar-looking items such as auto parts or electrical enclosures. Basic barcode systems and scanners are widely available, relatively inexpensive and often come packaged in a kit with everything you need to get started.
With an RFID scanner, RF tags are embedded in packaging, bins or labels. When picking or putting away, an employee simply points a small handheld electronics enclosure device at the item and scans it directly to the RFID management software. Although RFID systems are somewhat more expensive than barcode scanners, they’re also a step up in efficiency and allow greater speed in picking.
With ever-increasing competition in eCommerce and in the global supply chain, it’s crucial that your warehouse investments provide not just great results but great value. The seven improvements we’ve talked about here will help you by not only optimizing the assets you already have, but by contributing to the future you want for your warehouse.
About the author
Kate Began serves as the Sales and Marketing Manager for Polycase. She oversees the customer service representatives, assists with product development and leads the marketing efforts from the Avon, Ohio headquarters. Kate is also an avid Cleveland Indians fan!