5 Ways to improve warehouse productivity

Warehouse productivity depends on a number of elements – not the least of which is the human factor.

Falls, workplace injuries and accidents account for a large percentage of lost productivity in UK warehousing and logistics and addressing this situation can resolve a large problem for small firms in particular. But how can the average business optimise productivity without incurring cost?

  1. Optimise productivity through tracking

We’re always told to ‘measure what matters’ but for warehouse productivity, the slogan should really be, ‘what goes unmeasured remains unproductive’. The beginning of effective tracking is to establish what you’re actually measuring:

  • What are your key metrics?
  • What is the baseline (where are you beginning the process?)
  • What targets can you set?
  • How do you measure individual/group/facility performance against those targets?

As an example, someone recently converted to third party logistics (3PL) took a back to basics approach and began to track every part of the process from stock arrival through picking to delivery. They discovered that a long-held belief that one particular warehouse had slower processing times because of local traffic congestion was true, but nowhere near as much as the operatives believed – what was affecting their productivity was their tendency to slow down when they had processed a certain number of orders because they assumed that orders would be held up on departing the warehouse so there was no point working any faster! While simply being presented with the facts was enough to speed up productivity in that warehouse, the parent company decided that their needs would best be met through adopting a 3PL solution to deliveries in that geographic area and convert their existing warehousing space to a value-added personalisation and returns facility, improving customer satisfaction and retention whilst maintaining jobs. One unexpected side benefit was developing a sideline in bespoke gift-wrapping which employees found satisfying and created a premium price for existing products.

Having just a few strong metrics – no more than five is ideal, and communicating them clearly is vital to improvements in this area. The closer the feedback information can be to real-time activity, the more effect it will have on productivity – so an LED display of how many orders have been fulfilled that’s updated every hour is more likely to motivate employees than a weekly report containing the same information.

  1. Consider an automated inventory management system

Last year, in a US survey, 65% of inventory records were found to be inaccurate. Automated inventory management is a major commitment, but it can optimise three different areas of warehousing:

Lengthening the life of fixed assets – from pallet trucks to HGVs, automated inventory offers the potential to use expensive assets more efficiently which not only gives you savings on a day to day basis but also prolongs their life, saving capital costs.

Space use improvement – a more up-to-date inventory allows an operator to reorganise warehouse space so that it increases efficiency.

Personnel efficiency – an automated inventory gives you instant knowledge of exactly what stock is available and exactly where it is held. Not only does this improve pick efficiency but it reduces training time and offers staff a less stressful working day. This means that if you need temporary or seasonal staff they can be productive much more quickly and also that your permanent staff will be less likely to have overuse injuries or stress-related sick days.

  1. Master your space

Particularly in the UK, warehousing space is limited and in key areas like Heathrow, Felixstowe Port and around the Channel Tunnel, it’s at a premium. Learning to use your existing space well can increase your storage area by up to 27% according to recent research, but that’s not the only benefit. Strategies such as vertical space use and pallet racking can actually deliver better and safer working conditions for employees. Evaluating storage equipment can also be vital to optimise your warehousing – auditing your current warehouse use can offer vital clues to your future needs, which means you can improve storage density and pick performance over a short-term, which leads to lower costs and less disappointed customers in the medium term. Vertical warehousing can seem like a big step, and many SMEs benefit from exploring its value through using rented warehouse space to develop proficiency in vertical storage before retro-fitting it into their own warehouse space.

  1. Understand Seasonality

Few things have had as much impact on warehousing as e-commerce, and few areas of e-commerce are as misunderstood as seasonal demand. Fluctuations in demand catch out even the biggest retailers, so how can an SME or a start-up business possibly expect to master the demands of seasonality?

Forces that are beyond the control of any organisation include economic downturns, weather effects and celebrity endorsements, all of which can cause massive upswings or slumps in demand. On the other hand, gathering information about the wider industry: manufacturing and retailing, advertising plans etc can help warehouse logistics teams to plan for uptake. This planning might include changing warehouse layouts to bring forward topical items which can reduce pick times by up to 60%. Or it might mean laying on specific haulier services such as small van last mile delivery during high demand periods. For each business, the demands of seasonality will be different, but the cost of ignoring those demands will be the same – disappointed customers, unfulfilled orders and lower profits.

  1. Explore custom kitting

While this may not be true for every industry, many will find that bringing together components that are often required together can have three effects:

  • reduced inventory handling
  • better use of space
  • quicker order fulfilment.

Where a business is involved in repairs, refits or upgrades, custom kitting can shorten the time taken to complete orders and reduce inventory error. For many other businesses, custom kitting may involve a different approach: bringing together product, packaging and labelling to speed order fulfilment. Increasingly, companies are looking at custom kitting as a value-added approach to warehousing – adding bespoke options such as personalisation and gift-wrapping to the order fulfilment process.

If you’re looking for warehouse space for rent, we have an online directory of recommended warehousing and logistics companies that you can trust, located throughout the UK. Both short term storage and long term storage are available, depending on your requirements.

Our warehouse storage has a vast range of different warehouse services available, including stock management, pallet storage, order fulfillment and much more. Simply contact us today on 0800 1707 555.

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