How to Enhance Warehouse Employee Productivity

After several tough years for the industry, it’s been difficult for manufacturers to bounce back.

A pandemic caught business owners by surprise, a significant job surplus has left employees burnt out and a recession could be on the way. This has made it difficult to stay productive while maintaining a strong roster of employees and keeping them safe.

Manufacturing businesses with high productivity levels will see this reflected in their bottom line — it’s as simple as that.

Of course, increasing productivity is no easy task, but luckily, there are tools and resources you can offer your employees to enable a much-needed boost in warehouse efficiency. Here’s where to start:

Step 1: Review Your Process

You could be holding your employees back with manufacturing processes or facility methods that no longer serve your company. Your employees can achieve their productivity potential with consistent reviews of your operation and its performance.

Start with your manufacturing process. In the past, we’ve covered four potential methods that your facilities can use to organize and optimize:

Lean Manufacturing: Lean manufacturing works to identify and eliminate waste while maximizing productivity and value. Successful lean manufacturing depends on the continuous analysis and adaption of your process to fit the unique needs of your warehouse.

Cellular Manufacturing: More in-depth than lean manufacturing, cellular manufacturing produces one item at a time along a line of various machines and operators. Raw materials continuously enter the line resulting with finished goods at the end. This manufacturing line is referred to as a cell.

Flexible Manufacturing: With flexible manufacturing, your facility would prioritize having the freedom to adapt to changes that may arise in your inventory, budget, facility or employee needs. Flexible manufacturing has aspects of lean manufacturing but can offer more customizable options for specialized products.

Just-in-Time Manufacturing: JIT is both a production model and a way of thinking that focuses on reducing wasteful actions, optimizing employee tasks, creating protocols for quality control and completing orders as they come in instead of stockpiling.

Additionally, you can review your overall picking process. An inefficient picking process can cause bottlenecks for your employees and lost time.

Here are a few options:

  • Wave Picking is designed so employees can pick items to fill one order through one trip through the warehouse. Wave pickers also have certain scheduled hours to complete these picks not to interrupt other warehouse processes like receiving or shipping.
  • Batch Picking is designed so employees can pick items to fill multiple orders (in batches) through one trip around the warehouse.
  • Zone Pickingis designed to assign employees to specific zones, where they are only responsible for picking order items in their zone.
  • Discrete Order Picking is designed like wave picking but without any scheduled completion window.

Step 2: Measure Productivity

As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. To properly evaluate your warehouse productivity levels, you need to have analytics at all levels of your organization.

Some of the critical KPIs (key performance indicators) you need to track include:

  • Your essential productivity and costs on shipped orders
  • Cost per box
  • Cost per line shipped
  • Cost associated with various errors your warehouse might face
  • Cost of returns (if applicable)

Reviewing the answers to these questions will help you evaluate what is causing the breakdown in performance.

Step 3: Maximize Floor Space

If your employees don’t have enough room to work, you’re seriously reducing the likelihood that they can be productive.

Maximizing your floor space will help give your employees cleaner, more organized spaces to work within. To get started maximizing your space, you can ask:

  • How far is your delivery zone from your products? Do your workflows and picking processes follow that path?
  • Is your inventory area running into your receiving and delivery zones or docks? Does this leave these two teams fighting for space?
  • Are there teams on your floor that need more space?
  • Are your team members constantly having to double back to complete orders?
  • Once items are picked, is there space for them to be packed?

It’s also important to review your storage practices. Here we break down the difference between dynamic and static storage practices and the best pallets to use for your facility.

Step 4: Empower Your Employees

Your employees are invaluable team members; you must listen to them to build a loyal, satisfied workforce.

Since the 2020 pandemic, manufacturing employees have been experiencing higher levels of burnout due to the economic boom, high-stress levels regarding health standards and the major job surplus. Employee burnout happens when team members are physically and mentally exhausted, leading to symptoms like lowered cognitive skills, a lack of motivation, sickness, depression or deadly accidents.

You can start battling burnout and apathy by scheduling time to speak to your employees. Getting honest feedback on the processes they engage in daily can help you optimize your processes or offerings for the better.

While likely providing you with some essential information, this tactic will also clear the lines of communication between you and your team. Today’s employees are likelier to stay with a company invested in growing their careers. It’s a win-win: your team members feel valued and more motivated at work, and you’ll have a workforce of increasingly skilled employees.

Other ways to inspire your employees include:

  • Closing The Skills Gap: A generation of manufacturing employees is retiring, and those taking their place don’t have that breadth of experience. By offering career-growing training, you can show your employees that you care about their trajectory while creating more well-rounded employees.
  • Prioritizing Flexibility: By uplifting flexibility, you can teach employees to adapt to unexpected circumstances – for example, another months-long supply chain disaster.
  • Fostering Motivation:Burnout can quickly diminish an employee’s sense of purpose and worth. Positive feedback, encouraging career growth and listening and acting on concerns can help make workers feel like valued company employees.

What’s the last thing you can do to empower your employees?

Step 5: Leverage New Technology

If your employees are working with outdated tools or relying only on physical strength, there’s little to no chance that your team will be as productive as possible. New technology will help your employees succeed and give your manufacturing business a competitive edge.

Let’s review some of the most popular technological tools that manufacturers are taking advantage of today:

WMS: A WMS centralizes warehouse information with software, hardware and processes that track each stage of a product’s journey. A WMS often comprehensively analyzes a warehouse’s operations, allowing leaders to make better data-driven decisions.

RTLS: RTLS allows manufacturers to track where products are and how they’re progressing. It gives leaders more control and the ability to make better data-driven decisions about their inventory and production process.

Wearable Technology: Tech wearables can be helpful for both employees and team leaders. For employees, wearables help cut down on doubling back and eliminate frustrating paper processes with voice-activated technology and handheld scanners. They also allow leaders to monitor an employee’s steps, collection path for fulfilling orders and overall productivity.

Blockchain: Blockchain is an online record allowing your team to store and share data safely. It begins with a transaction, which creates a “block.” That block will then be authenticated by other computers in the network, adding it to a blockchain that becomes much more difficult to infiltrate.

Industrial Manipulators: Industrial manipulators help take physical stress off your employees and help them move, transport and store products quickly and efficiently.

Industrial manipulators are best used when:

  • A product is too heavy to be moved by hand
  • Many items must be moved quickly
  • Manually moving a product puts a person at risk of injury
  • Manually carrying things that will quickly exhaust employees
  • A product must be relocated to a place that is difficult or time-consuming for a worker to reach (for example, a very tall shelf)

If you’re ready to invest in your employees’ productivity and efficiency, it’s time to consider industrial manipulators. Dalmec’s customized industrial manipulators and lifting equipment are designed specifically for your warehouse space. We consider your processes and methods — then provide you with the machinery you need to enhance your productivity. Contact our team today to get started

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