Efficiency, Productivity, Safety & 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 huge.
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 ultimately see your business lose credibility.
As such, this guide offers 45 quick tips, ideas and strategies that can be applied to your business
As this is such a broad subject, the tips in this guide have been divided into 5 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 will be relevant to all businesses, being able to successfully implement even a few can have a surprisingly significant impact on your warehouse operations.
Please use the links below to go straight to your area of interest.
01: Tips for improving warehouse efficiency.
Adopt lean warehouse practices
Whilst warehousing was traditionally about storage of goods, the advent of ecommerce and globalised markets have seen it change dramatically over the last 2 decades.
As such, 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, relates to reduced time loading and unloading vehicles, less time spent picking and retrieving stock and concise stock replenishment.
All of this leads to greater efficiency, reduced costs and 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 be damaging to your efficiency (and safety). Orders left on pallets can be a hazard, take up space and – even worse – can become overlooked or incorrectly booked in to stock.
Instead, make an effort to fully processes orders – including your corrugated packaging supplies – as soon as they come in to your business.
Conduct employee training
Without your staff knowing fully what they are doing, there is no way that they can become more efficient. This is why thorough – and ongoing – training for your employees is so important.
This 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 that 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 and so on.
Combining these disparate operations not only allows you improved visibility of stock, but also lets you reduce costs through more efficient use of space and by being able to draw on a single, consolidated pool of labour.
Review the effectiveness of your warehouse
It is impossible to actually improve something – or even know if you are improving it – without actually knowing what your benchmark is to start with. As such, it is important to measure where you currently stand before starting to make changes.
It may also be the case that inefficiencies in a specific area could be having knock on effects elsewhere. If this is the case, then changing processes in other areas may yield little to no improvement without first addressing the underlying issue.
Conduct a full warehouse audit
Similarly to the above, conducting a full warehouse audit is usually the first step to improving your processes and, ultimately, efficiency.
This needs to encompass every area of your operations, from asking whether your stock is organised logically, if your packaging inventory is too large, all the way through to how efficient and streamlined your order picking is. And if this sounds difficult, there are a number of third party organisations that will be able to 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. This can help to minimise surprises and – crucially – allows the goods in team to be able plan more effectively.
This could mean allocating each delivery a specific timeslot, or to plan 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).
What this allows you to do is assign appropriate resources to each type of product or stock that you hold. This can help with regards to 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.
02: Tips for improving warehouse productivity.
Analyse / 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 important to choose a suitable picking methodology, as well as supporting picking bins / pick face walls, as this has a direct impact on 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 in order to drive efficiency, it is absolutely critical that these changes are communicated 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 even delay. It is also important however to not overload staff with communication and changes in one go, as this can negatively affect retention of this updated information.
Consider employee incentives
It is likely that your warehouse requires a considerable amount of staff to operate successfully. As such, finding ways to motivate your workforce can be one of the most simple ways to improve their efficiency and productivity.
However, ensure any targets and bonus schemes are achievable, as unattainable goals can actually demotivate employees and reduce their overall output.
Use Kitting trays / strategies
Popular in the automotive industry, but equally applicable to an effective warehouse, kitting trays and totes can be used to group parts, products or components that are often used together.
This can improve efficiency, reduce inventory handling times and also help to minimise errors as well. 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 tough, tiring work that requires a good level of fitness.
As such, improving the working conditions for your employees can help see improvements in productivity. This can include air conditioning, using rubber matting to reduce foot / ankle pains, providing gloves and other PPE (if required) and even playing the radio or music (with a number of studies showing this can improve productivity).
Invest in quality equipment
Purchasing cheap equipment can often be a false economy.
Whilst it can reduce your initial costs, on many occasions your staff may struggle to use this cheaper equipment, harming ongoing productivity. Cheaper items are – generally – much more likely to become damaged or broken, again affecting productivity whilst they are out of action.
As such, is important to measure your expenditure not only in capital terms, but also in productivity.
Focus on investment
Similar to the above, by placing a focus on investment in quality equipment, processes and technology, your business will see long term gains.
Whilst this will come partly from the improved efficiency offered, it can also boost 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 you much you invest in tools, equipment and machinery, it is inevitable that they will break down at some point. This 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, it is impossible to improve something that you cannot measure. But, just as importantly, you must be measuring the things that actually matter to your business.
Choosing KPIs based on factors you think you will be able to easily improve, rather than those that will make a tangible difference to your business, will ultimately provide little improvement for your business.
It is therefore important 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 that are required to perform a specific task, the more productive they become.
That is why it is important to reduce clutter, organise workstations and equipment storage, and ensure items are returned to agreed locations immediately after use. This can also help cut down on errors besides the significant time savings.
Consider “cross docking”
There are occasions when, depending on the nature of your business, you receive goods which are then almost immediately sent on to another location (this could be another manufacturing or warehousing site for example).
In this scenario, it makes little sense to handle and store these products for any prolonged period. Cross docking is the term given to unloading one vehicle and immediately loading on the outgoing vehicle, and whilst frequently used for perishable goods, 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 every day correct small errors – can save hours in terms of searching for lost products or resending incorrect or incomplete orders later on.
03: 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 – are as a result of 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.
This is a continuous effort, and will involve setting up health and safety committees, having managers lead by example, and emphasizing that safety has a direct impact on the success of the business.
