8 Areas for Warehouse Optimization at Peak

warehouse-optimization-peakPeak season brings unique supply chain and operational challenges that are not experienced at other times of the year. The need to improve warehouse operations during non-peak times is critical. It can be very difficult to improve order fulfillment during the peak season. However, just because you can’t make changes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for changes to make.

Warehouse operations managers and supervisors should be observing and documenting in detail what is happening during peak. It is the best time to see the positives and negatives on the warehouse floor. Peak season is also the heaviest use of warehouse labor, and warehouse managers can observe how efficient and productive the operations are. These pieces are just parts of a recommended warehouse assessment, or warehouse evaluation, that operations should be performing at least once a year.

Having an effective warehouse layout design, and efficient processes, improves productivity as well as safety in the operations. These observations should also help to minimize human error and inventory accuracy issues.

This article identifies 8 tips for improving warehouse operations and order fulfillment for both peak and non-peak times. These tips for warehouse optimization will improve the overall warehouse space and storage areas.

Areas to Consider for Warehouse Optimization at Peak

With warehouse optimization for peak volumes, there are typically three key functional areas to observe.  These include:
  • Picking
  • Packing and Shipping
  • Replenishment

These will be the areas with the most activity and increase in labor costs during the peak season. By improving these areas, you will be well positioned to control cost and be more efficient.

1. Is there too much congestion in picking, or inefficient aisle widths?
When considering warehouse design ideas, ensure that aisles are wide enough to efficiently allow for carts and people to pass each other. This congestion will certainly prohibit pickers from being efficient. You will also risk not being able to complete all the picking for the day. Observe what is creating the congestion, as well as when it tends to occur.

Consider where how your SKUs are slotted in the pick locations. For your type of warehouse and product, should the fastest moving product be slotted in the first few bays? For some companies, these should spread throughout to prevent all pickers from being congested in the same aisle. Consider how faster moving products should be slotted, as well as items that need to be picked together?

2. Can you create a second pick path?
Another consideration is whether you should consider multiple pick paths. Creating a mirror image of the existing pick path will allow you to split the pickers up. This also helps to reduce overall congestion in picking aisles, as well as reducing the overall walking distance. Is your SKU count, or pick footprint, low enough to support a second identical pick path?

3. Should you consider a dynamic “hot” pick zone?
Doing a quick analysis on SKU velocity will help to identify the fastest moving SKUs. In some cases, a very low number of SKUs generate significant volume. Should these items be slotted in their own hot pick zone close to packing and shipping to create efficiency?

The same is true if marketing promotes a handful of specific SKUs each week to customers. These promoted SKUs tend to generate significant volume before being rotated out in the next promotion. By keeping your hot pick zone dynamic, you can be flexible to support the fast-moving inventory.

4. Is there constant replenishment being done for the same product every day?
Excessive replenishments are a significant concern. If you are replenishing SKUs every day, or several times a day, you most likely have pickers waiting for inventory. In addition, this can create additional congestion with pickers in the aisles.

Consider which SKUs are creating the problems. Are the locations large enough to hold at least three to five days of picking? Do you need to make your locations bigger? Consider what it would take to replenish before and after picking.

Product tends to move at different rates from peak to non-peak. For many products, the pick slot size should not be the same throughout the entire year. What size and locations makes the most sense for peak season?

Do you have the right reporting to identify SKUs that are in the wrong size location? All these actions will help with inventory management as well.

5. Am I using the right sized pick carts?
Could I be picking more orders in one pass through the warehouse? Picking more orders at once is a great way to improve efficiency. Is product spilling out of the carts, resulting in the need for bigger cubbies, thus less orders per pass. If it means less errors and confusion on what product goes to which cubby, then it may be necessary.

Should your batching logic change to group small orders together, separately from large multi line orders? If you are building pallets while picking, is your system directing picking to build an efficient pallet?

6. Are the pack stations efficient and designed appropriately?
For most companies, packing and shipping lines tend to not get the attention or space they deserve. Observe how efficient your packing process is. Are there issues that cause your packers to stop what they are doing? These issues could be a lack of supplies, or incorrect products for a customer order.

Consider how to keep packers at the pack station and not having to leave to get the right product or more supplies. Do certain box sizes account for most orders? Make sure that each pack station has a sufficient supply of the most used supplies to handle at least at least 3 to 4 hours of packing. Consider simple ways to alert a runner to low supplies so that packers aren’t leaving their station.

For mis-picked items, do you have a way to track who is making the picking errors? Do you have runners to deal with mis-picks, so packers aren’t leaving their station? Consider what process can be put in place to quickly have those orders set aside and handled by a specific employee so that the packers can keep packing and not worry about the product.

7. Would robotics or conveyor help with picking orders, or moving orders through packing and shipping?
Robotics or conveyors are a great way for transporting goods and orders through various functional areas. They also reduce walking which helps to control costs and congestion. Observe whether your operations would benefit from reducing walking distances etc. during picking.

In addition, automation can help feed orders to pack stations without packers leaving to get carts. Conveyers are also a great way to move packed orders to shipping and manifesting. Conveyors and sortation can easily be installed to help build outbound trucks in shipping.

8. Is there a better way to batch orders together for picking?
One of the best ways to gain efficiencies in picking is to batch orders more effectively. Have you analyzed your order profiles? Do you know what percent of your orders are single line single unit orders?

These will be some of the fastest orders to pick along with other profiles. What other logical groupings of order make sense for your business? In addition, are pickers waiting in between finishing and starting orders for their next batch? What are ways that you can efficiently distribute work to pickers to keep them efficient?

How to Document Warehouse Optimization Ideas

As you are observing the warehouse operations during peak its important to observe and take in as much as possible, but its equally as important to document so that you can act once peak is over. Below are some helpful pieces to make remembering after peak easier.
Take many pictures and videos.

  • Be sure to capture processes and excess product in aisles or locations that cause delays. Anything that is a hinderance to efficiency that needs to be remembered to correct should be captured.
  • Document your notes as specifically as possible as you are observing.
  • Ask the on the floor employees what they would change, as they are the ones in the details of performing the work, they often have great suggestions.
  • Detail what data points you would like to see from peak. Be sure to include pick and pack rates as well as error rates.

These tips for optimizing your operations will allow you to proactively make the necessary changes. This type of warehouse work is important to successfully shipping orders on time and accurately. Consider how a warehouse consultant can assist you with assessing your warehouse operations.