Your warehouse is the bridge that connects manufactured goods to the consumer. In many cases, it’s one of the foundations of the supply chain. But an inefficient warehouse can make supply chain issues worse and impact the customer experience.
When your warehouse isn’t up to par, you might be paying for more space than you need, holding inventory that is too old or that you can’t find, or breaking too many order fulfillment promises. Enough of these issues, and they will impact your results and growth prospects.
So, it makes sense to invest time and resources into creating the best possible warehouse. But where should you begin? Just as everything that happens in your warehouse is systematic, so is warehouse organization. Here are some of the ways you can create the most efficient, unstoppable, and ideal warehouse.
Warehouse Layout Elements
Setting up your warehouse efficiently is more than just stocking your shelves with inventory. A warehouse should be designed to optimize storage space and streamline the order fulfillment process. Items in your warehouse, such as shelving, office areas, equipment, and doors, should be located to facilitate a better product flow. A few common ways to optimize your warehouse layout include:
- Optimize for Product Velocity — While some warehouses store items by product type, you can improve efficiency by placing the most frequently requested products closer to the packing and shipping areas.
- Reduce Aisle Width — You may be able to increase your usable space by shortening the distance between aisles, making sure it still works with equipment like forklifts.
- Minimize Unused and Open Space — Relocate or remove unused products and minimize any open spaces between storage locations.
- Implement Warehouse Signage and Label Solutions — Your warehouse should have clear signage in aisles and clearly labeled racks, containers, docks, and doors to make it easier to navigate.
It’s important to keep in mind that a single warehouse layout may not work for every business or situation. You’ll want to reassess your layout frequently and make adjustments as needed, so you continue to get the best possible results.
Warehouse Workflow Elements
As you work on creating the ideal warehouse, you’ll want to focus on functionality and efficiency in your workflows. Even after you have your storage elements in place, you’ll need to consider how you’re going to tackle the four primary fulfillment processes:
1. Warehouse Receiving and Stowing
As soon as new inventory arrives, your employees should be ready to check in every shipment and ensure the items received match what was ordered. Based on the size of the items, they will need to be transported to the correct place in the warehouse for storage. When you use certain technology, like RFID, some of the recordkeeping can be instant, which saves time and reduces human error.
2. Inventory Tracking
Tracking inventory by hand is no longer the most efficient strategy. It’s too time-consuming and can lead to errors or delays. The most modern warehouses are now using real-time inventory tracking solutions, which report these figures in real-time. In fact, customers and business partners can even get access to this data, which improves visibility throughout the supply chain. If you wish, you can set automatic re-ordering thresholds to ensure you always have sufficient levels of inventory and avoid stock-out situations.
3. Warehouse Picking
The picking process is generally the most time-consuming and error-ridden part of the order fulfillment process. This means it’s also an ideal candidate for efficiency and cost improvements. Instead of requiring workers to dash around the warehouse “hunting” for individual items, your business can streamline this using technology and automation solutions. For example, pickers can get batch lists of similar items in an area, get voice instructions through a wireless headset, and have progress recorded automatically using RFID tags.
4. Packing and Shipping
Finally, items in your warehouse need to be packaged and shipped to their final destination. Mobile carts can be used in the packing area to print shipping labels instead of requiring workers to travel to a central location. And large volumes of orders can be loaded together to save time and resources.
Warehouse Technology Elements
You will only get so far with warehouse layout and workflow optimization. If you aren’t making the most of the technology solutions available, you’ll certainly be left behind by the competition. Here are some of the ways your warehouse can use technology to become the most efficient operation in your industry.
1. Build Wireless Infrastructure
Your modern warehouse needs to have everyone connected as much as possible. This will be tough if you are still using only hard-wired systems. Consider building a wireless infrastructure that allows workers to connect to the system using technology located throughout the warehouse.
2. Enable Mobile Computing and Barcode Printing
Along the same lines, workers should be given handheld devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to assist with tasks. Some warehouses are even using wearables to deliver voice-activated instructions. Barcode printing on-site can streamline the tracking of inventory and assets.
3. Use Mobile Workstations
Consider the workstations you’ll need in your warehouse. Instead of using central locations for printing and other tasks, you can maximize workflow and reduce unnecessary worker steps by having mobile workstations that can travel wherever they are needed.
4. Integrate RFID Scanning
Many warehouses are using barcodes to keep track of inventory and assets. But you can take tracking and visibility to the next level by implementing RFID scanning. Short for radio frequency identification, RFID is similar to barcode technology but more versatile and advanced. Hundreds (or more) of items can be scanned and recorded at once as they enter or leave the warehouse or make their way through the supply chain. This eliminates a step and improves accuracy.
5. Use a Warehouse Management System (WMS)
Using a warehouse management system (WMS) is a must in today’s fast-paced and competitive environment. This all-in-one software solution can lead to faster inventory replenishment, lower error rates, and improved overall warehouse performance.
6. Leverage Key Insights
Any software solution you choose should provide you with valuable data about your business. These insights can tell you what areas your warehouse is continuing to struggle with as well as those where it is making massive improvement. This data can help you make more informed business decisions.
Whether you’re starting with a blank slate or revamping an existing warehouse, the ideas we just described will give you an opportunity to build a warehouse that delivers what you need. By focusing on the rights processes and technology solutions, you can maximize efficiency, reduce errors, improve customer satisfaction, and get better overall results.