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Warehouses are bustling hubs of activity where precision and speed are key to meeting customer demands. While efficiency has always been a top priority in these environments, safety should not be overlooked. In fact, the relationship between efficiency and safety is tightly intertwined. Implementing safety procedures not only protects your workforce but also ensures your warehouse operates at optimal efficiency. Let’s explore how safety measures are pivotal in shaping warehouse operations.
The relationship between efficiency and safety
Although there is great emphasis on efficient operational practices, ensuring good health and safety practices goes hand in hand with these, too. This is especially relevant in the following areas.
Fewer Items Going Missing
One of the immediate benefits of a safety-conscious environment is a reduction in missing items. When your warehouse is organized and secure, it becomes much harder for equipment, products, or tools to disappear. This means fewer disruptions in operations caused by the frantic search for lost items.
Improved Awareness of Storage
Safety procedures often include guidelines for organizing and labelling storage areas. This enhanced organization ensures that employees are more aware of where items are stored, reducing the time wasted searching for goods. When everything has its place, it’s easier to locate, access, and move products efficiently. Good safety practices also mean that emergency items and personal protective equipment can be easily accessed when needed. This level of organization also helps to improve the overall operational efficiency in warehouses.
Neater Space Equals More Efficiency
A clean and orderly workspace is not just aesthetically pleasing; it also leads to greater efficiency. Cluttered or disorganized spaces can slow down operations, increase the risk of accidents, and impede the smooth flow of goods. A safe, tidy warehouse promotes productivity and minimizes disruptions.
Enhanced Inventory Practices
Efficiency in warehouse operations hinges on accurate inventory management. Safety policies often necessitate tracking and documenting the usage of certain items, like fuel for warehouse vehicles. By implementing these practices, you not only ensure that you never run out of critical supplies, but you also prevent unexpected delays due to equipment shortages.
The importance of safe equipment handling
The safety of your warehouse staff should always be the top priority. Training employees in safe equipment handling not only reduces the risk of accidents but also promotes a culture of vigilance and responsibility. When workers know how to use equipment correctly, the chances of something going wrong decrease significantly, reducing the need for costly maintenance and repairs.
Correct Use of Specialized Equipment
Warehouses often rely on specialized equipment, such as forklifts, for various operations. Different types of forklifts are designed for specific tasks, and using them correctly is essential for safety and efficiency. Employees should receive training and regular refresher courses on warehouse safety handling to ensure they can operate equipment safely and effectively. Take forklifts, for example. There are many different kinds of forklifts on the market, each fulfilling a specific purpose. The incorrect use of equipment such as these can be costly for repairs and hinder the efficiency level at which certain operations happen.
Implementing safety policies for warehouses
One of the best ways that safety and efficiency can be ensured is through effective policy writing and implementation. Policies are essential for consistency in warehouse operations and provide a platform for the health and safety standards you want to maintain.
Components of a Warehouse Equipment Safety Policy
- Equipment Usage Guidelines: Clearly define how each piece of equipment should be used, including safety procedures, maintenance requirements, and any special precautions.
- Training Programs: Establish comprehensive training programs that cover equipment handling, safety protocols, and emergency procedures.
- Maintenance and Inspection Procedures: Specify regular maintenance schedules and inspection routines to ensure equipment remains in optimal condition.
Ensuring Adherence to Safety Policies
To guarantee that safety policies are adhered to, you can:
- Conduct regular safety audits and inspections.
- Encourage open communication channels for employees to report safety concerns.
- Recognize and reward safe practices to promote a safety-oriented culture.
- Ensure that all staff are trained in the use of warehouse equipment
- Ensure staff are up to date with the current policy and any changes that may follow
Regular Updates to Safety Policies
Safety policies should evolve with changing technologies and regulations. Regularly review and update your safe equipment handling policy to stay current with best practices and legal requirements. It’s, therefore, imperative that safety policies are updated regularly and that the state of warehouse equipment is assessed as often as necessary.
Consistency in all warehouse operations
Stringent safety policies are essential for maintaining consistency in warehouse operations. They have a profound impact on various aspects:
Accurate inventory reporting is essential for meeting customer demands. Safety policies help ensure that inventory is stored, handled, and recorded correctly, reducing discrepancies and errors in reporting.
Safety Standards Maintenance
By implementing safety policies consistently, you ensure that safety standards are maintained across all aspects of your warehouse operations. This consistency minimizes the risk of accidents and injuries.
Compliance with safety regulations is not just a moral imperative; it’s also a legal requirement. Consistently following safety policies helps your warehouse meet legal obligations, protecting your business from potential liabilities.
