6 Time-Saving Tips That Will Improve Any Warehouse
Warehouses are at the core of order fulfillment. The quality of your delivery can only be as good as the extent of your warehouse’s efficiency. If you are not running a tight ship at the warehouse and making each second count, you will have difficulty with receiving inventory in time, shipping your order as per customer expectations, extracting optimal worker productivity, and managing your costs.
The faster things move at the warehouse, the happier your customers will be and the lower your costs become, all of which feeds back to more growth for your business. Here are some practical time-saving tips that can help you get the most out of your warehouse.
1. Set Aside Space for High Volume Product
Different products will have different levels of order volume. Many times, products will follow the 80-20 principle. The majority of deliveries will involve just a couple of products. Instead of giving equal treatment and space to all products, it would be more efficient to allocate warehouse space and other resources in line with order volume.
If you are running warehouse management software, you can access reports that show you the products that comprise the majority of orders. Next, set aside a section of the warehouse for your high-volume products that would allow your staff to process orders with minimal distractions. No need for them to move back and forth past stretches of low-volume products in order to reach the high-volume items.
Ideally, this high order volume section should be nearest to the packing stations so your pickers are walking shorter distances per order. If you’re using dynamic slotting, consider adding extra physical space around these shelves to accommodate shifting patterns of greater traffic.
2. Organize Workstations and Layout for the Workflow
Setting aside dedicated space is not the only way the arrangement of your warehouse can help cut down processing times. Think about inventory receipt and customer order workflows when determining the layout and the arrangement of workstations at the warehouse. Minimize the amount of time workers spend looking for tools, reaching out for equipment or handing orders to the next team by ensuring employee workstations are positioned near the resources, departments and vendors they work with.
Workstation organization also helps reduce clutter, minimize errors, lower inventory loss, break bottlenecks, slash pick-up times, maximize storage use, enhance safety and strengthen the overall organization. Yes, that’s a lot. But if you doubt any of those claims, it’s time to reorganize your picking stations.
3. Leaner Inventory
Lean inventory is not just a good strategy for manufacturing. It is just as important for warehouse operations. Aside from space, cost, and cash flow benefits that come with maintaining only as much product as you need, there are time savings as well.
Think about the time it takes to work your way around a warehouse with thousands of boxes compared to one with hundreds. Leaner inventory ensures you can get to what you need quicker and have the product out the door faster by minimizing the distances staff have to move to process orders. The difference of dozens of seconds or a couple of minutes may not seem much on its own but these micro-savings quickly add up in the grand scheme of performance.
While an industry-wide best practice before COVID, we now see some threats here. So the new lean goal is to have enough product to fill orders through the longest lead time you’ve experienced for a resupply.
Human error and fatigue are key barriers to timely fulfillment. The lower the degree of human intervention in the process, the higher the capability to fulfill orders in good time. Automation here would be in both mechanical and software form. You could, for instance, install a conveyor belt to speed up the process of moving items from one section of the warehouse to another.
Invest in warehouse management software as well that enables both high-level and detailed views of warehouse activity and inventory in near real-time. Such systems also enhance efficiency by identifying the most ideal methods and routes for fulfillment. They can send out automated notifications to smartphones and other mobile devices thus cutting down the time it would take to manually distribute pick lists.
5. Plan for Reverse Logistics
The warehouse is not all about receiving fresh inventory from manufacturers/distributors and sending out products to customers. As long as the warehouse is aiding the fulfillment of online orders, there will be returns when a customer finds that the product was not as per their expectation. There will also be recalls due to defects as well as returns from end-of-life products.
Known as reverse logistics, this process can introduce hurdles if not well managed even if your outbound process is working seamlessly. Everything is, after all, happening under the same roof so inefficiencies in reverse logistics will inevitably affect the time you dedicate to outbound fulfillment.
Address reverse logistics by developing effective intake, repair and/or recycling mechanisms for returns. Set aside space to inspect returns and determine whether the item should be placed back in inventory, repaired, recycled or disposed of at a discount.
6. Review Performance Regularly
Warehouse activity will not remain at the same level all year. For instance, the products classified as high volume won’t necessarily be static. It is possible for you to have a different set of products at a high volume at the end of the year compared to the beginning of the year. Regularly evaluate your warehouse operations and explore ways of making the process more efficient.
If you do not regularly review activity and performance, what may have been set up to improve efficiency may gradually become a barrier to maximizing time savings. By identifying emerging inefficiencies, you can make changes as and where needed to make things better.
Identify and set key performance indicators that become benchmarks for your routine reviews. Make adjustments when performance falls below the desired target including applying new ideas for inventory management.
These tips for improving warehouse efficiency are relatively straightforward. Some of them such as planning the layout and setting aside space for high order products require hardly any investment to do. Get all these six right and observe your warehouse efficiency rise as turnaround times fall.
*This article is written by Jake Rheude. Jake is the Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.