“We have always done it that way”. Have you ever received that answer when querying the reason for a particular way of doing things? The chances are that you have and in itself the answer is symptomatic of the need for a review. Was the method originally developed to overcome a deficiency which can be avoided in another way?
We live in a time of accelerating change and this is equally true of the demands placed on warehouses. Few have the flexibility to accommodate change without loss of efficiency. A frequent weakness is the warehouse design itself, i.e. the layout and the types of storage and methods of handling used. In most cases warehouse managers just put up with it and continue to operate the best they can. If the company demands that goods are shipped, then a way will be found of shipping them even if it means taking on extra personnel; if the warehouse is ‘full’ stock will be stored in aisles or put into outside storage. Yet often these situations can be avoided by a few relatively low cost actions.
It is a truism that improvements in processes will usually yield a higher level of benefits than improvements in, say, warehouse layout and methods of handling, but even greater benefits can be achieved by considering the two together. Better still is to start with the big picture by looking ‘outside the box’ – do you need to hold the stock at all?
Consider the reasons for holding stock – how much of it is old, out-of date or obsolete, can it be shipped direct from supplier, can it be cross-docked, can delivery into the warehouse be delayed, can the purchasing profile be changed, can we marshall loads directly to carrier’s vehicle etc.?
Once these opportunities have been exhausted, it is necessary to look at the stock profile. This requires numerical analysis of the stock by handling characteristic, quantity and throughput, and will lead to recommendations on appropriate storage types to match the particular stock profile. The recommended storage type can then be compared with what is already installed and necessary changes made.
When the storage media have been reviewed one can determine the best disposition of stock in the warehouse. This requires analysis of throughputs and will typically result in the fast moving products being located close to Goods Out whereas slow movers will be further away. Other factors such as family groups and stacking characteristics may also be taken into account.
These and a number of other factors all affect productivity and can be summarised under six headings:
Warehouse Design for Efficient Operation
As warehouses become more and more a part of the distribution process, as opposed to a place for simply holding stock, they must be laid out and equipped for movement and not storage.
Minimise Unproductive Movements and Activities
- Storing stock that is unlikely ever to be sold
- Holding more stock than necessary
- Trucks travelling unladen
- Keying in data when interfacing or bar code scanning could be used
- Processing of internal paperwork. Can paperwork be eliminated?
- Moving stock to access other stock.
Minimise Access Times
The objective of the warehouse design is for pickers to spend the maximum amount of time picking and the minimum amount of time travelling or performing administrative tasks.
Aid the Next Process
This implies storing reserve pallets or other stock close to its final destination in the pick face.
Similarly, at Goods In, can we allocate the docks that are the closest to the zone of the warehouse where the goods will be stored?
Is the fast picking area, where most picking activity will take place, close to the despatch marshalling area?
Warehouse design should consider that big gains can be achieved by simplifying the activities and procedures that divert an operative from his primary role.
As part of the warehouse design process ensure that the equipment and storage facilities are adaptable to future changes and different styles of operation.
Warehouse management systems must be capable of being adapted to new methods. In particular one must be aware that not all software packages have the same level of flexibility to accommodate future requirements.
It’s not rocket science, in fact it should be second nature to most warehouse operators, yet many, if not most, warehouses are less efficient than they could be.
Isn’t it about time you gave your warehouse design and processes another look?
For more information see our section on Warehousing or phone 01628 487000 to speak to one of our logistics consultants