Better warehouse efficiency is a common goal set by companies of all sizes and types. As efficiency rates go up in a facility, there’s a higher likelihood of that business keeping clients pleased and staying competitive.
It’s easier than you may think to make your warehouse more efficient. Here are four tips that can help you make the most significant impacts.
1. Assess Data Before Making Changes
Hopefully, your company has reliable internal data sources to check before implementing any major new improvement strategies. Perhaps looking at those was the main thing that made you realize your warehouse falls short of the efficiency you’d like to achieve.
Data analysis helps all kinds of businesses become more efficient when done correctly. For example, it can improve planning and decision-making. Company leaders also evaluate data when looking for valuable trends.
An e-commerce warehouse manager may notice that the people picking goods associated with a particular department are consistently less productive than their colleagues. A closer investigation could show that the problem lies in the organization of the containers holding the merchandise.
Information sources do not always reveal the causes of inefficiency issues. However, they can point people in the right direction. Thus, looking at data from the start guides future decisions about making people and processes more efficient.
2. Keep Equipment Properly Maintained and Replace It When Necessary
Today’s warehouses feature several categories of specialized equipment. Some machines and tools move goods, while others pack merchandise safely before shipment or help workers load and unload boxes when trucks arrive at the dock. Following the right maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment is crucial for maintaining productivity in the warehouse.
For example, poorly maintained equipment is more likely to break down unexpectedly, potentially causing substantial workflow disruptions. It can also pose safety risks. Moreover, people who don’t stay on top of maintenance often find the equipment does not last as long as it should.
Even with maintenance performed at the recommended intervals, replacing equipment becomes necessary eventually. However, looking for used options could help you save money. Similarly, if you want to invest in newer machinery on a modest budget, taking the preowned route could meet identified needs.
If you’re in the market for a forklift, its age is not as important as its overall condition as far as performance goes. Age may matter if you want a feature that only became available recently. Otherwise, older models are often just as efficient as newer ones, provided the previous owners took good care of them. The same is true for other equipment utilized in warehouses. Used, well-maintained machinery can save you money while boosting efficiency.
3. Investigate Warehouse Redesign Options
Redesigning your warehouse can also aid in optimizing warehouse efficiency. For example, traffic flow backups can prevent even the most motivated workers from performing well. Suppose a warehouse’s layout forces people to take too many steps to get where they need to go. In that case, they could spend almost as much time reaching the right points in a facility as they do actively participating in tasks that add value to the business.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the redesigns of warehouses worldwide. Suddenly, in addition to maximizing efficiency, managers had to accommodate for new health risks. They added more distance between workspaces and tweaked the layout of break rooms, for example. If you have already redesigned some aspects of the warehouse to reduce novel coronavirus risks, now may be an opportune time to assess how you could redesign to improve efficiency, too.
Warehouse inefficiencies typically stem from a combination of three main problems. The first is a poor flow of people and equipment. Warehouses are busy places, and bottlenecks can occur that restrict the workflow. Product placement is another area of focus. Does it take your workers too long to reach the items they use most during the workday? If so, they may waste time despite their best efforts to make the most of it.
Finally, look at the placement of your equipment. When people spend too much time walking to reach the tools or machinery they use to do their work, efficiency suffers. After checking those three factors, you may want to create warehouse maps that show the current conditions and what things will look like after you make changes. Plus, don’t forget to ask for feedback from workers. They can shed light on layout inefficiencies you may have missed or never considered.
4. Research Automation Possibilities
Investing in automation can also cause notable warehouse efficiency improvements. That’s especially true due to the increased availability of machines called cobots. They can work next to and around people safely without requiring barriers. Modern robots are also impressively streamlined, and they can handle various needs associated with numerous products.
Some of the common ways to use robots in warehouses include tackling repetitive movement, such as tasks requiring frequent lifting. These responsibilities can cause worker fatigue, which could lead to reduced efficiency and higher injury rates. Robots can take items from conveyors or transport goods to other areas, preparing them for the next steps. Many of these machines have smart sensors that allow them to perceive and avoid obstacles — making them ideal for busy environments.
Warehouse managers may initially think automation costs are too steep for their organizations. If that’s the case for you, see if the robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model is a feasible solution for cutting expenses. It requires a minimum investment for warehouse businesses ready to reap the rewards of automation. Customers pay a monthly fee that covers everything. Each company offering the RaaS model typically charges a set usage rate, so people only pay for the time when the machine operates.
The efficiency payoff associated with automation is not immediate. That’s why company leaders must allow ample time to take care of the foundational necessities, such as installation, employee training and the adjustment period new technologies typically require. Track metrics to determine your starting point before launching your automation initiative. Then, see where you stand a few months later. Such comparisons usually help justify automation expenses, regardless of if you use the RaaS model.
Committing to a Plan Brings Favorable Results
Even as many warehouse professionals view improving warehouse efficiency as an ongoing goal, they aren’t always sure how to get started. Some also want to help teams get more done in their facilities but haven’t laid out the steps to reach that aspiration.
These four steps will get you off to a strong start. They do not represent an all-encompassing list of how to boost output in warehouses, but they provide options for getting excellent outcomes. They will help people conclude that these changes address inefficiencies and positively affect profitability and competitiveness.
Megan R. Nichols is an industrial writer and blogger. She regularly publishes in magazines like Manufacturing Global, EBN Online and Industry Week. She also updates her personal blog, Schooled By Science weekly with easy to understand manufacturing and technology articles. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog or following her on Twitter.