There are changes and adaptations that can be made to your warehouse environment, to increase productivity and reduce costs. Martin Palmer reports

As markets continue to evolve and businesses change, a periodic review of warehouse processes against current best practice and individual business demands and requirements can provide significant benefits to the bottom line. After all, warehousing and inventory is one of the largest portions of supply chain spend; so, a well-designed operation has the potential to maximise productivity while reducing costs. In the view of FTA, there are several techniques that can be applied – either individually or collectively – to quantify the gap between current and potential performance. And a good place to start, according to FTA, is to examine whether improvements can be made in four key areas: warehouse layout, technology, safety and the workforce.

Warehouse layout
A sub-optimal warehouse layout results in operational inefficiency – driven by excessive travel distances, double handling, and congestion – and if the building itself is too small, capacity constraints can result in service issues and unplanned costs being incurred. However, warehouses do not always require a complete overhaul to improve productivity; small changes can make a notable difference. For example, it is worth checking if goods are stored in the most appropriate place; keeping faster moving items closer to the point of use will reduce unnecessary walking and travelling for the warehouse operatives. Clear signage, labelling and segmentation of products can also help to speed up operations and reduce errors. And make sure product packaging is being used to aid, not hinder; it should be sturdy and clearly labelled.

Periodic reviews of the layout and storage methods of a business’ warehouse will help to determine the potential benefit of making substantial improvements to the layout, versus the cost and effort.

Complex or manual processes can add time, effort, errors and frustration to even the simplest of tasks; businesses should ensure their warehouse systems support an efficient operation. Systems are constantly evolving, as is the support technology. Improvements can provide additional functionality and may not be as costly as some businesses anticipate. However, many companies seek to mimic or mirror legacy processes when using new systems and, despite paying for new functionalities, fail to activate the most useful components for fear of the unfamiliar.

Technologies used to control activities in the warehouse are also improving. While use of radio frequency (RF) to drive warehouse practices is already well developed, use of new technologies such as eyewear and voice command are growing quickly. The benefits of all of these should be considered as part of any review .

In the view of FTA, it is vital businesses vary the working hours of warehouse staff to meet evolving customer requirements and service level demand; working patterns must match the needs of the business. And do not forget your workforce – if trained sufficiently and motivated to work productively – is the biggest asset of any organisation. They will appreciate having standard operating procedures in place, and will recognise the benefits of effective systems and processes. It is also worth ensuring the team’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are informative, achievable, accurate and timely. Knowing how your operation is performing against relevant KPIs is the key to continuous improvement and reducing error, in the view of FTA.

In a warehouse environment, safety is key; businesses should periodically review the safety of its operations. Key processes to check include racking inspections: do these take place regularly? And are there clear rules regarding walkways, visitors and non-operatives? The presence of strangers in unusual locations around a warehouse can be dangerous and distract operatives, creating accidents, errors and a reduction in performance.

Logistics is a complex activity with many moving parts; the line between success and failure, efficiency or problems is very thin. If businesses do not have the right information to effectively manage their operations – or the right people and technology in place – warehouse operations can become expensive and unproductive. And ensuring operations are as efficient as possible is not just about boosting profits; it is vital to providing the best possible customer service.

Martin Palmer is a Strategic Supply Chain Consultant at FTA. FTA’s supply chain consultants have a wealth of experience in designing, opening, improving and migrating warehouse activities. Its consultants follow a proven method to determine the operational efficiency, effectiveness, and value for money of supply chain activities; this approach identifies and quantifies opportunities for improvement. The consultancy team operate in a range of industry sectors and can help improve the performance and productivity of your warehouse.