11 Warehouse Optimizations for 2021

Your warehouse may not work as hard for you as you need it to. Without a well-organized facility, your employees could be wasting time, and you could be squandering space. Both problems cause a loss of profits due to a drop in warehouse productivity. Begin preparations now to improve your warehouse’s layout to maximize productivity in the facility.

Why Improving Warehouse Efficiency Is Essential

Warehouse optimization for increased efficiency is more crucial now than ever. U.S. retail imports broke records in August 2020 with 2.1 million 20-foot equivalent units. The record-breaking amount of incoming products stems from retailers preparing for the 2020 holiday season and replenishing their depleted stocks from earlier in the year. Warehouse use will have greater demand as these imports move through distribution centers on their way to consumers and retailers.

In addition to the higher demand, the shift to online purchasing puts more strain on warehouses that send products directly to consumers. Spending online as of May 2020 was 77% higher than the previous year, with $82.5 billion in sales.

Well-organized and efficient warehouses can meet the increased need for higher volumes of orders from consumers and retailers alike.

Warehouse Process Improvement Tips

Managing warehouse processes improves workers’ ability to pick order components. Reducing time for picking orders and increasing the accuracy of the products pulled makes your warehouse more efficient. The following methods help improve how people interact with your warehouse and the items in it.

1. Manage Inventory Efficiently With a Warehouse Management System

A warehouse management system (WMS) is a staple of today’s warehouses. The software uses information from portable barcode scanners workers wear as they pull items from shelves. The scanned details go into the system to update inventory numbers.

While not all WMS offer extra features to reduce human picking errors, some do. WMS, combined with tablets, can tell workers where to go to pull items in the warehouse. A few will even display a picture of what to pull to ensure that the worker gets the item’s correct size and count. This tech reduces the problem of a picker selecting the wrong product.

2. Go Digital on the Warehouse Floor

Digital tracking of order fulfillment on the warehouse floor can reduce problems. Barcode scanners work well as long as each product’s labels remain on the racks and next to the correct item. However, in some instances, these labels may fall off, increasing the chances of errors in pulling goods. Tablets or mobile devices that display pictures and scan barcodes or QR codes on the racks may help avoid these issues.

Replacing paper order forms with digital barcode readers or scanners improves the accuracy of the products pulled from the shelves. Additionally, barcode readers that communicate with WMS can update the inventory based on orders pulled during the shift.

3. Track Assets With Real-Time Location System

If you want to fully upgrade your warehouse to the latest technology, consider tracking your facility’s assets with a real-time location system, or RTLS. This system combines active and passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, Bluetooth low-energy beacons and ultrawideband beacons. When integrated, these technologies can pinpoint the location of lift trucks and other high-cost assets in your facility to within a few inches. Using RTLS is too cost-prohibitive for tracking products. But, you can avoid time lost from missing or misplaced assets by using it to keep tabs on the expensive equipment in your warehouse.

Another use of RTLS and RFID technology is to use passive RFID tags, which cost much less than active models, to tag pallets. Readers at each dock can determine if a pallet arrives at the correct location for outgoing shipments.

While the investment in equipment to set up an RTLS can outweigh the benefits for some, if you have problems with lost equipment or loads misdelivered and wasting time, consider using some aspects of this technology.

4. Use Automation Where Feasible

It’s no longer a futuristic gamble to invest in automation like self-guided vehicles or autonomous mobile robots. Even the most traditional warehouses are moving toward some forms of automation to speed stocking or pulling products and save on labor.

To make a small step toward automation, consider autonomous lift trucks for moving products over long distances, such as from docks to staging areas, or making repetitive motions. Assigning monotonous or rote tasks to automated lift trucks frees your operators to handle assignments that require more experience and careful handling. Using RTLS to monitor automated lift trucks’ location ensures that you never lose vehicles and always know where they are during operation.

While automated lift trucks can help move products efficiently, the trucks do not operate as quickly as human-operated vehicles. Therefore, for each human-driven forklift, you will need 1.3 automated vehicles. However, by investing in this technology, you can run your warehouse with fewer trained lift truck operators.

Warehouse Layout Optimization Tips

Improving warehouse layout makes workers’ jobs more straightforward, regardless of the additional equipment they use. Plus, how you arrange the warehouse will also determine the volume of products your space can hold. With adequate planning and placement, your facility can maximize the number of products it stores.

5. Arrange Inventory Distribution Based on Demand

How you use your warehouse will help you optimize its organization. For example, warehouses that ship directly to consumers have unique needs for fulfilling larger numbers of small orders than wholesale distributors receive. Therefore, an organization designed to speed up pickers’ ability to fill orders is even more crucial in these facilities. Rather than making room for lift trucks to pull pallets for orders, these facilities will need to separate space for lift trucks to stock racks and for pedestrian traffic to pick the orders. Using a system that allows for stocking from the rear and picking from the front can avoid collisions between trucks and pedestrians.

Facilities that fulfill large orders for retailers will need to have space for lift trucks and pallet lifts to move pallets off racks for stocking and picking. Wider aisles in front of the racks can accommodate the need for more vehicular traffic in these facilities.

