Running a productive warehouse is crucial because failing to achieve that aim often leads to internal problems that span outside the facility and affect customers. Prolonged unproductivity can also frustrate team members, causing high turnover rates and low morale. Fortunately, there are actionable steps to take so that your teams and your business run smoothly and keep output levels high.
1. Choose and Monitor Key Performance Indicators
You can’t know for sure where opportunities for improvement exist without knowing your starting point. That’s why it’s useful to measure key performance indicators — KPIs — to see where you are now and how much progress you need to make to see meaningful improvements.
Some of the KPIs you may track could include metrics about the lead time, order accuracy, return rates, and warehouse revenue per employee. Track each KPI, then research how far your average performance is from the ideal. Keep in mind that you won’t likely see huge KPI changes from month to month — at least in the beginning. The idea is to achieve steady progress in the right direction.
2. Consider Asset-Tracking Solutions
Misplaced or lost goods can eat up valuable time in warehouses, making productivity plummet. This problem can also negatively affect profits if temperature-sensitive items get wrongly moved to an area of the facility without adequate climate controls.
Options such as smart tags and the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors could help warehouse members curb problems associated with products in the wrong places. Warehouse professionals should pursue asset tracking best practices, including determining which data sources to monitor. Warehouse personnel should also decide whether to implement tracking tech solely in the warehouse or on the vehicles carrying the goods, too.
3. Investigate Voice Technology
Many people frequently use voice recognition tools on their phones to learn about local businesses, set alarms or get answers to measurement questions while cooking. Voice technology impacts more than consumers at home, however. Many companies want to integrate voice technology into a warehouse management system (WMS) or use it to facilitate faster warehouse picking strategies.
Voice systems in the warehouse realm are getting even more advanced as companies investigate what’s possible. Some enterprises want to make their autonomous mobile robots respond to voice cues, while others use the technology to optimize workforces and provide analytics for managers. The hands-free aspect of voice-enabled tech is one of its leading advantages. Company leaders should ask workers about their most labor-intensive tasks and whether voice cues could help.
4. Analyze How to Make Traffic Flow Improvements
You can also make your facility a more productive warehouse by examining anything that could impede the smooth flow of traffic. Doing that boosts efficiency, and it could avoid injuries. Slips, trips and falls account for 95 million lost workdays per year when people get hurt. Are there stray cords, cracks in the floor or scattered tools interfering with how people move around the warehouse? They cause slowdowns and increase the risk of accidents.
Warehouse managers should also study the placement of shelves, workstations, and other prominent parts of a building’s setup. Checking to see whether the current layout contributes to wasted time, extra steps or delays could give new insights into possible efficiency improvements.
5. Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Since there are numerous effective ways to enhance warehouse efficiency, you won’t find a single, magic solution. Similarly, it’s vital to show employees that better efficiency requires a team effort. It’s not adequate to only task managers with making the changes you want to see. Everyone should get involved, and it’s ideal if they genuinely understand the benefits of their contributions.
Empower employees by setting challenging but achievable targets. Review their metrics periodically, and ideally more frequently than at annual reviews. You could also think about offering productivity bonuses. People always appreciate getting something extra for their commitment and hard work, and setting specific levels for pay increases puts them in control by clarifying expectations.
6. Give Employees the Equipment and Knowledge They Need to Succeed
Your warehouse could become a more effective facility if workers have training and equipment to help them work productively without increasing risk. Ensure that workers know how to reach for items above them without twisting their spines and coach them how to lift objects without straining their backs.
Get input from them about what equipment investments you could make to increase work output. Carts can assist with pushing heavy loads, while lifts and pulleys can aid people with managing heavy or awkward items. You may even purchase wearables that detect when workers get too fatigued and need to rest. When the workforce believes and sees that a company genuinely invests in them, they’ll feel more motivated to give their all during every shift.
7. Build a Chatbot to Handle Common Queries
Artificial intelligence is impacting the supply chain in a wide variety of ways, and use cases will only increase as the technology improves. If your warehouse workers spend substantial amounts of time repeatedly answering similar queries, a chatbot could relieve some of the associated burdens. It can’t deal with complex or unusual questions effectively, but the tool could still help you have a productive warehouse.
Think about a case where a customer could ask a chatbot when a shipment left the warehouse. They might also use it to confirm their desire to have a recurring order sent out as soon as possible. If a chatbot connects to a WMS used by a retail store, sales floor team members could enter prompts to immediately check stock levels or trigger reorder requests.
8. Explore How Predictive Analytics May Help
Warehouse managers would love to gaze into crystal balls to see the future. They can have the next best thing with predictive analytics. Perhaps unexpected stock outages, demand surges and seasonal fluctuations caused some of your past inefficiency woes. If so, technology could find trends you’d otherwise miss, facilitating future improvements.
Predictive analytics platforms assess vast quantities of data, providing insights that help you plan and adapt. It could show which products should be among the fastest-selling items in the month ahead or predict which regions of the country or world are most likely to request the components or finished merchandise your warehouse supplies for those areas.
A More Productive Warehouse Is in Reach
These actionable strategies illustrate that while there are some things out of your control, you can make a big difference in making your facility more efficient and better-equipped to serve customers. All these suggestions take time to pay off, but you should find they’re worthwhile.
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.