Efficiency, productivity, safety and more
A wide selection of tips, strategies and ideas to quickly improve your warehouse
Running a warehouse is an incredibly tough job. Running one efficiently and successfully is even more difficult.
But get it right, and the impact it can have on the success of your business is enormous.
It can help to drive efficiency and productivity gains. It can aid employee safety and reduce overheads. It can even help towards improving customer satisfaction and increase revenue.
And, of course, the role that your packaging plays in this success (or otherwise) can be critical too.
Getting it wrong can mean inefficient staff, not shipping or processing inventory in good time, and potentially having your business lose credibility.
As such, this guide offers 45 quick tips, ideas and strategies you can apply to your business.
As this is such a broad subject, this guide divides the tips into five key areas.
These are as follows:
- Tips for improving warehouse efficiency.
- Tips for improving warehouse productivity.
- Tips for improving warehouse safety.
- Tips for improving warehouse organisation.
- Using technology to improve warehouse operations
Whilst not all of the tips included in this guide are relevant to all businesses, successfully implementing even a few can significantly impact your warehouse operations.
Please use the links below to go straight to your area of interest.
Tips for improving warehouse efficiency
Adopt lean warehouse practices
Whilst warehousing was traditionally about the storage of goods, the advent of eCommerce and globalised markets have seen it change dramatically over the last two decades.
Adopting a lean methodology should now be the aim of most – if not all – warehouse operations. A lean methodology effectively aims to reduce waste of any kind, so in the context of the warehouse, it relates to reduced time loading and unloading vehicles, less time spent picking and retrieving stock and concise stock replenishment.
This approach leads to greater efficiency and reduced costs, ensuring sales opportunities are not lost.
Avoid delays when receiving shipments
Incoming goods to your warehouse may not always be dealt with immediately. However, any procrastination here can damage your efficiency (and safety). Orders left on pallets can be a hazard, take up space and – even worse – become overlooked or incorrectly booked into stock.
Instead, make an effort to fully processes orders – including your corrugated packaging supplies – as soon as they come into your business.
Conduct employee training
Without your staff fully knowing what they are doing, there is no way that they can become more efficient. So for an efficient warehouse, thorough – and ongoing – training for your employees is crucial.
Training should cover everything from the types of product they are handling (making them aware of any special requirements), health and safety practices and, of course, any technology or equipment they may come into contact with in your warehouse.
Create Omni channel fulfilment centres
You may not even know what an “Omni channel” warehouse is, let alone how to implement one. But in effect, if you are a larger organisation, you may have separate warehousing for wholesale, eCommerce, retail shops, etc.
Combining these disparate operations allows you improved stock visibility and reduces costs through more efficient use of space and drawing on a single, consolidated pool of labour.
Review the effectiveness of your warehouse
It is impossible to improve something – or even know if you are improving it – without knowing what your benchmark is. As such, measuring where you currently stand before making changes is essential.
It may also be the case that inefficiencies in a specific area could have knock-on effects elsewhere. If this is the case, changing processes in other parts of your warehouse or operations may yield little to no improvement without first addressing the underlying issue.
Conduct a full warehouse audit
Conducting a full warehouse audit is usually the first step to improving your processes and efficiency.
An audit needs to encompass every area of your operations, including whether you organise your stock logically, if your packaging inventory is too large, and even how efficient and streamlined your order picking is.
And if this sounds difficult, several third-party organisations can offer this service.
Schedule supplier deliveries
One way to improve efficiency is to ask all inbound carriers – effectively your suppliers – to schedule when they make deliveries. Doing so can help minimise surprises and – crucially – allows the goods in the team to plan more effectively.
Scheduling could also mean allocating each delivery to a specific timeslot or planning a recurring delivery window (this could be daily, weekly or monthly), allowing you to schedule (and notify) staff in advance.
ABC priority analysis
Also commonly referred to as the inventory categorisation method, ABC analysis provides a hierarchy of your most to least valuable items (in terms of monetary value).