In all instances, stocking sought-after products closer to the docks reduces the time spent in retrieving those goods. Rarely pulled or out-of-season items can go toward the back of the warehouse or on higher racks to free space for more in-demand goods. Optimizing a warehouse to best accommodate the type of orders it fulfills ensures that it meets everyone’s needs.

6. Don’t Overstock Rarely Requested Items

For maximum efficiency, every inch of space in your warehouse should provide a function. Don’t waste space on rarely needed items. Also, if some products go out of season, do not order more until their demand increases the next season.

If you must dedicate storage room to lower-demand items, place them in far-off corners. Workers will make up the additional time required to occasionally pull these items in the time saved by placing frequently pulled products at the front.

7. Look up for More Useable Space

Warehouses today typically have smaller footprints in sites for faster distribution. While in roomy, remote facilities, you had the luxury of spreading out storage on low shelves or racks across the expansive space, you cannot do the same today.

Make the most of your available space by using vertical storage as much as possible. Think about installing higher racks or taller shelves to hold products that don’t have high demand. You can keep additional products on hand without needing more square footage.

If your vertical space allows, consider stacking pallets two high on the top level. This location offers an ideal place for extra stock or items that don’t sell as quickly as others. Always consult the beam and rack weight capacity to ensure they will support the double-stacked pallets. If the racks do not have the strength to accommodate the pallets, either upgrade to sturdier racks and beams or avoid double stacking on that rack.

The vertical space over dock doors can also hold spare empty boxes or cardboard. If your workers break down pallets and have extra cardboard or need a supply to assemble shipping boxes, create a storage area above the dock doors for these items. You will keep them close without taking up the precious storage space for the products in your warehouse.

8. Make Your Layout Easy to Understand

Your pickers must find products they need as quickly as possible. However, if you have a warehouse with a confusing layout or products scattered without organization, they will take longer to pull order components. Therefore, make your warehouse layout easy for even the newest pickers to understand. One way could be to alphabetize product arrangement. Alternatively, you could install prominent labels at the ends of aisles to help your workers quickly retrieve goods.

To improve traffic flow, outline separate aisles for pedestrians and vehicles. Floor tape, guard rails or bollards can provide the needed barrier between people and trucks. For narrow aisles, mark out one-way flow patterns. Keeping people moving in the same direction in tight spaces will cut down on jams with other workers or vehicles.

Legibly label the office, storage, shipping and staging areas on the walls and floor. Paint or tape can separate these areas. However, you may also need bollards or wire partitions to keep vehicular traffic away from offices.

How to Increase Efficiency With Material Handling Equipment

The equipment used in your warehouse plays a major part in how efficiently the space operates. Combining durable, lasting racks and shelving with a well-planned layout optimizes the use of the available room that you have.

Improving a warehouse does not have to break the budget. Selecting material handling equipment specifically for the loads your warehouse handles will ensure you don’t spend too much, but still have a space that can safely hold your inventory.

9. Use Higher-Density Pallet Racking

Switching to higher-density pallet racking that stores 50% more than your old racking may double your available floor space for additional shelving, product staging or worker movement. For instance, replacing a rack with a 16,700-pound capacity for one with a 25,300-pound capacity lets you store more or heavier items on the racks, depending on their arrangement. Therefore, you can space out pallet racking in your warehouse to improve traffic flow by opening more floor space.

If your warehouse already has adequate traffic flow, using higher-density pallet racking lets you store more products or heavier loads in the same amount of space. When purchasing new pallet racking, always select models with higher capacities than you need to avoid overloading them and causing a safety hazard. If using decking on the racks, ensure the wire decks will support the same loads as the uprights.

Another way to increase pallet racking density is by adding racks and beams on lower spots for shorter items. In doing so, you can store more in the same amount of space. To avoid safety issues, make sure to never exceed the uprights’ storage capacity.

10. Facilitate Picking Individual Products With Wire Baskets

Wire baskets allow for transparent visibility of the contents while securely holding the products. For facilities that pull individual products for fulfilling consumer orders, wire baskets can make pickers’ jobs easier. With the ability to use these on the floor or on racks, baskets fit into almost any warehouse layout.

Wire baskets come in a range of sizes. Our smallest is the junior wire basket, measuring 20″ deep x 32″ wide x 22″ high. It includes a half drop gate to ease picking when using this basket on a shelf or rack. The largest size we offer is the XL wire basket, measuring almost twice as deep and high as the junior basket.

11. Prevent Lost Products and Aisle Blockage With Rack Guards

Rack guards keep products from falling off the back of racks into aisles. Fallen products require additional time to replace and could create hazards for lift trucks driving down aisles. Plus, fragile products may sustain irreparable damage if they fall from racks. The broken items will count toward loss, as you’ll need to discard them.

Investing in rack guards protects against loss from wasted time or damaged products. They can also protect materials from getting knocked off the rack from one side. Choose a rack guard to fit the space between the uprights.

Contact T.P. Supply Co for Material Handling Solutions Today

With these 11 warehouse improvement ideas, you can start 2021 with more worker productivity and better profits from your warehouse. To make the optimization recommendations possible, contact us at T.P. Supply Co for racking, shelving, material handling equipment and more for your facility.