According to a recent survey from Intermec, 3,000 hours are lost in warehouses each year due to workforce inefficiencies. That same survey stated that nearly 89 percent of the warehouses surveyed believed the efficiency problem could be solved by investing in new technology. While new technology certainly helps, it’s important to evaluate warehouse practices that are not technology-centred to also boost warehouse efficiency.
I recently came across an article from Software Advice, a firm that reviews and creates buyers’ guides for supply chain software, with suggestions on how to eliminate problems that lower productivity in a warehouse’s workforce. Here are a few of their suggestions:
1. Establish Accountability with New Processes
Warehouse managers often utilize technology to recognize errors in fulfillment, but without the proper system of checks and balances in place, the habits that lead to these errors will go uncorrected. It’s essential to hold workers personally responsible for any mistakes they make.
2. Keep Records of Changes and Compare Against Error Rates
Keep a log of all changes in training procedures, machine installments, technology malfunctions, new hires and worker schedules. Comparing error rate changes against this information can help you gain more insight into failures within your operation.
3. Invest in Extended Education and Profit Sharing Programs
Profit sharing programs are a great way to increase warehouse productivity by providing an added incentive for workers. But in order for this to work, employees should be made aware of how they impact the company. A good way to do this is through informational sessions with employees. Educate them on business processes and show them how their actions impact others within the company.
4. Rely on Leadership to Walk the Floor
Ask senior management to walk the floor in order to help identify unnecessary warehouse processes. Since these staff members work in a different area of the business, they can provide a fresh set of eyes that can uncover inefficient activities that have become the norm over time.
Each of these suggestions is good, and there is one methodology that combines all of these (except for profit sharing) and that is Lean. I’ve seen lean in a warehousing environment, and if implemented properly it will make any warehouse process highly efficient. Lean is about eliminating anything that is not necessary to do the job at hand (Waste). If you look at the wiki for Lean you will read the following:
Lean is the set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste (muda). As waste is eliminated quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. A non-exhaustive list of such tools would include: Value Stream Mapping, Five S, Kanban (pull systems), poka-yoke (error-proofing)
Lean starts with eliminating waste, so 7 ways to increase your warehouse’s workforce efficiency starts with identifying and eliminating the 7 wastes as defined in Lean theory in your warehouse operation (from the same Lean wiki):
- Transport (moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing)
- Inventory (all components, work in process and finished product not being processed)
- Motion (people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform the processing)
- Waiting (waiting for the next production step)
- Overproduction (production ahead of demand)
- Over Processing (resulting from poor tool or product design creating activity)
- Defects (the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects)
How are you increasing efficiency in your warehouse?