It’s a fast-paced, on-demand world in which we live. Our quest for instant gratification creates the need for optimized productivity in everything we do, including what goes on in the warehouse. Not surprisingly, the emphasis these days is on optimizing warehouse operations. Look at some metrics related to the optimized warehouse according to a survey by WERC (Warehousing Education and Research Council):
- On-time shipments (percentage of orders shipped at planned time): >=99.8 percent
- Total order cycle time (average end-to-end time between order placement and dispatch to customer): <4 hours
- Average warehouse capacity used (average amount of warehouse capacity used over a specific time, such as month-to-month): >=94.4 percent
We demand efficiency because we want what we want when we want it.
As a result, many companies receive offers for help in optimizing warehouse/distribution center operations. These offers include everything from warehouse management software, robotics for material handling to fleet management (of lift vehicles) and opportunity charging. These tactics to improve warehouse efficiency can make a difference towards optimizing warehouse operations.
However, all ignore the most crucial level of optimization. In fact, it’s required for all these other tactics to work. Let’s go back to the building blocks of optimization.
Design with optimization in mind
Warehouse optimization starts with an efficient layout. Where is your picking operation located with respect to shipping and product storage? Is your floor space cluttered and aisle ways clogged? Are parts located far from your assembly operation? These indicators signal the need to develop a floor plan that combines complementary operations along with storage that meets needs now and provides room for growth.
Architectural and structural engineers look at existing floor plans and material handling equipment. Their goal is achieving productive harmony between the equipment and the layout. More than that, they check to ensure equipment, structure and safety comply with state and local codes. Once your floor plan is optimized to fit safety and application needs, it’s time to discover the optimization level of your material handling equipment.
Making the equipment work in harmony
Static pallet racks are fantastic pieces of material handling equipment—assuming the racks are used in a setting that makes sense. Does your warehouse contain many slow moving products that turn maybe once or twice a year? A standard pallet rack may be the perfect rack.
Perhaps the activity level is more rapid in pace with shipments sent out every few minutes instead of days. Drive in or drive through racks may make more sense. So would a flow rack, particularly if your product does turn over rapidly.
Space (or lack of) may be an important piece to optimization. Options such as narrow aisle racks or the new racks allowing for greater vertical storage could be exactly what is needed for improved/optimized productivity. Similar to tall rack systems, a mezzanine also provides needed space options without considering a change of address.
If your warehouse is involved in order fulfillment, sophisticated conveyor systems and/or pick modules make the difference in getting product out the door quickly. Pickers have the items sent directly to them instead of hunting for items all over the facility.
The real secret to warehouse optimization
Real warehouse optimization starts with a great layout that flows logically. It contains the proper equipment for the correct application and it meshes seamlessly with technology such as warehouse management systems (WMS), robotics and the latest in lift truck technology.