by Brian Sheehan Brian Sheehan
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The warehouse industry is changing. Thanks to same-day shipping and increased consumer expectations, warehouses are busier than ever and need to work harder to meet buyer demands.

Warehouses are also becoming more complex. While warehouses used to be dedicated to pallets, less than 9% of current warehouses are exclusively used for pallets. In 2016, 46% of warehouses handled a mix of pallets, cases, split cases, and pieces. Diversifying stock complicates the entire warehouse process.

However, even with the ever-changing landscape, warehouses need to continue to cut time and costs to stay competitive.

To keep your warehouse efficient and competitive, here are ten must-know best practices for optimizing warehouses.

Minimize Touches Through Automation

While manual operations may have worked in the past, the process of manually walking and picking orders can account for over half the time spent on the picking process.

Warehouse managers know that they need to decrease the time it takes to pick, pack, and ship. For many warehouses, the problem is the number of touches involved in this process. Every touch adds time before the stock can be shipped. Each touch also increases the possibility of an error occurring, and that leads to even slower processes.

To become more efficient, reduce touches through automation. Steps in the picking, packing, and shipping process can all be automated. This also reduces the chance of an error occurring and lets your workers focus their attention in other areas.

[Related: Reshaping Retail Fulfillment With Robotics]

Integrate Warehouse Control Systems

As of 2015, 85% of warehouses were using a warehouse management system (WMS). It should come as no surprise that a WMS is necessary to stay competitive in the modern warehousing industry.

However, not enough warehouses are making use of warehouse control systems (WCSs).

While your WMS is best for managing people and processes in your warehouse, a WCS is best for managing your automated equipment. A WCS will work in real time, maximizing system throughput and performance while providing visibility into potential logjams.

By offloading some WMS processes to an integrated WCS, your warehouse becomes more flexible, increasing the efficiency of all your automated equipment. Combined, a WMS and WCS maximize short- and long-term efficiency.

Stock With Logical Sequencing

Logical sequencing sounds simple, but the busy nature of warehouses can make it difficult to keep stock sequenced.

The importance of logical sequencing cannot be emphasized enough, however. Logical sequencing makes your workers’ jobs easier, reducing the time it takes to perform tasks while decreasing the chance of stock being misplaced or lost.

Ensure that stock is being stored in places that make sense so that seasoned workers will be able to find items with relative ease.

Use Real-Time Operations Intelligence

Ever-changing consumer demand forces your warehouse to adjust. To keep up with changes in demand, real-time intelligence is needed.

Through WMS and WCS integrations, you can gather and analyze real-time data to maximize the efficiency of your current equipment and technology. By continually gathering data and implementing changes, you can also establish a benchmark for future processes. This speeds up the process of identifying ways to address changes in consumer demand, leading to faster and more informed decision-making.

Choose the Right Upgrades

Just because your WMS has a new module doesn’t mean that it’s best for your warehouse.

Be selective with the upgrades you implement. Spend time researching the module and determine whether it will help or harm your existing operations. Will the new module really save time, or will it confuse workers and slow down your warehousing processes?

Gain End-to-End Visibility

End-to-end visibility is important — so important that the majority of logistics companies considered not having end-to-end visibility as the biggest challenge they faced.

End-to-end visibility should be considered a requirement for today’s warehouse operations. You should be able to know everything that’s going on, from when goods enter the loading dock to when they’ve left for delivery.

By gaining end-to-end visibility, supply chain managers will be able to effectively address any areas that need improvement. This information can also be easily passed on to other executives, facilitating cross-functional organizational planning. By keeping everyone on the same page, you ensure that your warehouse and supply chain remain competitive.

Align Operations With Business Goals

With customer demands fueling many changes in warehouses, many warehousers get caught up in adjusting the supply chain to meet consumer wants. However, customers should not be able to influence your warehouse so easily.

Ensure that your warehouse operations are aligned with your business goals. If you adjust your warehouse operations away from your business goals, you risk compromising the efficiency of your entire supply chain. Focus on warehouse adjustments that work toward your overall goal.

Automate Warehousing Processes

As of 2016, more than 10% of U.S. warehouses were already using automated equipment. That number is expected to increase by 1500% by the end of 2021.

By automating some functions, your warehouse can cut back on errors while increasing the efficiency of picking, packing, storing, and shipping goods. Automation can let workers focus on more important tasks, increasing labor performance.

Even if you’ve already implemented equipment, you should consider an update. A recent study showed that one-third of warehousers see outdated storage, picking, and handling equipment as a significant obstacle they currently face. Newer equipment is faster and more efficient, and therefore critical to staying competitive.

[Related: Inventory Management Secrets for Warehousing & Fulfillment]

Increase Flexibility

Because consumer demands can change on a whim, flexibility is vital for warehouses. The problem, however, is determining how to become more flexible.

The best way to increase warehouse flexibility is to find the right WMS. Different WMSs offer different benefits, so your current WMS (assuming you have one) may not be the best system for your business.

Your WMS should be able to seamlessly integrate with your supply chain systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP). If your WMS doesn’t meet this standard, then it’s time to find a better solution.

Establish New KPIs

As you automate your warehouse and increase flexibility, you’ll start to see increased efficiency and better results. Your WMS will be collecting data throughout this process, and, after analyzing the data, you should establish new y performance indicators (KPIs).

Competition is constantly driving warehouses to innovate. To remain viable, you should be pushing your warehouse to improve, and KPIs are the best way to know your warehouse is performing as it should.

[Related: Emerging Technologies in Supply Chain Management]

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