The supplier’s role in safe equipment handling
Suppliers play a crucial role in ensuring safe equipment handling in your warehouse:
- Equipment Guidance: Suppliers can advise on how to use equipment correctly, recommend upgrades when necessary, and provide maintenance plans to extend the lifespan of your machinery.
- Renting Safely: Companies like Alto Handling ensure safety when renting out forklifts to customers. They perform thorough inspections, maintenance, and safety checks to guarantee that the equipment they supply is in optimal condition.
Efficiency and safety go hand in hand in warehouse operations. By prioritizing safety through policies, training, and equipment handling, you not only protect your workforce but also optimize the efficiency of your warehouse. Consistency and supplier collaboration further enhance safety, ensuring a smooth and secure warehouse environment. Equipment leased from suppliers like Alto Handling has a comprehensive training and equipment maintenance guide, helping you operate as efficiently as possible and ensuring best practices.
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If the ongoing supply chain crisis has taught us anything, it’s the critical importance of optimizing warehousing processes. However, managing a warehouse effectively is no mean feat. You’re required to be both strategist and analyst, to identify and capitalize on opportunities for improvement today while outlining and preparing for the needs of tomorrow.
The good news, though, is that managers aren’t alone when it comes to optimizing their warehouse operations. In fact, a host of technologies is emerging to make your warehouse processes more efficient and effective than ever before. This article describes strategies you can use to upscale your warehouse organizational processes through the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) systems.
The Power of Predictive Analytics
If you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you know that the market is always changing, and that means that your warehouse operations strategies must change with it. Fortunately, warehouse managers today have more powerful tools than ever before to analyze market conditions and forecast future trends.
For instance, the predictive capabilities of AI technologies are virtually unprecedented. These systems are capable of analyzing literally billions of data points in mere seconds and, through the power of machine learning, using that data to identify patterns and formulate market predictions.
These insights can be a profound asset when it comes to inventory management and distribution planning.
AI technologies aren’t just useful for analyzing data and predicting future market conditions, they’re also superb in monitoring existing conditions and defining optimization strategies as needed. This supports the kind of agility and responsiveness that are essential to avoiding the supply chain disruptions that have threatened the global economy in recent years.
For instance, AI-powered devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) can track shipments and even trace individual items as they move through the supply chain, recognizing and documenting delays and disruptions, sending out real-time alerts to stakeholders, and even defining mitigation strategies as needed.
For example, when an AI sensor detects that a shipment is likely to get snagged in congested or blocked transport routes, it can identify and even automatically reroute the most expeditious alternative pathway.
Similar automation processes can also occur within the warehouse itself. So-called “learning warehouses” can monitor internal and external data, from customer behavioral patterns to current weather conditions, and use this data to optimize picking processes, allowing products to be picked and shipped from the warehouse even before orders have been placed.
Driving Workforce Planning
Another critical function of AI technologies in warehouse operations management is to facilitate workforce planning. Warehouse operations can be exceedingly complex, involving a large number of workers and stakeholders performing a diverse array of functions across all stages of the supply chain, from the warehouse to the final point of sale.
Savvy managers can unleash the full potential of AI in workforce planning by deploying organizational planning tools, such as mind maps, to help them more clearly and comprehensively define workflows. This, in turn, enables leaders to identify opportunities to optimize staffing processes organization-wide through AI analytics and optimization.
For example, AI-driven labor planning can prevent overstaffing by combining predictive analytics with internal and external conditions analyses. These systems, in other words, operate holistically to more effectively coordinate operations across all divisions, departments, and job functions in response to existing and expected needs.
The result is greater efficiency and reliability in the supply chain, an enhanced customer experience, and a better overall working environment for warehouse workers, distributors, and shippers alike.
Instituting AI Technologies in Your Warehouse Processes
Integrating AI into your warehouse organizational processes requires some planning. The good news, though, is that you are likely to meet with significant approval from your team, who are likely to have already recognized the immense value of technological innovation in warehouse operations.
The key is to clearly define the short-term and long-range goals to want and expect to achieve with each technology you adopt. Do your research to confirm that your expectations for each innovation are plausible and cost-effective. Then, establish your priorities. A strategic, systematic conversion to AI is likely to be more efficient and effective than a sweeping transformation.
Optimizing your warehouse’s organizational processes is not easy, but with the integration of artificial intelligence systems, you can achieve improvements in efficiency and productivity that you might never have dreamed possible. AI systems can help managers define optimal inventory and distribution strategies. Remote sensors can track products across the supply chain, enhancing agility and responsiveness at each stage. Learning warehouses can optimize picking and shipping processes by analyzing customer behavior, market trends, and other relevant external conditions. AI technologies can even facilitate workforce planning, helping to prevent staffing shortages or surpluses across every division and job function, resulting in a superlative customer experience and a more efficient and harmonious work environment.
*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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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.
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