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 serious.
As such, staff must be continuously reminded that it is their responsibility to ensure they were google, 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 important that staff are aware of other safety equipment.
This includes using pallet trucks or hydraulic dollies for moving loads which are too heavy to carry manually, all the way through to knowing where emergency exits are and not blocking sprinkler systems by stacking stock to high in specific locations. Ongoing training and refreshers are again essential.
Use safe routes / traffic lanes
Something as simple as using floor tape to mark lanes and safe routes can have a surprisingly large impact on safety.
It can ensure forklifts and pedestrians are separated for example, preventing dangerous collisions, whilst it can also help with ongoing productivity too (preventing traffic bottlenecks in certain areas). Using tape also means that routes can be changed in the future, either as a result of changed layouts or to further drive safety and efficiency improvements.
Ensure strict standards
It is obviously important that any safety measures that are implemented are strictly enforced. For example, only allow highly skilled and trained staff to operate specific equipment, forklift drivers receive ongoing training, and everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Education is a good first step in ensuring non-compliance is addressed, but a more serious stance should be taken against any employee that frequently flouts or ignores safety procedures.
Keep areas clean / clear
Whilst this may seem like another obvious point, the more rubbish, stock not put away and general tools, equipment or packaging being left lying around, the more likely accidents are to 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 these signs and notifications are posted in proximity to the equipment or activity that they are relevant too (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 are not able to access your warehouse protects not only your stock and your staff, but also protects the potential trespassers too.
As such, it is useful to consider implementing security badges / passes and uniforms to quickly identify non workers, whilst also ensuring there is 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 important that staff are aware of any hazards posed by the products or stock that you hold.
This include chemicals or products that are hazardous to health if spilled, should be handled in a specific manner, or are even dangerous if not stored under specific conditions (e.g. combustion risk). Ensuring staff are aware of these requirements is crucial.
Crash barriers can be considered if there is a lot of potential for pedestrians and forklifts (or other equipment / vehicles) to come into contact with each other.
Whilst another considerable cost (usually being manufactured from iron or steel) if they prevent a single serious accident then will have more than paid for themselves.
Finally, taking all these points into account, 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 more workplace disruptions, increased absenteeism and lower productivity through dissatisfied and / or disengaged employees.
It can also help – indirectly – to extend the life of your equipment, tools and vehicles whilst also reducing damage to inventory, as staff will follow prescribed processes and practices.
04: Use of Technology
Certain tasks within a warehouse can seem ripe for automation.
In fact, robotic automation can help with greater warehouse productivity, drive down costs and reduce errors too. In fact, there are 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 are now using barcode scanning to log receipt, movement through the warehouse and the despatch of stock.
Taking this a step further, technologies such as RFID can be utilised 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 above).
Understand your options
There are in fact a huge range of options available when it comes to technology aimed at improving warehouse efficiency / 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 are designed to improve increased productivity whilst also minimising errors.
05: Improved warehouse organisation / layout
Avoid mixing multiple SKUs
Having multiple SKUs in a single location reduces picking productivity. This is due to the picker, once finding the correct location, then needing to manually search through inventory (including packaging products) to find the correct item.
In fact, this can result in a delay of up to 15 seconds per item, whilst also increasing the potential for errors as well.
Go up, not out
Warehouse space is an expensive commodity, which is why you should aim to maximise it to its full potential.
A commonly overlooked area for expansion is upwards – with most companies believing they have outgrown their current warehouse not utilising space above their existing racking. Whilst this may involve additional investment to exploit, it is considerably cheaper than moving premises.
Similar to the above, it can be possible to reorganise your warehouse and racking in order to maximise the footprint available to you.
This could include the implementation of narrow aisles in order 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 even 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 have a huge impact on the efficiency of your order or stock pickers. In essence, if you have stock that is required frequently, make it easily accessible.
Whilst keeping your warehouse free from clutter, unallocated stock and general rubbish was highlighted as a health and safety concern, it can also have an impact on your picking efficiency too.
It is essential to remove obstacles from pickers who can spend the majority of their travelling to differing locations, as slowing them down obviously decreases their productivity considerably.
Reduce travel time for pickers
Following on from the above, stock pickers can spend up to 60 percent of their time travelling to locations to retrieve stock. Reducing this can obviously have a considerable impact on efficiency.
Ways to reduce this travel time include reorganising stock locations (as per above), implementing different picking methods, or even automating certain elements of the process.
A golden rule of picking is to reduce the amount of touches on each item from your inventory. Each of these costs your business money.
For example, items kept in bulk storage which are then moved to smaller picking bays are effectively being handled twice. Whilst this is a basic example, there are potentially many occurrences where items are being handled 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 would see them store your stock and deliver it just as required.
This 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 important to plan for peaks. If you suddenly take on a large amount of inventory – say 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 of how you will handle any sudden influx of inventory.
Making a difference to your warehouse success
Whilst not all of these strategies and ideas may be relevant for all businesses, even implementing a few can make a significant difference to your ongoing operational success. As such, it is important to consider as many of these tips for improving warehouse management as possible.
If you require any help or advice on improving your warehouse setup – and in particular how your packaging can play a crucial role – then please do not hesitate to get in touch using the details below.
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