The order is due out by 5 pm. Two of your forklift drivers are out with the flu and the rest are coming down with it. Your warehouse has slowed to a crawl, your employees have just started their lunch break, and the future of the company depends on shipping out this order on time.
If you’re a warehouse manager or supervisor, this scenario is all too familiar. To avoid these sort of crunches you meticulously audit your operations for points of failure that could leave your warehouse struggling to meet a deadline. However, technology is changing the landscape of logistics, and it offers one of the best ways to increase warehouse efficiency for warehouse managers and employees who are willing to invest the time and effort to embrace it.
How to Increase Warehouse Efficiency
- Make the Most of Your Warehouse Management Software
- Integrate Warehouse Automation More Effectively
- Support Efficiency at the Load Unit Level
1. Make the Most of Your Warehouse Management Software
The biggest change in logistics—indeed, the biggest change in almost every industry—was prompted by the arrival of computers. Starting with the appearance of simple spreadsheet programs on PCs in which inventories were entered manually, warehouse software has grown into complete Warehouse Management Systems (WMSs) that can log and track inventory as it is scanned by the unit load or by individual Stock Keeping Unit (SKU). In many warehouses, a WMS removes the need for managers to spend time checking and managing paperwork. However, in many warehouses, much of the potential of the WMS goes underutilized.
Warehouses commonly report that they do not use their WMS for managing slotting, docks, or yard traffic.
Training on a WMS tends to take place early, and often by the time a WMS is installed, many of the options available are forgotten. Warehouses commonly report that they do not use their WMS for managing slotting, docks, or yard traffic. Retraining staff on all of the features available through a management system can change this, dramatically increasing warehouse efficiency. A WMS can also help link other technologies–like automation–to manage the flow of product between systems and increase warehouse efficiency.
2. Integrate Warehouse Automation More Effectively
There are several forms of industrial automation in warehouses and they’re becoming more common as the price of technology comes down and the price of labor rises. Nearly every operation in the warehouse can now be automated through one of the following types of automated system:
- Conveyor Belts: A conveyor system is the quickest way to move products along a fixed path. Loads can be moved from the loading docks to the racks and vice-versa in greater quantities and at higher speeds than a forklift can safely manage. Conveyor belts can link different automated systems as well as form part of the system.
- Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS): ASRSs are available in a variety of forms. Inline systems automatically sort packages as they move along conveyor belts while rack and crane systems handle slotting and picking. They require less space than traditional racks and allow for much denser inventory storage.
- Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): Improvements in artificial intelligence and guidance systems have allowed the creation of automated versions of many of the traditional vehicles found in warehouses. Driverless AGVs do the same work as manually guided vehicles but don’t need breaks and cannot be distracted. They also provide more adaptability than ASRSs and conveyor belts as their route is flexible.
- Palletizers/Depalletizers: Palletizing is simply stacking products onto pallets for shipment. It can be a surprisingly challenging and time-consuming process for employees, yet it’s an important task. An improperly palletized load can shift during transit or handling, leading to product damage. Automating the palletizing and depalletizing process saves time, ensures consistent loading, and improves the efficiency of both the warehouse and the supply chain overall.
Individually, each of these automated systems can increase the efficiency of one of your warehouse processes. Combining these systems and using your WMS to integrate them while optimizing the flow of products from intake to storage and from picking to output helps your warehouse make the most of supply chain automation. A WMS can plot optimal slotting, track storage, and plan the most efficient picking route every time without the need for logistics managers to directly oversee every task.
Automated systems aren’t able to notice or solve potential problems that would be obvious to a human, such as a broken edge board on a pallet.
However, one pitfall of using automation to improve warehouse efficiency is the loss of responsiveness. Automated systems aren’t able to notice or solve potential problems that would be obvious to a human, such as a broken edge board on a pallet. Chances are good that a machine won’t be aware that anything is wrong until a small problem balloons into a larger one and warehouse operations are forced to halt while employees sort out the issue. Minimizing costly shutdowns is the only way to take full advantage of your warehouse automation–and that means paying attention to the equipment you use at the load unit level.
3. Support Efficiency at the Load Unit Level
While a WMS makes integrating automated systems into a single organized and efficient warehouse much easier, problems can remain where individual loads are transferred between systems. A damaged pallet or unbalanced load can be especially problematic at these points. A pallet that breaks as it is removed from a rack by a crane can drop product a long way, causing damage to the machinery and the total loss of the product. Unbalanced loads moving down a conveyor belt can spill, causing a potential safety hazard and contaminating other loads.
Wood pallets lack durability and are too inconsistent in weight and dimensions to work well with automated systems.
One solution to these issues is to match the consistent pace and reliability of automated systems with a consistent and reliable shipping platform. While wood block pallets have been a standard in the global supply chain for nearly a century, they are not well suited for use with new technologies. Wood pallets lack durability and are too inconsistent in weight and dimensions to work well with automated systems.
Plastic pallets provide a reliable solution to these problems. Their consistent weight and dimensions smooth the transfer of pallets between different systems within the warehouse, while their durability reduces the likelihood of platform failure. The one drawback of using plastic pallets is that they are more expensive than wood. To overcome this disadvantage, many companies turn to a plastic pallet pooling provider. Renting from a plastic pallet pool brings down the cost of using plastic pallets and takes pallet logistics off your company’s hands. This allows you to take full advantage of your warehouse automation so you never miss a deadline.
The iGPS pallet pool offers rental plastic pallets that are lighter and more durable than wood pallets. Engineered to strict specifications, iGPS plastic pallets are easy for machines and employees to handle. To switch to a pallet that increases your warehouse’s efficiency, call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.