BlogSupply Chain: Lowering Your Total Cost of BusinessWarehouse Operations Best Practices: Increasing Efficiency and Safety

If you manage a warehouse or work in logistics, you’ve probably experienced how a sudden influx of products you don’t have space for can disrupt all of your operations. It’s challenging to run a warehouse or distribution center smoothly, and the changing demands of management and consumers complicate operations. Customers and business executives are notoriously unsympathetic to these difficulties. The best defense is to be prepared for the unexpected by following warehouse operations best practices

Warehouse best practices ensure both employee and product safety in the warehouse, and following them can be the difference between unacceptable product losses and hitting every deadline on time. They can even save lives if followed consistently. If you’re a warehouse manager, odds are good that you’re already aware of this and you’re following those best practices that are necessary to maintain basic warehouse safety. In many cases, though, going one step further can make your warehouse both safer and also more efficient, saving you money that can be reinvested into better equipment or more space–and ultimately increasing your efficiency even more.

Warehouse Operations Best Practices

  • Maintain a Clean Hygienic Warehouse
  • Improve Cube Utilization to Increase Space for Product
  • Use Automatic Data Collection
  • Improve Pick Times and Accuracy with Automation

Maintain a Clean Hygienic Warehouse

As obvious as it sounds, by far the most important best practice in a warehouse is to maintain a clean environment. If you’re stocking food and pharmaceuticals then it is important that these remain safe and germ-free. Keeping product safe requires keeping the warehouse free of debris like scraps of cardboard, bits of wood, and loose nails from pallets. Detritus like this can drift unnoticed into corners and other out-of-the-way areas of the warehouse and return later to contaminate product.

Besides being a source of contamination, debris is also a safety hazard to employees and equipment. A loose nail or a jagged splinter can puncture a leather work glove or the sole of a boot. A large chunk of wood under the wheel of a forklift can cause it to tilt and even flip over, damaging the equipment, causing product loss, and possibly injuring employees. The huge potential for damage by such small debris underlines the importance of warehouse hygiene.

Improve Cube Utilization to Increase the Number of Pallet Spaces

Warehouse efficiency is a function of your warehouse’s throughput. Increasing the amount of product moving through the warehouse ultimately requires being able to increase the size of the warehouse or to store more product in the same warehouse.

Increasing a warehouse’s cube utilization exponentially increases the amount of inventory that can be stored for a lower price than a warehouse expansion.

Increasing a warehouse’s actual square footage is a massive project; an easier way to create more space for product is to go vertically and utilize your warehouse’s total volume to store product. Stacking pallets or utilizing a pallet rack allows more unit loads to fit into the same square footage footprint. Specialized equipment may be required to access higher levels, but increasing a warehouse’s cube utilization exponentially increases the amount of inventory that can be stored for a lower price than an expansion, and offers a return on investment that can more than pay for the new equipment.

Use Automatic Data Collection

One of the most arduous tasks in a warehouse isn’t moving heavy loads of freight, it’s keeping track of those loads. Incoming pallets must be checked to ensure they contain the products they’re supposed to and tracked during their movement and storage in the warehouse to ensure that they can be retrieved when it’s time to ship a load out.

Using automatic data collection through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) allows easy automatic tracking of products and their location in the warehouse. Instead of meticulously checking SKU numbers against a list, a properly equipped warehouse can simply check a database to see what is associated with a pallet’s Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI) number. Equipping the warehouse to record and track GRAI numbers takes an investment in the appropriate equipment, but the labor savings and improvement in efficiency is worth it.

Improve Pick Times and Accuracy With Automation

Many of the other warehouse operations best practices we’ve talked about can also help to improve your pick times and accuracy: A clean warehouse tends to suffer from fewer interruptions and automatic data collection prevents delays in finding product in the warehouse. However, automating the pick process with an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) takes things a step further.

ASRS-equipped warehouses have a huge advantage over traditional warehouses in that they never forget where something is, never get confused, never need a break, and make it possible to run the warehouse using a minimum of workers. The biggest disadvantage of an ASRS is that setting up a system and testing it thoroughly is an expensive process. However, once the initial setup and testing are done, the ASRS’ improvements in efficiency are unmatched.

Warehouse Operations Best Practices: Increasing Efficiency and Safety

Plastic Pallets Complement Warehouse Operations Best Practices

One ubiquitous warehouse fixture makes it harder to maintain and implement warehouse operations best practices. That is the wood pallet. Wood pallets are a source of much of the debris that accumulates in warehouses in the form of loose nails, splinters, and other assorted chunks of wood. Lighter types of wood pallets, like stringer pallets, cannot be easily stacked to take advantage of vertical space, and if they are picked up from the wrong direction they can break apart. Wood pallets, whether lighter stringer pallets or reusable block pallets, are also less compatible with tracking technologies like RFID, and due to their breakability and inconsistent size and weight are not particularly compatible with ASRS and worker safety, either.

A lighter, more robust, and more hygienic plastic pallet can address these issues to facilitate best practices. High-quality plastic pallets offer:

    • Unibody Construction: A plastic pallet is fused together rather than being joined by nails. This improves employee safety by removing the potential for loose nails in the warehouse that can cause puncture wounds and removes a major source of wood debris.
    • Stackable Configuration: A well-made plastic pallet will be designed for easy stacking and will support product with a full top deck, making it possible to stack loaded pallets higher. The greater strength of plastic prevents deformation of the pallet when it is supported from the center, and ensures that forks will have no trouble lifting it from higher storage areas.
    • Four-Way Accessibility: Reusable plastic pallets have true four-way accessibility and can be picked up safely from any direction. This prevents operation interruptions and product damage.

Each of these features of the plastic pallet complements and enhances warehouse operations best practices and helps to ensure smooth operation of the warehouse and increased throughput. This makes switching to plastic pallets one of the best ways to reduce operations costs, improve efficiency, enhance worker safety, and maximize a company’s return on investment for supply chain improvements.

To complement your warehouse operations best practices with the lightweight, durable, GMA spec iGPS plastic pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.