Thirty Warehouse Improvement Ideas

Sometimes a simple concept can help to improve time, efficiency and cost in the supply chain warehouse environment.

Paul Slack, of Amway, and Ken Ruehrdanz, of DEMATIC, presented at the WERC Annual Conference for Logistics Professionals in Columbus, OH, at the end of April. With 80 years of combined experience between the two in warehouse logistics and supply chain, Slack and Ruehrdanz provided a “Grab bag of ideas” to improve supply chain warehouse operations. “Some,” said Slack, “are simple, and most are stand-alone so you don’t have to replace all of the equipment in your warehouse. Some can be done for $10, and some with some effort.”

  1. Directed Put-Away – Many warehouse management systems have this feature, but most don’t utilize it. Let the system direct the loads as they come in, based on proximity or volume. Benefits include optimizing warehouse layout, boosting stock availability, optimizing stock locations and expediting put-away.

  2. Mobile Automation – Autonomous mobile robots. Standard manually operated forklifts can be retro-fitted with automation controls to make them into automated guided vehicles.

  3. Various Size Storage Locations –Split pallets on lower level to have a place to put shorter pallets and maximize storage space. www.warehousingtools.com from University of Louisville offers a free application for optimization.

  4. Hands-Free Scanning – Keep hands and eyes free to keep workers more ergonomic, productive and safe. Wrist-mount and vision are a couple of options.

  5. Pick By Location – Unique identifier for each pick location. Avoid confusion and mistakes when items are moved or other changes made. Assign a bay number to each bay shelving, a level number and a sequence number across the shelf. Results in productivity and quality improvement.

  6. Preventative Maintenance – Instead of responding to breakdowns. Equipment maintenance schedules, spare parts, issue logs and maintenance systems.

  7. Over-Conveyor Picking – Utilizes unused space. Is simple, inexpensive and a good place to keep small or slow products (or conversely, fast products since it is ergonomic and productive).

  8. Pick Carts – Batch picking - discrete order pick. Can be cart, software, tablet, pick-to-voice or put-to-light. Low capital expenditure.

  9. Stock Profiling – Software options available to make improved product placement easy. Benefits include improved ergonomics, increased productivity, reduced movement, better packing, reduced shipping damage, and, slotting flexibility.

  10. Dynamic Buffer – Return merchandise is placed into an overhead pouch system for single items, and matched up with orders coming into the warehouse.

  11. Industrial Engineering – Basic techniques such as time studies, delay studies, standards, labor management and lean engineering to save time in your warehouse.

  12. Simulation – Set up a model with CAD drawing of warehouse, apply process to determine more effective designs, test ideas, avoid unnecessary capital spend, and improve line balancing.

  13. Carton Erectors and Sealers – End of process operations made more efficient. Label print-and-apply, case formers etc. automated or semi-automated devices.

  14. Pick Zone Balancing – Pick-systems: fixed zones, variable zones or bucket brigade.

  15. Pick Clips – Reminds the picker which carton they are picking into. Simple process for improved accuracy and productivity.

  16. Quality Boards – Whiteboards or posters to inform about productivity, safety, process or quality. Communication with workers.

  17. Video Communication Displays – Large TV screens to communicate information such as scorecards, dashboards, objectives or company news.

  18. System Management – Order-fulfillment process solutions such as wave-based for retail and B2B, or on-demand for e-commerce. Batch pick-to-cart, wave-less or put walls.

  19. Batch Picking – Consolidate small orders into batch, create one pick-order and then move to put-wall where they would be sorted and packed.

  20. Order Consolidation – Can start small, to batch-pick orders. Uses stand-alone mechanized equipment (instead of a put-wall), low capital, fast deployment and flexible.

  21. Carton Size Evaluation – Reduces transportation rates using correct carton for product sizes and order volumes. Reduces damage potential, box cost, dunnage cost, and equipment.

  22. Micro Fulfillment – Solution used for e-commerce fulfillment. Designed to service small, regional area for same-day delivery. Benefits are process improvement, speed, low operating cost, more capacity. Found in regional DC, urban service center, hub retail store, spoke retail store.

  23. Order Checking Processes – E-commerce order fulfillment accuracy. Determine appropriate volume of orders to check based on error rate. Can use scale to determine appropriate weight and check when off. Error ticket provides info about what order should be and allows check-list to collect data to see where errors are happening.

  24. Anti-Fatigue Matting – Improves ergonomics, productivity, safety and warmth in the picking aisle.

  25. Energy Management – Solar Panels, lighting such as LED fixtures, task lighting and occupancy sensors. Conveyors such as low voltage conveyors or run controls that turn off when not in use. Solar panels to power warehouse and keep it cooler.

  26. Lighting – Appropriate level and type for the use of the space.

  27. Goods-to-Person – The product is moved directly to the operator, who then picks what is needed to fulfill orders. Benefits such as optimized replenishment, compact, security and controlled access to inventory, supports worker ergonomics, improved worker productivity, continuous flow of SKUs to workstations, high order accuracy, reduced order processing time, staff according to demand.

  28. Slip Sheets – Place under pallet at the end of manufacturing, and then use a push-pull attachment to push it onto the floor of the truck or container. Reduce load cube and weight, eliminate pallet exchange, and satisfy international wood shipping regulations.

  29. Returns Processing – Improve processing speed, provide faster customer credit. Study flow paths that a particular return item takes and optimize work stations and process.

  30. Recycling – Reduce waste stream and cut cost of waste management. Some waste haulers will provide equipment and pay for corrugated or folding cartons. Stretch wrap can be compacted.

To learn more about WERC, click here.

Learn more about supply chain solutions at the co-located Healthcare Packaging Expo and PACK EXPO Las Vegas, September 23-25.

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