Providing reliable service while keeping costs under control requires maintaining efficient distribution centers. To achieve this goal, it pays to streamline warehouse operations with the latest organizational and technical upgrades — from training staff to perform their jobs more effectively, to investing in the latest technologies. The results will include saving time and money, improving customer satisfaction, and boosting profits.
Here are some ways supply chain managers can reduce inefficiencies and streamline warehouse management operations:
Provide staff training
Even with the best technology and systems in place, operations are only efficient when employees embrace the accompanying processes and successfully execute all aspects of their job. To boost their performance, create an ongoing staff training program that delivers a robust array of classes on topics such as standard operating procedures, machine maintenance and operation, warehouse organization, reporting, and customer service. As a bonus, ongoing training will not only improve warehouse operations, but it may also boost employee morale and job satisfaction.
Be proactive with maintenance
Machines do occasionally break down without warning. But machine maintenance is within your control, and it’s a great way to minimize breakdowns. Monitor your equipment’s maintenance checklist and stick to it. This proactive approach lets you plan downtime for repairs, preventing unplanned downtime that disrupts your entire supply chain.
Invest in software
Intelligent warehouse management systems (WMS) deliver a number of useful tools for managing orders, inventory, and shipments, and there is a range of options to suit each company’s specific needs. Common functions include an advanced shipping notification (ASN) system, which can be used to keep track of all inbound orders. This is crucial for coordinating shipments with cross-docking and replenishments. Combined with a vendor compliance program, the right WMS can help you integrate incoming shipments smoothly with your operations.
Invest in equipment technology
Along with a WMS, equipment automation options can make warehouse operations run more efficiently and with less variability. Conveyor systems are excellent for closing the distances that pickers have to cover, and other operations can be successfully automated using picking towers, stretch wrap systems, robotic palletizers, and AS/RS systems.
Collect critical data
Today, data collection can be accomplished automatically with features like barcode, voice-activated technology, and RFID integrated into your WMS. Any data collection method you use should be simple to record, read, and report on as needed.
Use your data to power continuous process improvements. For example, use picking operations data to decide whether a batch picking, zone picking, single-order, or multi-order picking methodology will work best with your particular business. This insight is crucial for knowing if your warehouse is hitting its potential for optimization, or if it is falling short.
Practice ongoing cycle counts
Instead of a full physical inventory, which could halt operations or cause a large disruption in your warehouse, implement an ongoing cycle count program that samples various subsets of inventory. This approach is a more efficient way to accurately gauge inventory with minimal disruption. To ensure the most crucial items are being replenished, focus on the highest-demand shipments first.
Invest in cross-docking
While it may bring significant upfront costs, cross-docking allows for inventory to be moved directly from one transportation container to another, completely bypassing warehousing and storage. Products are sorted in a staging area before they’re reloaded directly onto the next truck. This is especially effective in large distribution centers that are strategically located for transferring shipments from one transportation route to another.
Improve communication with wireless devices
In time-sensitive environments, direct communication is better than email — including radios, cell phones, and tablets. This will speed up communication, reduce delays, and streamline your overall operations.
New technologies such as wrist-mounted RF units, voice pick, and pick- or put-to-light order fulfillment systems can accelerate the picking process. Emerging technologies—as Google Glass’s initial run demonstrated with augmented reality—will have the potential to make real-time data even more intuitively integrated with other warehouse processes.
Every time a product needs to be handled, it slows down operations and puts the operation at risk for errors. Reducing touchpoints streamlines and speeds up the process. Look for small instances where efforts are being duplicated unnecessarily. For example, have pickers place products directly in final shipping packages or containers, rather than staging them in cartons to be transferred before shipping.
Synchronize multiple-part order deliveries
Look for ways to guarantee that multiple parts of a single order arrive as close together as possible, and work with vendors to ensure that deliveries can be scheduled and measured to establish provable metrics.
These are just some of the many ways you can improve your warehouse operations and efficiencies. To help you implement any of these ideas or to discuss other efficiency-boosting options, talk to one of CAI Logistics’ experts in warehouse efficiency.