Everybody recognizes that you need the right trucks and logistics partners for an efficient supply chain process. What many people don’t realize, though, is that you also need to have the right warehouse design to ensure efficient operations. Warehouse design works hand in hand with the other aspects of logistics to maximize efficiency.
Set up a “frequently picked” zone near the front of the warehouse to minimize travel time for your material handling crew. If you have the space, consider keeping a small supply right in the packing area or next to the dispatch desk to eliminate excessive travel time. You can replenish the supply at regular intervals, at the end of each shift, or by using Kanban cards to keep the material flowing. Consider storing items that are often picked together next to one another to further minimize travel. If you cut down on even a few trips per shift per item, your productivity could soar.
Use the Right Racking System to Increase Productivity
Racks come in multiple designs to help improve productivity. If you have items with expiration dates, consider using gravity feed racks to keep the goods in first-in-first-out (FIFO) order. Gravity racks deliver the oldest package or pallet directly to the picking site, so you can reduce travel time and time wasted looking for the right lot or expiration date.
Automatic storage and retrieval systems, drive-in racks and conveyors can also improve productivity. Remember, you don’t have to replace all your racks at once. Updating a few areas to more efficient racks can have a significant impact on productivity. What’s more, if you upgrade a few each year, your productivity could be on a continuous upswing.
Maximize Use of Space
Square footage is expensive, so it makes sense to make the most of what you have. One way to squeeze more product into the same space is to use the right racks. Two-deep and three-deep racks and drive-in racks increase storage space by enabling fewer or narrower aisles, while still providing product accessibility.
Vertical space is often overlooked, but using height can double or triple the volume of goods you can store. You may need to upgrade your material handling equipment to be able to manage the height safely and effectively, but a new forklift will be much less expensive than more square footage, and your productivity will likely increase.
Use Technology to Improve Efficiency
A modern, efficient supply chain is the price of entry in business today, and the warehouse is the backbone that keeps the supply chain flowing smoothly. However, you can’t keep the warehouse running effectively without visibility into supply and demand. You need technology to optimize and balance inputs and outputs. Additionally, you need an effective way to communicate quickly and reliably with every member of your extended supply chain. Many third-party logistics (3PL) companies offer collaboration and communication software platforms that integrate with your other business systems to provide insight to help you make the right decisions.
Your 3PL’s platform should provide visibility into the status of shipments and generate alerts automatically when exceptions occur.
You also need a warehouse management system to help you manage inventory, and generate picking lists and packing lists quickly and accurately. The warehouse management system is most effective when it works with your e-commerce and enterprise resource planning and accounting systems to ensure that your information is accurate and synchronized.
Customers like to know whether the goods they order are in stock when they place the order, if items are out of stock, and the likely ship date for any backorder. Customers prefer to do business with companies that provide this insight, and you may find you have more repeat customers — and higher revenue — when you have the technology in place to give them the information they want.
The right warehouse design and equipment, the right technology and a dedication to customer service can help ensure that you have an efficient supply chain now and into the future.
Art Nourot is Vice President of Carrier Procurement, Supply Chain Solutions at Unyson. He directs the design and development of Unyson’s strategic carrier network, and is focused on optimizing carrier service, cost and capacity to benefit Unyson clients. Before joining Unyson, Nourot served in a variety of management positions in the transportation and logistics industry since 1993.