This ranking allows you to assign appropriate resources to each type of product or stock you hold. Doing so can help with allowing you to prioritise the safe handling of expensive items (as well as more closely monitor against theft) whilst also ensuring that you do not waste excessive time on smaller value items.
Tips for improving warehouse productivity
Analyse and improve picking methods
Order picking and stock retrieval is a surprisingly complex topic (you can read a dedicated article about this here).
However, it is essential to choose a suitable picking methodology, as well as supporting picking bins or pick face walls, as this directly impacts the efficiency and overall success of your supply chain. It can also help to improve staff morale and effectiveness too.
Communicate effectively with staff
If you are implementing changes to your warehouse to drive efficiency, it is critical to communicate these changes effectively to the employees that this affects.
Failure to do so could see some staff members still following outdated practices or, even worse, a mixture of old and new processes, causing confusion and delay. It is also vital, however, to not overload staff with communication and changes in one go, as this can negatively affect the retention of this updated information.
Consider employee incentives
Your warehouse likely requires a considerable amount of staff to operate successfully. As such, discovering ways to motivate your workforce can be one of the most straightforward ways to improve efficiency and productivity.
However, ensure any targets and bonus schemes are achievable. Unattainable goals can demotivate employees and reduce their overall output.
Use kitting trays (and associated strategies)
Popular in the automotive industry but equally applicable to an effective warehouse, you can use kitting trays and totes to group parts, products or components that are often used together.
This organisation of parts can improve efficiency, reduce inventory handling times and help minimise errors. It can also help to reduce lead times within your business.
Look after your employees
No one could ever describe warehouse work as glamorous, even though it is critical to business success and can be rewarding. However, it can often be challenging, tiring work that requires a good fitness level.
As such, improving your employees’ working conditions can help improve productivity. You can consider air conditioning, using rubber matting to reduce foot or ankle pains, providing gloves and other PPE (if required) and even playing the radio or music (with several studies showing this can improve productivity).
Invest in quality equipment
Purchasing cheap equipment can often be a false economy.
Whilst it can reduce initial costs, your staff may often struggle to use this cheaper equipment, harming ongoing productivity. More inexpensive items are (generally) much more likely to become damaged or broken, affecting productivity whilst out of action.
As such, measuring your expenditure in capital terms and productivity is essential.
Focus on investment
By investing in quality equipment, processes and technology, your business can see long-term gains.
Whilst this comes partly from the improved efficiency offered, it can also boost the morale of staff, as they can see you are not only investing in the future of the business but are also trying to make their life easier too.
Regardless of how much you invest in tools, equipment and machinery, it is inevitable that they break down at some point. These break-downs can cause delays and inefficiencies whilst the items are being repaired or replaced.
However, scheduling maintenance – including inspection and servicing plans – can minimise this as much as possible whilst also helping to protect your investments.
Define the correct KPIs
In essence, improving something you cannot measure is impossible. But, just as importantly, you must measure the things that matter to your business.
Choosing KPIs based on factors you think you can quickly improve rather than those that could make a tangible difference to your business ultimately provide little improvement.
It is, therefore, essential to carefully consider what your key performance indicators are and to also communicate these to all staff that are affected.
The less time employees spend looking for equipment, tools or items required to perform a specific task, the more productive they become.
That is why it is essential to reduce clutter, organise workstations and equipment storage, and ensure staff return items to agreed locations immediately after use. Doing so can also help reduce errors besides the significant time savings.
There are occasions when, depending on the nature of your business, you receive goods that you almost immediately send to another location (this could be another manufacturing or warehousing site, for example).
In this scenario, handling and storing these products for a prolonged period makes little sense. Cross docking is the term given to unloading one vehicle and immediately loading on the outgoing vehicle. Whilst frequently used for perishable goods, it also saves warehouse space, admin and labour.
Whilst it sounds like stating the obvious, minimising errors can be one of the most important things to consider when looking to improve warehouse efficiency.
Whilst this may involve implementing new systems and technology, relatively minor processes – such as staff spending 10 minutes daily correcting minor errors – can save hours searching for lost products or re-sending incorrect or incomplete orders later.
