Best Practices in Warehouse Operations – Improve your Warehouse Design and Layout
Warehouse management is anything but dull. We understand all of the moving parts that you’ve got to keep in a delicate balance. For example, when you’ve got to avoid shipping delays and lack of product, but refrain from overstocking; keep enough staff –properly trained;manage your warehouse, but keep your costs down; and make the warehouse an efficient, productive space, while complying with safety measures and lean practices. There are too many variables that can affect the flow of your warehouse, and there’s always insistence from CEOs, directives and stakeholders to increase revenue, keep customers happy and become a model company.
The silver lining is that no matter how basic or straightforward your operation is, there’s always plenty of room for improvement. Even with modest alterations you can see tangible results fast. For instance, making adjustments through better warehouse design and layout will turn the space immediately into a clean, safe, efficient area.
Speaking of warehouse design and layout, there’s no better place to start optimizing your warehouse than in this particular aspect. Experts strongly recommend spending enough time in planning your warehouse design and layout.It is always better to prepare everything from the start, rather than mending errors afterward. No matter what stage your company is in, here are 12 effective warehouse practices that will guarantee excellent results.
Most companies see safety as nothing more than meeting OSHA’s standards. Safety isn’t a simple bullet point in your checklist. Safety is a working culture, and you need to cement this idea throughout the whole company.
From utilizing adequate gear to lifting and stocking techniques, proper labeling and training, safety encompasses so much more than organizations acknowledge. Neglecting safety procedures, standards, and best practices can hurt companies in multiple ways – deficient flow and delays, bad rep, employee dissatisfaction, poor performance, lost or damaged materials, and accidents are just a few of the possible consequences. High standard warehouse design and layout involves making safety a top priority when planning.
- Work for the best, plan for the worst
Again, organizations seldom plan their emergency schemes dutifully. Accidents happen in seconds. Your staff should, at least:
- a) Have a well-established and rehearsed plan of evacuation
- b) Know where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them
- c) Have alternate plans in case of visitors or any other eventuality, and
- d) Wear safety gear at all times
- Avoid the risk of fires and accidents through top-notch design
Low visibility, disarranged aisles and scattered or misplaced product are not uncommon in a warehouse; these are all factors that make your warehouse prone to fires and accidents. By working on your warehouse design and layout, these risks can be reduced with only a little effort.
For instance, depending on your method of storage, you can avoid the spread of a fire. Plan your indoor storage to a maximum height of 4.5 meters and keep the top of the pile at least 1 meter away from electrical installations and smoke detectors. Utilize color strips to indicate these limits.
Poor lighting also increases the chances of product spilling or employees tripping, so keep your space well illuminated.
- Keep a close eye on staging areas and loading docks
Employees receiving material in their hands (which could fall on their head or feet), personnel jumping through different elevation surfaces, unattended forklifts, bottlenecks – these are just a few examples of why your docking area is your most vulnerable space from the safety viewpoint.
Keep your loading docks as clear as possible, perform a daily inspection,explain safety practices regarding the use of forklifts and pallet jacks, and work on housekeeping strategies to avoid congestions.
- Make your safety expectations visible and clear
It is unrealistic to expect employees to follow rules and meet safety requirements if this information is hidden in a binder. Do you want your employees to live and breathe your safety demands? Then position or post them next to your employees’ working station or machine. Follow a pattern for every element in your warehouse, and set them in a visually attractive manner. They’ll be looking at them daily, so keep the visual aspect of it in mind.
- Get your warehouse aligned with lean practices
By definition, a lean company is an efficient one with little or no waste. Waste is often associated with scrap materials, but waste encompasses much more.
Valuable resources such as space or time are frequently misused; companies fail to see the dollar-value in them and underestimate this type of financial drain. Getting lean translates to reducing your material handling – from order picking to shipping, optimal truck loading, efficient inventory control, and standardized procedures.
Without a suitable warehouse design and layout, complying with these lean practices is quite challenging – if not impossible. Space needs to be properly organized so the flow runs smoothly and is cost-effective.
- Location, location, location
Many companies keep several items in the same bin location; which means that their employees have to search through a bin until they find the correct product. Error and inaccuracy are bound to happen if you do not select a specific location for a particular item.
Bin locations are the norm when it comes to storing items correctly, and most software packages use them. Aside from improving accuracy and reducing picking time, you can sort your bins per vendor, season, or whichever parameter fits your needs best.
There’s a simple rule to check whether your warehouse depends on a reliable, consistent system, or an experienced employee: If you bring in someone utterly unaware of your warehouse practices, would they be able to learn the ropes on their own, or would they need constant guidance?
- Prioritize your items
It would be ineffective to try and dedicate the same amount of effort and resources to every single piece in your warehouse.
When it comes to controlling and managing your inventory, an ABC analysis is highly recommended. The ABC analysis is an inventory categorization method which consists of dividing items into three categories – A, B, and C, with A being the most valuable items and C being the least valuable ones.
Now, just because the dollar value of the C items is small doesn’t mean they are not essential. For instance, if your warehouse stores medical materials, gauzes would be C items. While being crucial to the operation, they are managed in bulk and do not require as close monitoring as medical devices do.A items, on the contrary, are usually ordered in smaller quantities and require greater security policies.
- Design a storage system based on your storage needs
Although it may sound repetitive and obvious, some managers get excited about implementing specific designs based on benchmarking and trends, without really considering the peculiarities and the nature of their business.
For example, the warehouse design and layout of a company that has merged production and distribution will look different from a company that mainly supports end-user fulfillment. Companies excelling at best practices have optimized their warehouse design, layout and storage locations to fit product without the need to restack once received. It’s all about meeting the needs of a mix of storage types and minimizing travel time.
- Keep your aisles clean and organized
Aisles are to a warehouse what arteries are to the human body: they are the key elements for correct circulation. Any blockages, spills, or clusters represent a risk, and hinder production flow through the floor. Employees must be able to move freely through the aisles without worrying about unsorted material.
- Make your docking area your strength
Your docking area is by far your busiest area. The requirements for docks and shipping zones include flexibility when it comes to receiving, and a faster rate for shipping.
Two practices that come in handy for these purposes are cross-docking and keeping your most commonly shipped items close to your docks. Cross-docking refers to the method of unloading a truck and loading this material onto outbound vehicles immediately afterwards.
This both eliminates time and workforce, and it is especially applicable for perishable goods. The second practice is reducing picking times by having your most popular items close to the docking zone. With a careful sales analysis, you can determine which items you ship the most, and this can even be customized per season.
- Use your space cleverly
Contrary to popular belief, most companies already have the square footage they need to function correctly. The problem is that most warehouses do not take full advantage of their space. Utilizing mezzanines and maximizing vertical space are just two of the many options experts recommend to save up to 50% of the total space. Most of the time, it’s the lack of adequate planning that leads to wasted space.
It is understandable for companies to put their top resources into increasing sales and shipping more orders; as such, warehousing often gets relegated. However, this area presents an enormous potential to improve a business’s overall performance – from easing the massive burden of seeking larger spaces to increasing customer satisfaction, warehousing practices are the smart way to begin the renovation today.
If you need help incorporating best practices and think you may not be operating at maximum efficiency, Specialized Storage Solutions can help. You can request a free operational efficiency analysis, during which we will review your current environment and determine how we can help you with your storage, process flow, organizational, warehouse space utilization needs. You can contact us through our website, or by calling at 973-227-0018.