Boosting Warehouse Productivity
Excessive inventory hurts productivity when pickers must search for products to fulfill orders. In order-picking operations where seasonal products rotate in and out as the months go by, the productivity drain can be even more pronounced. Brian C. Neuwirth, vice president of sales and marketing for UNEX Manufacturing, reveals how to boost warehouse productivity.
1. Keep your warehouse neat. Throw away or recycle empty boxes and packing materials to keep aisles clear. This frees up valuable space, makes areas safer for workers, and offers more storage. Only bare essential items should occupy a workspace.
2. Make organization a priority. Keep storage racks organized and label shelves. Less time searching and more time picking orders and replenishing items make for a more productive and successful warehouse.
3. Streamline moves. Instead of moving an item from one location to another, then moving it somewhere else before picking it, try to handle products just once.
4. Reduce travel time. Bring goods to the picker using conveyors or sortation units. Travel time takes away from picking orders so the fewer touches and less travel needed to complete an order the better. Combine smaller orders into a single travel to reduce the time it takes to fulfill each order.
5. Improve accuracy. Have a discrete pick location for each SKU to eliminate the need for pickers to sort through multiple SKUs to find the right one. Accuracy is improved along with speed. Assign slow-moving items to vertical locations and keep the fastest-moving items closer to the floor level to speed picking.
6. Optimize warehouse layout. The right layout offers maximum efficiency and incorporates best practices—such as placing fast-selling items closer to pickers—learned from previous holiday seasons.
7. Display products clearly. Store inventory on shelves with tilted trays or knuckled tracks to present products to pickers. Allowing them to see what they're picking eliminates errors.
8. Slot SKUs intelligently. Review the type of product (weight, size, shape), how often it is touched, the distance an order picker would need to travel to get to the location, and how accessible the location will be once the picker gets there. Re-slot often to keep items in the optimal location.
9. Store for your picking needs. Organize your warehouse by what works best for your business—either stocking materials by products that sell quicker than others, by groups of products most frequently sold together, or by seasonal items. As your product mix will probably change over the years, plan your storage needs based on current and future order-picking needs, taking into account your projected growth.
10. Evaluate your storage medium. Using modular racks that can scale to fit your warehouse configuration minimizes wasted space. Plus, if you use racks that can be easily adjusted to product mix changes, you can reconfigure them to use with different products, which saves money.