Saturday, March 01, 2008

8 Ways to Fast Track Your Warehouse

8 Ways to Fast Track Your Warehouse

By Katrina C. Arabe

Your business is growing, but your warehouse can't keep up. Here's how to boost throughput in your facility without building new capacity:

Wait just a minute before you build a new warehouse. With some process and system improvements, your existing one may be able to handle a significantly greater load, say the pros. For example, Lenox Inc., maker of fine china and kitchenware, took on 17% more volume with 5% less labor at its current facility. And it did so while increasing productivity by over 23%. The trick? A new process that combined a warehouse management system and an automated conveyor to push orders automatically throughout the facility. "We scan bar codes that signal diverters on the conveyor system to send orders to appropriate pick zones, including specialized areas such as gift wrapping," Greg Petro, director of distribution and facilities, tells Logistics Today.

Indeed, getting your warehouse to handle increased business does not have to involve adding capacity. Here are 8 tips to put your facility on the fast track and stop it from getting bogged down:

    1) Improve the flow of inventory. "Time the receipt of goods closer to the time of use," suggests Patrick Sedlak, vice president with Sedlak, in comments to Logistics Today. Another strategy is to let procurement practices dictate how to handle inventory, says Terry Harris, managing partner with supply chain consulting firm Chicago Consulting. For example, if you get stock from your own plant, consider processing smaller, more frequent orders. Also, get rid of dead inventory by offering incentives to sales people, advises Denise Stevens, director of supply chain analytics with third-party logistics provider Kuehne & Nagel.

    2) Stock wisely. Increase the warehouse capacity of a regional warehouse by holding more SKUs in a central warehouse, suggests Harris. "In fact, keeping the expensive items upstream avoids dispersing expensive inventory," he says. Also, consider decreasing the territory coverage of a regional warehouse to get a boost in that facility's capacity, he adds.

    3) Implement technology solutions. Enhance your warehouse's productivity by pursuing technologies such as carousels and voice recognition, says Sedlak. Also, choose your warehouse management system (WMS) carefully. For example, WMS that can support crossdocking, improve the visibility of incoming product, consolidate inventory and pinpoint empty warehouse space can significantly increase a facility's capacity.

    4) Utilize space judiciously. You can improve capacity by examining two issues—time and space, notes Harris. To get the most out of your space, try narrow-aisle storage, Ken Ackerman, president of consulting firm K.B. Ackerman Co., suggests to Logistics Today. "To retrieve goods, use expensive turret trucks or much simpler articulated trucks that bend in the middle," he adds. Also, maximize space usage by building higher racking or adding mezzanines.

    5) Increase hours or shifts. If your warehouse is still unable to handle more business, raise throughput by extending hours of operation—a good way to boost capacity without adding capital investment, says Ackerman. But there is a drawback. "It puts pressure on management to support the seven-day week," observes Sedlak. "Especially in seasonal businesses, you have to carry that extended management all year."

    6) Rearrange space. Examine process flow and storage methods to make sure that you're making full use of your warehouse space. For example, says Stevens, minimize large open spaces. She also recommends utilizing different types of racking if not all of the items are on full pallets. Meanwhile, Ackerman suggests considering more robust packaging if weak packaging is preventing you from piling freestanding goods up high.

    7) Unclog the dock. A common trouble spot in warehouses is the dock area. Says Ackerman, "The easiest, cheapest solution is running totally scheduled docks. Every truck has to have an appointment. It creates a predictable situation." He also recommends live loading and a drop-and-hook strategy for truckload deliveries, in which inbound trailers are dropped in the yard, then brought to the dock by a jockey truck for unloading, and finally returned to the yard.

    8) Enlist specialists. Look into third-party logistics providers (3PLs), who are now offering a broadening range of services. But first, says Sedlak, gain a full understanding of your process so you can thoroughly outline your needs, explain the mechanics to providers and integrate essential reporting procedures.


8 Ways to Prevent Overloading Your Warehouse
Logistics Today, October 2004

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