On-demand automation

8 ways to transform your warehouse to improve operational performance

Fergal Glynn Last Updated: September 25th, 2018

A warehouse is only as strong as the people who run it. There’s a lot that goes into efficient operations, including staffing plans, asset tracking and regulatory compliance, as well as layout optimization, strategic equipment investments and the careful collection of big data.

Today, we’re going to delve into eight simple things you can do to improve operational performance. These tips reflect the needs of the modern warehouse, and all are sustainable standards that can help you tranform operations not only today but well into the future.

Here’s a list of important transformations to make to boost your warehouse’s operational performance:

  1. Embrace big data
  2. Integrate technology systems
  3. Make smart investments in automation
  4. Optimize pick routes
  5. Analyze product velocity
  6. Optimize your warehouse layout
  7. Keep scalability and flexibility in mind
  8. Consider purchasing automation on an on-demand basis

1. Embrace big data Embrace big data

If you’re running a bustling warehouse, chances are you are already very much familiar with the practice of setting strategic KPIs. That said, not everyone in the field is analyzing their data to fullest extent possible. Take advantage of tools like warehouse management systems (WMS) and warehouse execution systems (WES) to generate instant, on-demand reports. Not only do these tools streamline data analysis, but having instant access to important performance metrics means better visibility throughout your company and across the supply chain. Share your data in real-time so that you can make well-informed, unified decisions faster and more harmoniously.

2. Integrate technology systems

As mentioned above, it’s vital that your warehouse integrates the most comprehensive technology systems around. While most warehouses have adopted warehouse management systems, new technology solutions catering to specific aspects of warehouse operations are emerging all the time. Fully integrated software and technology solutions support a better flow of data, giving you a more complete bird’s-eye view into your critical data and the overall health of your warehouse operation.

3. Make smart investments in automation

Many times, companies feel the urge to invest in automation because it’s the latest trend. To see measurable improvements, warehouse operators must make smart investments with specific, measurable objectives in mind.

Ask yourself these questions before you make an investment:

  • Do I need to change my existing infrastructure to benefit from this? And, if so, how much will that cost?
  • Will any existing processes be altered completely, or will the automation support what is already practiced?
  • What is the ROI?
  • How much downtime will be needed to install the new automated solution?

4. Optimize pick routes Optimize picking routes

Question: are your pickers and/or picking equipment congesting your aisles? Are picking goals so tight that safety is swiftly becoming a concern? Noticing issues with distractions that are affecting your bottom line?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it’s time to optimize your picking routes. That may mean changing up your picking techniques or investing in solutions that can help to streamline picking processes. Warehouses that implement collaborative technologies, like our agile robot Chuck, realize improvements in both picking speed and accuracy. What’s more, the 6 River Systems solution requires no new infrastructure and implementation is rapid (you can go live in two to six weeks, not months).

5. Analyze product velocity

Analyzing critical data like product velocity is a must for today’s warehouses (and it’s a much simpler task when you’ve made smart investments in software). Product velocity is an important metric that enables you to organize your inventory so that fast-moving inventory is in the most easily accessible storage areas, while slow-moving inventory is located in those harder-to-access spaces. The result is reduced travel time.

6. Optimize your warehouse layout

And, speaking of organizational changes, every strategically-minded manager should be periodically evaluating their warehouse’s layout. Here are some of the key details to consider when assessing yours:

  • Are you optimizing space utilization? For instance, is vertical space being utilized fully?
  • Are all aisle spaces wide enough? Or are they too wide, sacrificing potential storage space?
  • Does your floor plan accommodate your current picking methodology?
  • Is your inventory organized in a way that doesn’t add unnecessary travel time to picking routes?
  • And, most importantly, does your layout adhere to all safety regulations?

7. Keep scalability and flexibility in mind

To accommodate future growth, it’s important that you implement flexible systems and processes today. To put it simply, your operation should (within reason) always be able to handle shifts and peaks, seamlessly.

In order to do this, you must go back and analyze your product velocity. Product velocity and other data will help to inform infrastructure choices, picking techniques, staffing strategies and other decisions.

8. Consider purchasing automation on an on-demand basis On-demand automation

Investments in automation are traditionally based on the amount of capacity that is needed for the busiest period of the year. This rationale might make sense for warehouses that don’t experience drastic shifts in demand, but that’s rarely the case for the modern warehouse.

Think about the old Mother’s Day problem in the phone world, for instance. Phone systems needed to be built to handle the busiest day of the year — Mother’s Day. But for the rest of the year, many circuits sat idle. The same is true in the warehouse setting when it comes to automation requiring significant investments in hardware and infrastructure.

Instead of sizing your automation solution around peak demand periods, consider automation solutions such as collaborative mobile robots (like Chuck). Operators can rent additional capacity during peak seasons and then return them when normal demand returns. That means your capital purchase is only for what you need now.

Remember, this list is just a quick look into how warehouse operators can maximize operational performance. Use it as a reference when you’re examining your own warehouse’s practices in search of inefficiencies.