Tips for improving warehouse safety
Staff training should not be a one-off task but an ongoing process. Whilst many staff retain the information from their training, frequent refreshers can ensure an improved level of consciousness of specific hazards.
Many preventable accidents – such as slips, trips and falls – result from employees rushing or ignoring basic procedures to get a job done quickly. Regular training can help to reduce this.
Create a safety culture
All employees should feel it is their responsibility for health and safety – effectively creating a safety-focused “culture” at your business.
Implementing this is a continuous effort and involves setting up health and safety committees, having managers lead by example, and emphasising that safety directly impacts the business’s success.
Use of PPE
PPE – personal protective equipment – is vital in maintaining staff safety.
Whilst it can be easy – particularly when hurrying – to overlook the basics of ensuring the required PPE is in place, the consequences can be severe.
As such, you should continuously remind staff that it is their responsibility to ensure they wear goggles, hard hats, high-vis vests, ear plugs, suitable footwear and anything else required for specific environments or tasks.
Awareness of safety equipment
Besides PPE, it is also vital that staff are aware of other safety equipment.
Awareness should include using pallet trucks or hydraulic dollies for moving loads too heavy to carry manually, all the way to knowing where emergency exits are and not blocking sprinkler systems by stacking stock too high in specific locations.
Ongoing training and refreshers are again essential.
Use safe routes and traffic lanes
Something as simple as using floor tape to mark lanes and safe routes can significantly impact safety.
For example, it can ensure that forklifts and pedestrians are separated, preventing dangerous collisions. It can also help productivity (preventing traffic bottlenecks in certain areas). Using tape also means you can alter routes in the future due to changed layouts or drive further safety and efficiency improvements.
Ensure strict standards
It is essential that your business strictly enforces any safety measures implemented. For example, only allow highly skilled and trained staff to operate specific equipment, have forklift drivers receive ongoing training, and ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Education is an excellent first step in ensuring non-compliance is addressed, but you should take a more serious stance against any employee that frequently flouts or ignores safety procedures.
Keep areas clean and clear
Whilst this may seem like another obvious point, the more rubbish, stock not put away and general tools, equipment or packaging staff leave lying around, the more likely it is that accidents occur.
Daily or weekly cleaning schedules can help with this, alongside ensuring staff know where certain items should be stored when not in use.
Ensuring there is adequate signage covering health and safety is important. It is also critical that your business displays signs and notifications in proximity to the equipment or activity they are relevant to (e.g. notices regarding forklift use either where they are stored or in the vehicle cab).
This constant visual reminder helps to keep employees aware of any dangers that can become overlooked with familiarity.
Secure the warehouse
Ensuring that unauthorised people cannot access your warehouse protects not only your stock and your staff but also the potential trespassers.
As such, consider implementing security badges, passes, and uniforms to quickly identify non-workers while ensuring adequate signage to discourage guests from entering forbidden areas without prior agreement.
Although this guide has until now focused on the warehouse environment, it is also vital that staff are aware of any hazards posed by the products or stock you hold.
Awareness is particularly important for chemicals or products that are hazardous to health if spilt, should be handled in a specific manner, or are even dangerous if not stored under specific conditions (e.g. combustion risk). Ensuring staff know of these requirements is crucial.
It is wise to consider crash barriers if there is potential for pedestrians and forklifts (or other equipment and vehicles) to come into contact with each other.
Whilst another considerable cost (usually manufactured from iron or steel), they more than pay for themselves if they prevent just one serious accident.
Finally, considering all these points, prioritising safety should be one of the most critical considerations when looking to improve your warehouse operations.
Whilst it can be time-consuming, costly and resource-intensive, failure to provide a safe warehouse can actually increase costs, create more workplace disruptions, increase absenteeism and lower productivity through dissatisfied or disengaged employees.
It can also help – indirectly – to extend the life of your equipment, tools and vehicles whilst also reducing damage to inventory, if staff follow prescribed processes and practices.
Use of technology
Specific tasks within a warehouse can seem ripe for automation.
