By Adam Robinson
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – tripping, falling, and slipping account for the majority of “general industry accidents.” In fact, statistics show slip and fall accidents make up 15 percent of all accidental deaths, 25 percent of all injury claims and – shockingly – 95 million lost work days each year.
It goes without saying that warehouses need to find ways to prioritize workplace safety for the health and productivity of the workforce. But what are some ways organizations can streamline operations for improved results overall?
The following is our top ten list of ways warehouses can drive more efficient and productive warehouse operations:
1. Consider Automation
Boston Consulting Group research shows 1.2 million robots are expected to be deployed across manufacturing facilities in the U.S. by the year 2025. Why? Not only can robotic automation help manufacturers achieve greater warehouse productivity, but it can also drive significant cost savings as compared to employing workers.
2. Optimize Labor Productivity
Whether through automation, employee incentives, or any other means, optimizing labor productivity should be the cornerstone of any warehouse improvement effort. Since labor tends to be the largest cost factor in warehousing and order picking operations, it’s critical for organizations to understand production rates.
3. Maximize Vertical Space
On the production floor, where space can be limited, it’s important to take advantage of every inch of available space (floor to ceiling). As noted in an Occupational Health & Safety article, solutions such as pallet racking can lead to safer working conditions as well as increased efficiency in the warehouse. Pallet racking, the most common way of storing pallet loads in the world, is an easy-to-use storage solution; it’s used in the vast majority of warehouses, manufacturing facilities, commercial warehouse operations, and even retail stores.
4. Create Organized Workstations
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports that musculoskeletal disorders (carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle strains, lower back injuries, etc.) are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and illnesses. To reduce the risk of such injuries in repetitive, manual tasks, it’s important to design workstations according to the specific task and worker (for example, ensuring work surface height is the height of the conveyor or roller from floor level). Doing so increases ergonomic benefits and drives greater efficiency and productivity in everyday work.
With OSHA regulations becoming increasingly stringent, manufacturers need to make sure warehouse safety remains top-of-mind as the economy expands and productivity demands increase. OSHA’s top warehouse citations (e.g., forklifts, hazard communication, electrical, wiring methods/system design, etc.) can result in financial penalties up to $7,000 for non-serious violations and $70,000 for repeat offenders. Aside from the financial costs, the human costs of an unsafe operation are staggering. The number of people injured or killed every year may increase as the economy continues to heat up.
5. Analyze Picking Methodology
As with ergonomic considerations (i.e., designing the workstation to suit the particular work being done), it’s also important to determine whether the current picking methodology appropriately suits the organization. Making the right order picking choices directly impacts supply chain productivity, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.
6. Implement Lean Manufacturing
Most manufacturing facilities are trending toward 5S/lean manufacturing as part of their efforts to improve manufacturing processes, enabling quicker, more efficient production and lowering overall costs. According to the EPA, “lean production techniques often create a culture of continuous improvement, employee empowerment, and waste minimization [in addition to] driving rapid, continual improvement in cost, quality, service, and delivery.”
Minimizing the steps in the process is a good way to ensure you have a more rapid movement through the warehouse and the freight process. You can benefit from automated packing and shipping processes, such as the use of a transportation management system, for a more efficient outcome and flow around the warehouse on the outbound side of getting out product to your customer. It will take some operational changes and a look at implementation of technology such as ERP, WMS, and TMS, but it will be well worth the effort in the long run. This is especially important when it comes to storage facilities and storage solutions in general.
You would also do well to let some of the incoming warehouse management processes be handled by a transportation management system that has automation features for inbound transportation functions. This type of system will help manage the handling of inbound freight in real time, which will overall boost the performance and speed of the warehouse as well as requiring less involvement on your part.
Stock materials should be used with technology that connects your workers and the process they need to go through to complete their job. You should make sure you prevent the chance of misplacement with good supply chain technology where the warehouse workers can look for the freight quickly and efficiently. Sit back and think of the automatic data flow that is possible, giving all employees visibility with on floor displays, mobile apps, and strategic meetings once all of your warehouse systems for the supply chain are interconnected. The ERP speaks to the TMS, which then speaks to the WMS. Technology is truly the beginning of efficiency, but the end, and ultimately the best results comes from getting management and leadership aware of these new changes. Then, managers can use GEMBA, and like KANBAN, all is visible, and thus all are more efficient.
7. Take Advantage of Technology Options
With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becoming increasingly pervasive in the manufacturing sector, the challenge then becomes: How can organizations leverage these technological innovations to stay one step ahead of the competition? Accenture predicts the value created by the IIoT could reach as high as $15 trillion by 2030, paving the way for more efficient, productive, and intelligent industrial warehouse operations.
The implementation of warehouse technology, which provides more visibility through data, allows each employee, at a moments notice, to collect real time information on the various warehouse and logistics process holistically – getting everyone on the same page. We know that when a company’s culture is one of trust, backed by understood terms and data, it leads to collaboration, and then finally results in, one of the most important aspects of staying competitive as a company-innovation. As Toyota proved with it’s stellar supply chain and use of these ideas of GEMBA and KANBAN, in what is now called the “Toyota Way“, a company who implements operational changes with the use of warehouse technology, can also stand out and stay ahead of competition.
Customer demands are what change and dictates the requirements for flexibility, as well as the flow of the freight that comes in as you need to produce more and the freight that goes out as you get products to customer. If you want to support improvements to your warehouse technology and processes, then you will need to analyze the incoming real time data so you can devise a better strategy for overcoming any difficulties you may be facing. This will help in the long run, especially once you analyze the collected data and you figure out ways you can respond to the changing customer demands and business goals ahead.
8. Faster Part and Tool Retrieval
Faster part and tool retrieval is a key component of achieving greater organization and efficiency in the fulfillment process. Automated storage and retrieval systems can, for example, increase picking accuracy while yielding better inventory control. Additional benefits to these types of systems include better operator safety, increased labor productivity, and improved floor space utilization.
9. Evaluate Storage Equipment
One of the most important parts of evaluating industrial storage equipment is factoring in how storage systems can/will evolve with a facility’s needs over time. Performing a thorough assessment of current and future warehouse storage needs can improve storage density and picker productivity and drive significant cost savings over the long term.
10. Focus on Continuous Process Improvement
When all is said and done, perhaps the best way to drive productivity and efficiency in the warehouse is to keep an eye on continuous process improvement. Successful manufacturers don’t just focus on short-term goals; they set objectives and accountability for improvement, review their progress, and start over – time and time again.
Any warehouse with an eye toward process improvement should be evaluating existing warehouse operations and looking for ways to drive increased efficiency – constantly. The above list represents our top ten places to start. What would be on your checklist for ways to streamline warehouse operations and achieve better results?
BIO: Adam Robinson oversees the overall marketing strategy for Cerasis including website development, social media and content marketing, trade show marketing, email campaigns, and webinar marketing. Mr. Robinson works with the business development department to create messaging that attracts the right decision makers, gaining inbound leads and increasing brand awareness all while shortening sales cycles, the time it takes to gain sales appointments and set proper sales and execution expectations.