Warehouse operations have become increasingly complex with the rise of e-commerce, next-day shipping, and on-demand storage capacity. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the transition to e-commerce and put further strain on the system, leading to a critical shortage of warehouse space across the country.
Let’s look at four strategies that you can use to boost warehouse efficiency.Technology plays a central role in helping improve efficiency at warehouses—we look at the most impactful investments. Click To Tweet
#1. Manage Inventory Visibility
Modern warehousing requires a high level of inventory visibility to maximize available space and ensure on-time deliveries. For example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey built a database of unused warehouse space to copy with seasonal spikes in demand (e.g., holidays) and unexpected disruptions (e.g., COVID-19).
On a warehouse level, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) incorporate IoT data points to track inventory in real-time as items move from receiving to shipping. In addition, integration with external systems can keep shippers and customers up-to-date with the latest information, enabling real-time notifications of any delays.
Finally, inventory visibility goes hand-in-hand with Vehicle Management Systems (VMS) that control safety and maximize productivity. Powerfleet’s telematics solutions can help warehouse managers track operator performance and asset utilization. That way, you can reward top employees, retrain underperforming employees, and right-size fleets.
#2. Properly Maintain Equipment
There’s nothing that slows down a warehouse faster than malfunctioning equipment. For example, a broken dock door or dead forklift can force a production slowdown and delay deliveries. Even worse, a faulty forklift could lead to costly product spills or damages. These take precious time to clean up and result in lost inventory.
Of course, faulty equipment can also create safety hazards that lead to injury or death. For example, OSHA estimated over 8,140 severe injuries and 79 deaths from forklifts alone in FY2019. These injuries lead to an immediate shutdown of operations and could trigger significant fines and penalties—particularly for repeat offenders.
Powerfleet’s electronic checklists make it easier to identify problems. Source: Powerfleet
Proactive and preventive maintenance are the best ways to avoid these problems. For instance, our industrial telematics provide an electronic safety checklist for each operator at the beginning of their shift to identify potential defects. Telematics also combine real-time data with machine learning to predict when maintenance issues may occur.
#3. Implement Vertical Space
Many warehouses need to expand as a business grows. Rather than horizontal expansion, managers should look vertically to grow their footprint cost-effectively. For example, taller storage units and the right equipment can help fit more inventory in the same footprint, avoiding the need to expand and reducing travel distance.
Lean inventory practices can further improve efficiency. While inventories must never run dry, excess inventory makes it hard to efficiently move products in and out. Managers can strike a balance by reducing safety stocks and encouraging suppliers to deliver smaller quantities more frequently, resulting in a smaller amount of overall inventory.
Analysis of industrial vehicle patterns through telematics solutions can provide insights to high traffic areas of the warehouse and could help identify areas that may need to be re-organized to optimize for inventory accessibility and streamline operations while increasing safety.
#4. Leverage Technology
Telematics ensure regulatory compliance, automate safety, lower total cost of ownership, and provide complete fleet visibility and management.
Telematics sensors and camera systems continuously collect raw data. For instance, you might outfit each forklift with a GPS device that reports its location throughout the day or an accelerometer that detects unsafe driving behavior. Meanwhile, cameras record everything in real-time to provide a valuable record in the event of an accident.
Telematics software converts these raw data points into actionable insights. For instance, Powerfleet IQ makes it easy to analyze forklift utilization levels across locations and adjust allocations by downsizing, purchasing new equipment, or transferring equipment. And, the same system provides insight into driving behaviors across the warehouse.
Warehouse managers can use these insights to improve safety and productivity:
- Enforce Certification: Driver sign-in and safety checklists ensure that uncertified drivers cannot access forklifts, while safety checklists help comply with OSHA regulations. Powerfleet even lets you customize checklists for drivers in training.
- Better Training Videos: Forklifts with video recording devices produce valuable training videos showing real-life examples of completing specific tasks in a warehouse, as well as examples of good and bad behaviors.
- Refresher Training: Sensors that monitor speed, detect impacts, and track other incidents can alert managers of unsafe driving. That way, you can quickly provide refresher training to adhere to OSHA regulations and minimize costly safety incidents.
- Reduce Wear-and-Tear: Speed limiters and other technologies prevent speed and abuse with electronic throttles, extending the lifetime of vehicles and tires. At the same time, telematics software enables more intelligent maintenance schedules.
Since they provide so many benefits, telematics have a short payback period and a high return on investment, making them a smart choice for warehouses looking to improve safety and efficiency.
Don’t Forget About Safety
Warehouse efficiency shouldn’t come at the cost of safety. For example, increasing forklift speed limits and forcing overtime can provide a temporary boost in efficiency, but these efforts could have an adverse impact on workplace safety. As a result, warehouse managers should ensure that they’re optimizing for both efficiency and safety.
There are many ways to improve safety:
- Physical Barriers: Separate forklift traffic from other workers where possible, or even better, limit aisles to workers on foot or forklifts only. In addition, consider physical barriers between workstations and forklift aisles and restrict the use of forklifts near break rooms, cafeterias and exits.
- Driving Behavior: Our forklift telematics can monitor driver behavior, enabling managers to take appropriate action to address problematic behaviors. Meanwhile, you can incentivize good driving behavior to encourage drivers to prioritize safety as much or more than they prioritize efficiency.
- Safety Technology: We provide a range of solutions to improve forklift safety and minimize the risk of accidents. For instance, the Forewarner Sideliner LED projects a bright LED onto the floor, alerting pedestrians of an oncoming forklift regardless of ambient noise.
These technologies can minimize safety incidents and enable forklifts and people to work at maximum efficiency. In addition, they are relatively inexpensive with a quick payback period, making them an attractive investment for warehouses.
The Bottom Line
Efficient warehouses minimize costs, keep employees safer, and maximize customer satisfaction through improved operations.Technology is central in maximizing warehouse efficiency, from telematics to other technology such as sensors and cameras. Fortunately, these technologies make it easy to realize efficiency gains, resulting in improved safety, lower costs, and happier customers and employees.