Boosting Warehouse Productivity

Achieving warehouse productivity goals such as reducing picking times and increasing throughput rates can be challenging. Chris Castaldi, director of business development at Carlstadt, N.J.-based materials handling systems integrator W&H Systems, offers these tips for improving warehouse productivity.

1. Use automated picking operations. Pick-to-voice or pick-to-light systems speed picking and reduce errors by quickly providing pickers information on item location and quantity. These systems eliminate the need to search for the item number and quantity on a piece of paper.

2. Try goods-to-person technology. These solutions bring the items to be picked to the workers’ station so they don’t have to travel all over the warehouse pulling items to fulfill orders.

3. Implement a Warehouse Control System (WCS). Use these tools to handle processes that can slow the performance of your warehouse management system. A WCS can control conveyors and sortation systems; optimize picking and packing waves; send pick information to voice-directed picking systems; and direct packing operations.

4. Consider tilt-tray sorters. These trays gently deliver items close to packing boxes, eliminating the need for workers to move full cases to each location.

5. Rely on radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID increases operational accuracy and efficiency by providing greater visibility into critical process points, allowing real-time inventory management and coordination within the supply chain.

6. Incentivize workers. Use data collection tools to track labor and benchmarking results against the norm. When workers know they are being measured, they typically improve their accuracy and pick/pack rates.

7. Initiate task interweaving. This strategy reduces deadheading—the scenario in which workers pick products and drop them off at a dock, then return to the picking area without performing any useful tasks, such as picking products for another order along the way.

8. Use advanced shipping notification (ASN). This documentation lets warehouse managers know in advance when they can expect shipments to arrive. This knowledge is crucial for planning sufficient receiving staff.

9. Minimize touches by picking to a shipping carton. Picking directly to the carton, rather than a tote, eliminates dedicated packing stations. To further reduce touches, utilize print-and-apply labeling systems to print labels on the fly, as well as in-motion weighing and manifesting equipment and automated sealing/taping stations.

10. Reorganize your warehouse. Place the most popular products in the most strategic areas so workers can pick more effectively. Use a vertical automated storage and retrieval system that can be organized with the most frequently ordered products closest to the worker, allowing products to be picked faster.

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