How to improve warehouse efficiency

If your business depends on products being delivered to customers in perfect condition and on time every time, then the warehousing component of your supply chain management is one that you cannot afford to ignore.

Even if you think your warehousing processes are up to scratch, innovations in process management and technology can make a remarkable difference in quality and efficiency. This means better output at lower cost, an equation that sounds attractive whichever way you look at it.

Let’s take a look at some measures you can take to enhance this important, but so often overlooked, aspect of your supply chain.

Understand what you’ve got

It is tempting to dive in with some great innovations, but you are not going to achieve anything, unless you have a full understanding of your starting point. Take some time to fully analyse your current processes and throughputs.

How do goods flow in, through, and out of the warehouse? Are there any bottlenecks in the process? Speak to your people on the ground and invite their honest, no holds barred opinions on what works and what doesn’t. You might be surprised at what you hear.

Review the layout

As anybody who has watched the famous documentary in which Sir John Harvey Jones visited the Morgan car factory will know, layout is key to efficiency. In a warehousing environment, it is even more important. A disorganised warehouse leads to wasted time and space, and potentially has safety implications for staff.

Look at the layout from a first principles perspective – imagine how it would be if you were starting from scratch – and when you have the optimum layout in place, make sure personnel follow the correct routes and procedures.

Climate control

Warehouses can sometimes be uninviting places. They can be cold, hot, or damp, depending on the ambient conditions, the construction of the building and the products they store. To help combat unfavourable conditions in the warehouse, hire a dehumidifier, and install heaters and reliable air conditioning units

Not only will these help to improve the working environment for your employees, they can also have a positive impact on the shelf life and quality of your stock.

Technology

Every aspect of modern business has evolved almost beyond recognition over the past 20 years. It is slightly incongruous, therefore, that for some businesses, stepping into the warehouse can sometimes feel like stepping back into the 1970s.

Modern warehouse technology can bring enormous benefits by providing up to the minute information on every process within the warehouse. Available tools include bar code scanning, GPS, and voice activated technology to name just a few.

Forecasting

Practically every business sees seasonal variations, for example at Christmas. Think ahead to utilise space, resources, and manpower shifts, to meet the peaks and troughs of demand. This is another area where the latest developments in software can give you a real competitive edge.

Inventory Management

When it comes to the crunch, no business benefits from having large amounts of inventory sitting in storage. Overstocking can be a real problem, particularly for perishable goods, and can lead to large amounts being written off, resulting in a major impact on the bottom line.

Real-time stock management is an absolute must if you have any hope of optimising your inventory management. Again, there are numerous systems out there to help you keep track of every box or pallet, and to implement and maintain the most appropriate LIFO or FIFO systems for your circumstances.

Personnel

It is important to remember that all of these great processes are only as effective as those who are implementing and performing them. If staff are uninterested, poorly rewarded, and not properly trained, you will be wasting your time and money looking at anything else.

Make sure managers and operators receive adequate training that cover the why as well as the what behind each of their duties. People who understand the logic behind a rule are far more likely to follow it. Remember, training should be an ongoing process, subject to periodic inspections and audits.

As we mentioned at the beginning, invite and welcome feedback to see how your new procedures are working out from the people at the sharp end. Not only will you get some useful information, you will get the added bonus of a workforce that feels engaged and listened to by management.

An integrated approach

There are plenty of ways of making small improvements to your warehousing processes. By taking a holistic view, and considering everything from digital systems to people management, they can add up to a major impact on the profitability of your business.

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