In fact, robotic automation can help with greater warehouse productivity, reduce costs and minimise errors. There are already approximately 1.2 million robots already deployed in US manufacturing businesses.
Use RFID or barcode scanning
Rather than manually stock-checking all incoming and outgoing stock, many warehouses now use barcode scanning to log receipts, movement through the warehouse and the despatch of stock.
Taking this a step further, you can use technologies like RFID to work alongside specialist software, including dedicated warehouse management systems.
Use a WMS
A WMS – or warehouse management system – allows for much greater clarity of stock within a warehouse, alongside its’ movement, status, and other requirements such as forecasting and replenishment requirements.
These can be particularly effective when used alongside tracking systems (such as barcodes and RFID, as detailed previously).
Understand your options
There is, in fact, a vast range of options available regarding technology to improve warehouse efficiency and improvements.
These include, but are not limited to, bar codes, pick-to-label, pick-to-light, radio frequency, and even voice-activated systems and technologies. All of these aim to improve productivity whilst also minimising errors.
Improved warehouse organisation and layout
Avoid mixing multiple SKUs
Having multiple SKUs in a single location reduces picking productivity. This issue is due to the picker, once finding the correct location, then needing to manually search through inventory (including packaging products) to find the right item.
This challenge can result in a delay of up to 15 seconds per item whilst also increasing the potential for errors.
Go up, not out
Warehouse space is an expensive commodity, so you should aim to maximise it to its full potential.
A commonly overlooked area for expansion is upwards. Many companies believe they have outgrown their current warehouse but need to utilise space above their existing racking. Whilst this may involve additional investment to exploit, it is considerably cheaper than moving premises.
Similar to the potential to expand upwards, it can be possible to reorganise your warehouse and racking to maximise your footprint.
Strategies could include the implementation of narrow aisles to increase the amount of racking you have within your facility, with specialist fork and reach trucks available to take advantage of this.
Analyse stock locations
If you have fast-moving stock that is at the back of your warehouse – or is not in the most accessible location – this is a recipe for inefficient picking and retrieval.
Monitoring your stock movements and constantly adapting your stock locations to meet changing demand can significantly impact the efficiency of your order or stock pickers. In essence, if you have stock that is required frequently, make it easily accessible.
Organise your warehouse
While keeping your warehouse free from clutter and highlighting unallocated stock and general rubbish as a health and safety concern, it can also impact your picking efficiency.
Removing obstacles from pickers who can spend most of their travelling to different locations is essential, as slowing them down considerably decreases their productivity.
Reduce travel time for pickers
Stock pickers can spend up to 60 per cent of their time travelling to locations to retrieve stock. Reducing this can have a considerable impact on efficiency.
Ways to reduce this travel time include reorganising stock locations, implementing different picking methods, or even automating some aspects of the process.
A golden rule of picking is to reduce the number of touches on each item from your inventory. Each of these costs your business money.
For example, items kept in bulk storage which staff then move to smaller picking bays, are effectively being handled twice. Whilst this is a basic example, there are potentially many occurrences where staff handle items more times than necessary, reducing efficiency and driving up labour costs.
For specific items that you require in your warehouse – such as corrugated packaging or consumables – you could consider a JIT supply agreement with your vendor. This service would see them store your stock and deliver it just as required.
Just-in-time delivery obviously reduces the amount of storage space required for your packaging but also makes picking more efficient (due to a reduced overall packaging inventory managed by your supplier).
Plan for peaks
Finally, it is crucial to plan for peaks. If you suddenly take on a large amount of inventory before Christmas or Black Friday and have nowhere to put it, this can disrupt the equilibrium and any efficient processes you have put in place.
Use forecasting and plan well in advance in terms of how you handle any sudden influx of inventory.
Making a difference in your warehouse success
Whilst only some of these strategies and ideas may be relevant for all businesses, even implementing a few can significantly impact your ongoing operational success. It is, therefore, vital to consider as many tips for improving warehouse management as possible.
If you require any help or advice on improving your warehouse setup – particularly how your packaging can play a crucial role – please do not hesitate to contact one of the experts at GWP.