There is a constant pressure to optimise productivity and efficiency within warehouse and distribution centres. Manual processes will only get you so far in the modern age, so you need to give serious consideration to how technology can help current processes and procedures. We’ve put together some ideas to help you get the ball rolling.
Automated picking tools
A surprisingly large number of warehouses and distribution centres still rely solely on paper and manual-based systems, despite the many issues they can create in a much faster consumer-driven world. As your business continues to grow, switching to automated picking tools is really the only option, especially in high-volume, high-labour cost centres. The move doesn’t have to be absolute – you can still use manual processes supported by things like goods-to-man, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) and put-to-light equipment. Picking rates would increase significantly, making it faster and give you more autonomy over how labour is allocated in your warehouse. And when connected to a well-designed WMS it will do all the hard work for you.
Internet of Things integration
The Internet of Things (IoT) gives you even greater control over every essential part of your operation. The introduction of equipment such as sensors can be used to monitor temperature changes, track moisture levels and more. IoT can also be used to maximise the data arriving from products, vehicles and shipping conveyances, combing the information to lower theft, spoilage and counterfeiting.
The technology enables risk reduction and creates early detection so you’ll see fewer accidents and errors that can usually lead to losses in the business. An IoT system synchronises the data across the network and further bolsters inventory control and can be used to streamline processes and improve the customer experience.
Inventory control platforms
Performing inventory logging and stock take using a manual process is still a common practice for many businesses. Even though human error accounts for most of the losses caused within a warehouse, many companies still trust their own eyes more than the precision of a computer.
However, it has long been proven that an automated inventory control platform is far more accurate and cost efficient. Using these automated platforms enables automatic stock counting, which means data is keep up-to-date in real time, producing precise and accurate reports. This information can also be accessed remotely which offers far more flexibility for management at all levels.
Automated guided vehicles
Automated guided vehicles can help improve your existing storage and retrieval processes, along with loading and stocktake procedures. They can be things such as pallet carts and forklifts and are totally self-guided, tracking along digital pathways that are mapped throughout the facility dealing with the loading and unloading of items, be it boxes, pallets or other types of product containers. The other great thing about automated guided vehicles is you don’t have to completely reconfigure your existing systems or layout to incorporate them, and they can be added as and when needed.
This has been called the ‘airbnb’ of warehousing in some quarters, and it gives businesses greater flexibility thanks the technology that makes this possible. For example, It is perfectly suited to Just in Time (JIT) operations, where seasonal stock and supply and demand fluctuations, along with use of shared warehousing. Also the growth of click and collect means that on-demand warehousing is much more manageable and cost efficient, creating dynamic and streamline work processes.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
The use of RFID is not exactly new but as technology continues to improve, so does the precision and usefulness of this now essential warehouse tool. The general rule of creating a productive and efficient warehouse is that it is achieved by making tasks easier. This is exactly what RFID does, using radio tags to send messages to handheld readers so you have tighter control over inventory and increased visibility. It instantly removes the labour-intense and time consuming process of manual checking. Use of RFID has taken some time but it is becoming more common place now, with its benefits heavily outweighing any security concerns that may exist.
Tests are ongoing for use of drones for last mile delivery, but they are already making inroads within warehouses to reduce the strain of labour intensive tasks. From barcode scanning to replacing forklifts and cage access, it frees up manpower for use elsewhere. There are some companies that can already boast that while an 80-strong workforce armed with scanners and forklift trucks could count the stock in 3 days, their drones could reduce that by 33% and complete it in 2 days. When you are looking at those sort of number it’s easy to see why more and more companies are looking at drones to increase productivity.
Equipment condition smart tracking
An important task that has to regularly be performed in any warehouse is tracking the condition of the equipment, be it conveyor belts, forklifts, cranes or anything else that plays a critical role in the picking and packing process. It is often a labour intensive and time consuming process that does not help efficiency levels. However, consider digitally tracking equipment condition using QR codes via smartphones so that technicians will have an immediate insight into its history so they can produce the relevant report. Not only will this save a lot of time, it creates a tighter safety process so nothing is missed.
Geo-fencing technology allows messages to be sent to users in a pre-defined geographical area (RFID could be used for this). It’s a technology that has been used by marketing departments to increase customer engagement and it can prove to be extremely useful in warehouse environments. By setting up digital boundaries within your warehouse you can keep a tighter grip over your inventory and other associated processes you have in place. When a product has either entered or left a particular area geo-fencing technology can be set up to generate automatic alerts. Once it has been installed and is operational it means losses are monitored more closely which impacts positively on your bottom line.
Get in touch with us today if you want us to advice on the best way of optimising productivity and efficiency in your warehouse. Give us a call on 01937 585 057 on your our online form.