You need to overcome warehouse management challenges

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Warehouse managers have a difficult job, to be sure. Each step in the logistics and material handling processes is an opportunity to create a satisfied customer or lose one.

From organizational and safety challenges to the all-important task of making sure products arrive intact, there are plenty of action items to keep after in this industry. Here’s a look at five of the most persistent warehouse management challenges and how to overcome them.

1. Improving Layout Optimization

The challenges of organization and warehouse layout optimization impact every other facet of your storage or supply chain business. These issues include process efficiency, employee safety and customer satisfaction. Here are some ways to think differently about layout in your own facility:

Sort by product velocity: Position fast-moving products close to the packing and shipping departments cut down on travel time and cross-traffic.Adjust aisle width: Aisles should be wide enough to share comfortably without compromising the speed of workflows. Pedestrian and lift truck traffic should be able to pass each other safely without bringing things to a halt.Stay organized: Organizational paradigms can and should change over time. Once there’s a system that works, it’s essential to drill employees on the proper place for tools, vehicles, equipment, PPE, personal effects and more. Even with a well-organized storage area for products, a warehouse won’t operate efficiently if employees can’t find assets in the same place.

2. Reducing Travel Time

According to Greg Gonzales, a warehouse design engineer at UPS, employees spend 55% of their time traveling across warehouses instead of carrying out value-adding tasks. Studying travel time data reveals opportunities to rearrange picking or processing locations according to whether the items require a vehicle or manual picking. You should situate vehicle picking locations farther away and on-foot bin locations closer.

Measuring travel time is an especially good idea if the end of your lease is coming up soon. This time is when to decide whether you need a larger warehouse to store more goods — potentially increasing travel time for employees — or if adding mezzanines and storage to your current facility is the more logical route.

3. Communicating Effectively

The logistics and supply chains of the world live and die according to how well each party communicates with others. Little doubt exists that effective communication can maximize safety and productivity. Yet what’s the best way to go about it? Consider the ideas below:

Huddle at the start or end of shifts: In fulfillment centers, it’s common to hold brief meetings at the beginning of the day and after lunch for every member of a department. This time is an opportunity for decision-makers to be transparent about the current and future workload, address outstanding issues and field questions or concerns from the workforce.Hold regular Gemba walks: “Gemba” comes from a Japanese word meaning “actual place.” During Gemba walks, managers and process experts tour the department or facility to find bottlenecks, touch base with employees about their needs and progress and look for ways to eliminate material and time waste. Perform these walks anywhere between once per day and once per month.

4. Reducing Product Damage

For a business that handles $100,000 of product in an average year, reducing damage-related losses by just .5% could deliver annual savings of around $50,000. Shipping damaged inventory is a drain on profits and compromises customer satisfaction and loyalty.

It also stands to reason that a workplace where products incur damage frequently is an environment that invites employee injury or worse. What are the best ways to ensure your products are safe on the shelf, during picking and packing and while en route to the customer? It begins by paying attention to:

Improper storage: The improper storage of products is one of the leading causes of damage and loss. Choose racking locations that match the shape and safest orientation of the product. Keep small items contained using plastic or metal bins and containers.Mishandling: Hopefully it goes without saying, but proper product handling should be a significant part of new-hire training.

Securing loaded pallets with the right amount of stretch wrap, inspecting products and kicking out damaged items before picking are all trainable skills that influence defect rates and impact the bottom line.Technology: Cold storage presents challenges of its own where damage and spoilage are concerned. For goods susceptible to temperature- or force-related damage, it’s increasingly common for warehouses and carriers to use IoT technologies like temperature sensors and accelerometers. These devices capture data about drops below recommended temperatures and log other events that might result in product damage.

5. Making Sure Employees Are Working Safely

In 2018, the warehousing industry saw more than 5 injuries for every 100 workers and 26 fatalities. Here’s what to focus on when it comes to safety:

Technology: The 2018 Annual Industry Report from MHI and Deloitte predicted that 70% of warehousing and distribution facilities will adopt wearable technology within five years. These devices present a way to monitor for heat- and exhaustion-related conditions and to respond more quickly if an employee signals they need help.Inspections: Employees should be well-trained in inspecting equipment and vehicles before they switch them on for the day or shift.Proper PPE: Warehouse managers should ensure their facilities provide the OSHA-recommended personal protective equipment for each process.

Train employees on their use and encourage them to help each other remember to wear them at all times.Redesign traffic flow: Vehicle and pedestrian traffic cannot run afoul of one another. As your fleet or workforce grows, make sure Gemba walks regularly study the efficiency and safety of traffic lanes and flow.

Ongoing Challenges and Opportunities in Warehousing

Managing a warehouse and its many challenges is a significant but rewarding responsibility. With these recommendations, you should be in a better position to take care of the workers under your roof as well as your customers — no matter where they hail from.

Megan Nichols

Megan Nichols is a technical writer and blogger. She writes about engineering, science and technology topics. Megan is also editor of Schooled By Science, an easy to understand science blog. With Schooled By Science she hopes to encourage others to learn more about STEM subjects.

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