As the place where a business’s money-making goods are received and dispatched, the warehouse is a key cog in any commercial enterprise. But is that cog well oiled?
By maximising warehouse efficiency and productivity you maximise business revenue. When goods are received and dispatched more efficiently, you can sell more, you make more money, your customers are happier, and your reputation is enhanced, which drives further growth.
It’s in the best interests of any business to improve the efficiency and productivity of their warehousing. The question isn’t one of if, but how to improve warehouse efficiency.
This guide tells you exactly that, with 11 actionable ways to improve warehouse efficiency and reduce costs.
11 ways to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity
The endless comings and goings, and the complex systems and processes that facilitate these movements, makes improving warehouse performance a significant challenge. It’s difficult to know exactly where to look, what to look for, and the specific improvements that should be made.
A good place to start is by conducting a review into your current systems, processes and warehouse management practices, to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks and other issues.
Every warehouse review, like every warehouse, is unique, so the following 11 productivity and efficiency improvements can either be applied directly, or they can act as inspiration; where necessary you can sculpt or tweak them to suit your needs.
1. Implement and maintain a linear inflow-outflow process
Is the receipt, warehousing and dispatch of goods as efficient as it could be? A linear inflow-outflow process ensures every item flows through your warehouse in a single direction, hitting every step just once. No backtracking or bouncing between one station and another: it’s on one end, out the other, in the most efficient way possible.
Review your current inflow-outflow process, and work to identify inefficiency or redundancy in any form. Concentrate necessary tasks within the minimum number of stations. Once set up, maintain the system with quality control checks at every station.
2. Minimise manual handling
In a modern warehouse, technology isn’t implemented to replace the worker, but to enhance the worker, while also making them safer. Case in point: manual handling.
Sure, in some cases it’s most efficient to physically lift and shift an item, particularly if it’s a single, small item and you’re working within a confined space. But if there’s a regular need to lift and shift, or if the items are heavy, lifting equipment will make the process far more efficient and productive, while reducing the risks your workers face. Overhead and jib cranes, hoists and winches, portable cranes, vacuum lifters; whatever your warehouse situation and needs, there will be a lifting solution to suit.
3. Consider warehouse layout
Is your warehouse laid out in the most efficient way possible? Do goods travel only as far as they need to, or do they zig zag across the space? Are the highest volume items kept nearest the receipt and dispatch area? Do your workers have enough space to do what they need to do in the areas they need to do it?
Warehouse design is a science in and of itself, and it’s easy to get lost in the detail, but the quickest wins and greatest gains should be easily identifiable by looking at a simple mud map of your space.
4. Invest in training
It’s a business cliché for a reason: your people are your most important asset. An investment in worker training is one that can offer a truly incredible return, particularly in terms of increased efficiency and productivity.
To maximise the effectiveness of your training sessions, try to keep them short and punchy – regular sessions of an hour or less are ideal. Lean more on practical than theory, and make your tone more casual than formal to ensure the messages are understood by and resonate with your workers.
5. Conduct regular one-on-ones
Another reason that your people are your most important asset: as the feet on the ground, they are a fantastic source of ideas for efficiency and productivity gains – one that any warehouse leader should capitalise upon.
Whether you do it as part of their annual performance review, or you schedule regular one-on-ones every month or quarter, you should get your team’s help in understanding how your systems and processes could be improved. Again, keep the conversation casual, and if an idea is implemented be sure to credit the person who came up with it.
6. Incentivise performance
It’s a core trait of human nature that we respond to incentives. If a reward is offered for hard work, we’ll work harder. You can use this fact to your advantage by rewarding top performers.
Designing an effective incentive scheme is a trickier prospect than it may at first appear. You need to craft it in a way that ensures you don’t simply reward good work, as that is what your workers are paid to do. You can only reward those who truly go above and beyond, and workers who miss out need to feel that the system is fair – they need to feel inspired to act, not jealous that they missed out.
7. Utilise forklift attachments
A forklift is already an ultra-versatile and ultra-efficient machine, but it can be made even more so with the right forklift attachments. Adding a worker cage, loader bucket, hook, jib or even broom sweeper can greatly increase the capability of your forklift and the efficiency of your warehouse.
This point also brings us back to the benefits of training, as getting every worker licensed to drive a forklift will ensure your entire team can help to increase efficiency and productivity.
8. Increase energy efficiency
The term ‘efficiency’ is so often preceded by ‘energy’ these days, as it is energy that powers the technology a modern business relies on to compete.
Where possible, your warehouse should switch from liquid fuels like petrol and diesel to more efficient and cost-effective electrical and battery-powered equivalents: forklifts being a prime example. Warehouses tend to have plenty of roof space for solar panels, so consider generating your own electricity, particularly if the investment will pay for itself over time.
9. Conduct a packaging and shipping audit
Dispatch can be an area of unnecessary waste in a warehouse. Are you using an appropriate amount of packaging for every delivery that is dispatched? Are you working as efficiently as possible with your courier and shipping partners? If these questions are answered honestly, the most likely reply is ‘no’, which means that dispatch can form a hot spot for efficiency and productivity gains.
Consider the most common orders that your team packages up, and ensure you have appropriate packaging that minimises waste. Speak with your shipping partners and identify the most efficient ways to dispatch goods: the regularity and timing of pickup, the vehicles sent, and how unusual dispatch requests will be handled.
10. Consider order-picking automation
According to ResearchGate, half of the total time a worker spends on order picking is devoted to travel. It’s this fact that is driving the surge in order-picking automation – the potential for significant efficiency gains, simply by reducing a worker’s need to constantly move around the warehouse.
While automated order picking represents a significant investment, and may not yet be an option for most SMBs, the cost is reducing significantly with time, and is beginning to come within reach, which will dramatically increase small warehouse efficiency and help to level out the playing field within the sector.
11. Digitally transform your warehouse
Last, but by no means least, you should be working to make your warehouse a paper-free zone. Modern, purpose-built warehousing technology is efficient, intuitive, reliable and secure. It minimises human error and maximises productivity. It is the most important piece of the warehouse efficiency puzzle.
If you haven’t already, you should be looking to implement a complete digital warehousing solution: everything from a cloud-based warehouse management solution (WMS) to mobile devices for every worker. These solutions all but eliminate manual data entry, allowing your workers to focus on the higher value tasks that they’re actually being paid to do.
Enabling New Zealand businesses to work smarter, quicker & safer
Ensuring your warehouse is as efficient and productive as possible is simply good business. And at Stratalign we offer a range of lifting equipment that can help you to realise incredible gains.
At Stratalign we recognise how costly unnecessary manual handling can be – not just in terms of productivity, but in non-compliance and potential for injury too. This is why we’ve been relentless in our focus on lifting equipment innovation and personalised customer support – we know that every customer is unique, and faces different challenges, and we treat them that way.
Our experts have the knowledge and experience to identify areas of inefficiency and propose solutions that will get your warehouse humming. Get in touch with our friendly team today for an obligation-free consultation and quote.