Unfortunately, there was no way to predict the obstacles and delays that manufacturers experienced within the last two years. Business owners and warehouse leaders were caught off guard and forced to make quick decisions as their facility protocols and labor pools changed drastically.
Yes, we know that many warehouses, manufacturing facilities and businesses large and small are still recovering from the major disruptions caused by COVID-19. But as everyone finds their footing again, it’s time to start thinking about future supply chain problems.
It’s impossible to prepare for every single scenario that could affect your warehouse’s productivity or efficiency. But, with what we learned in the last two years, your warehouse can start building protocols to rely on if another disruption comes our way.
Here’s where we recommend you start:
Streamlining Your Process
It’s important to regularly review your warehouse’s operational process to check for potential bottlenecks or traffic jams. But when thinking ahead about the next supply chain disruption, reviewing your process can go beyond making sure everything is running as intended. Instead, use this time to analyze your operations for potential improvements.
Update Your Picking Paths
How organized are your warehouse’s picking paths? Do your employees know where and how to find the products they need? Are your paths flowing successfully without any blockages?
Start by looking at what picking strategy you’re using. While yours can be customized to your warehouse’s unique needs, here are the four major types that are popular in manufacturing facilities:
- Wave Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill one order through one trip through the warehouse. Wave pickers also have certain scheduled hours where they can complete these picks, to not interrupt other warehouse processes like receiving or shipping.
- Batch Picking, which is designed so an employee can pick items to fill multiple orders (in batches) through one trip around the warehouse.
- Zone Picking, which is designed to assign employees to certain zones, where they are only responsible for picking order items in their zone.
- Discrete Order Picking, which is designed like wave picking, but without any scheduled windows for completion.
Once you choose a strategy, analyze your inventory placement. Does it need to be reorganized to fit your new picking paths? Can you reorganize your products to streamline your process further? To find this answer, we suggest talking to your employees for additional insight or tracking walking times to see if there are consistent patterns for traffic jams that can be addressed.
Transition to a Warehouse Management System (WMS)
We understand that it can feel overwhelming to switch from tried-and-true paper processes to a digital platform for all your warehouse’s most important assets. But to stay competitive within the industry, we suggest considering a warehouse management system (WMS).
WMS consists of software, hardware, and online processes that help warehouses manage operations from when materials arrive until they are shipped out. They provide a central location to manage inventory tracking, goods being pulled and shipping updates. A WMS will help you reorganize and regain control over your warehouse’s many functions and make it possible to make better data-driven decisions for your facility.
A supply chain disruption can affect your warehouse in a variety of ways. It could be that you find yourself with an inventory shortage or too much product altogether. Especially in the latter situation, efficiently using your warehouse storage and floor space will be crucial in case of a supply chain emergency.
First, look at your current setup. How much of your warehouse space is currently in use? Are your products being stored in their designated places? Are they easily accessible? These warehouse utilization questions and metrics are crucial to determining the steps you need to take next.
Next, here are a few steps you can take to maximize your space further:
- Find the places in your storage setup that are being underutilized.
- Assess your current inventory and see if you have excess inventory to address
- Store items efficiently, such as according to size or popularity
- Choose pallets that best support your product and your warehouse’s operations.
Making changes in these three major areas can make a significant difference in preparing for potential disruption.
Set Your Employees Up for Success
One of the major problems that arose from the recent supply chain disruptions and ecommerce boom was a loss of employees. Many older employees retired early while others chose to change careers and stay home to care for sick or dependent family members.
With employment numbers down and warehouse safety needs at an all-time high, your employees need tools and resources to do their job more efficiently.
As warehouse leaders work to find helpful solutions for their employees, wearable technologies have become more popular. These devices help warehouse owners monitor picking paths and walking times to see opportunities to improve their process.
For example, tech wearables can be a game-changer for your picking process. Employees wear headsets with a microphone connected to voice-activated technology. This allows employees to receive picking information via an automated voice without needing to circle back or refer to paperwork.
In addition to wearables, offering other assets to your employees can make a big difference in productivity. Adding in organizational bins for small parts or items, investing in light-directed technology and giving employees handheld scanners can help pickers quickly identify the items they’re looking for and the amount they need.
By adjusting your warehouse to address these common mistakes, you can create a working environment that’s more successful for your business and fosters a safer, healthier and more productive workplace for your employees.
Having a productive warehouse is an accomplishment, but not if it comes at the price of your employees’ safety. The Dalmec team has always been passionate about helping warehouses keep their teams protected from unnecessary accidents.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that private industry employers reported approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2017. With so many of these being preventable, it’s imperative that you:
- Mandate warehouse safety training on topics like ergonomics, loading dock protocols, chemical safety and machine safety.
- Purchase products like non-slip mats, cleaning supplies to take care of spills and proper protective gear to avoid falling products or slipping injuries.
- Invest in material handlers to avoid repetitive strain injuries (more on this below)
Unfortunately, the pandemic led to a job surplus for warehouses all over the world. With not enough employees to fill open positions, current team members were most likely to experience burnout. 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.
Talk to your employees about the obstacles that make it difficult to do their job successfully. Are they taking on too much responsibility? Moving inventory that is too heavy for them? Finding themselves almost getting hurt time and time again? The answers to these questions can help you alter your current process, implement tools to keep them safer and, most importantly, reduce future burnout.
Invest in Material Handlers
Supply chain disruptions, disorganized storage systems and burnt-out employees can easily lead to accidents, product damage or even more costly issues.
That’s why our final recommendation for preparing for another supply chain disruption is to invest in time-saving material handling tools like industrial manipulators.
An industrial manipulator is a machine with a rigid steel manipulator arm that allows for complex pneumatic tilts and rotations.
For example, Dalmec industrial manipulators are often used when:
- A product is too heavy for a person to move manually
- A product must be moved to a location that is not easily or quickly accessible for a person to reach (such as a very tall shelf)
- A person will be put at risk for injury if they move a product manually
- A person will quickly fatigue from moving products manually
- A high volume of products must be moved in a timely fashion
If another supply chain disruption occurs, there won’t be much time to create a successful plan of action in the moment. That’s why now is the time to streamline your operations, get the tools your employees need to succeed and add industrial manipulators into your process.
If you think your warehouse would benefit from the help of industrial manipulators, contact us today. We’d be happy to find a unique solution that works for your facility.