Companies are constantly trying to find ways to improve performance and warehouse operations is area where supply chain managers can focus to gain maximum efficiency for minimum cost. To get the most out of the operation, a number of best practices can be adopted to improve productivity and overall customer satisfaction. Although best practices vary from industry to industry and by the products shipped there are a number of best practices that can be applied to most companies.
When considering the level of effort involved in warehouse operations, the greatest expenditure of effort is in the picking process. To gain efficiencies in picking the labor time to pick orders needs to be reduced and this can achieved in a number of ways. Companies with the most efficient warehouses have the most frequently picked items closest to the shipping areas to minimize picking time. These companies achieve their competitive advantage by constantly reviewing their sales data to ensure that the items are stored close to the shipping area are still the most frequently picked.
Warehouse layout is also important in achieve greater efficiencies. Minimizing travel time between picking locations can greatly improve productivity. However, to achieve this increase in efficiency, companies must develop processes to regularly monitor picking travel times and storage locations.
Warehouse operations that still use hard copy pick tickets find that it is not very efficient and prone to human errors. To combat this and to maximize efficiency, world class warehouse operations had adopted technology that is some of today’s most advanced systems. In addition to hand-held RF readers and printers, companies are introducing pick-to-light and voice recognition technology.
In a pick-to-light system, an operator will scan a bar-coded label attached to a box. A digital display located in front of the pick bin will inform the operator of the item and quantity that they need to pick. Companies are typically using pick-to-light systems for their top 5 to 20% selling products. By introducing this system companies can gain significant efficiencies as it is totally paperless and eliminates the errors caused by pick tickets.
Voice picking systems inform the operator of pick instructions through a headset. The pick instructions are sent via RF from the company’s ERP or order management software. The system allows operators to perform pick operations without looking at a computer screen or deal with paper pick tickets. Many world class warehouse operations have adopted voice picking to complement the pick-to-light systems in place for their fast moving products.
Although many companies will not be able to afford new technologies for picking, we’ve seen here that there are a number of best practices that can be adopted to improve efficiency and reduce cost.