5 Ways to Improve Warehouse Inventory Operations
Warehouse inventory operations drive the success and health of any business that sells or utilizes goods. Without the warehouse team, everything falls apart, leaving you with no way to generate reliable revenue. The turmoil of the past few years has caused many companies to focus on products and inventory themselves while letting some management and warehouse functionality slip. Now, ahead of peak season, is the perfect time for companies to refocus, prioritize the people running their warehouses, and reinstate practices designed to grease the wheels and ensure long-term success.
There are no magic words that you can say once to improve warehouse operations permanently. Improvement takes time and purposeful effort, and it’s an ongoing process. The best starting point is addressing that iterative nature and building out a proper training program, with refreshers, into your standard shifts.
Regularly update teams on your warehouse and inventory best practices. Remind them of your safety rules and review any inventory-specific requirements. If you have some products or materials that need special handling, devote time to reviewing those needs and what to do when there’s an issue. Everyone on the floor should know what items must only be picked by a forklift and how to get assistance when these items must be moved immediately.
One essential element here is training teams how to capture data on equipment that breaks. Maintenance records and component history speed your ability to resolve issues correctly. Lacking this information creates huge wastes of time. A little training goes a long way to keeping you running.
Training timeframes will depend on your products, materials, and warehouse requirements. Consider adding training shifts monthly to keep people cycling through the program. Give awards, run contests, buy your team lunch, or take other actions that keep people engaged and ensure that training sessions are more than just time to check their phones.
Create career pathways in the warehouse
Warehouse safety and efficiency are tied directly to how much attention people pay to their surroundings on the floor. Motivated team members are more likely to pay attention and watch out for others on their shifts. They create a better work environment for everyone, improving operations, including how inventory is managed and used.
One surefire way to keep top-performing employees motivated is to create a clear track for success and promotion in your warehouse. This starts with ensuring that daily metrics, such as picking speed or order accuracy, are obtainable. Then, promote from within. Shift leads, trainers, floor managers, yard managers, maintenance chiefs, and other positions can be awarded to your best pickers, packers, and other team members.
Think about long-term career tracks that stay within the warehouse and those that move into your headquarters to encourage employees of all stripes.
Monitor and proactively tackle shrinkage
Companies must store goods safely to have that inventory available for future use. This is true from raw materials to finished products, maintenance equipment, spare parts, and more. One of the most frustrating parts of inventory management is trying to utilize what should be there when it isn’t.
Shrinkage is a blanket term to cover damage, breakage, loss, and theft, and most fulfillment centers and warehouses have shrinkage allowances. That means they expect inventory to go missing or break instead of filling orders or other purposes. Whether you manage your own facilities or outsource, this allowance is a loss you’re expected to eat.
But there’s no reason for this to be acceptable.
Maximizing inventory utilization comes from efforts to eliminate shrinkage. Monitoring warehouses and aisles, establishing best practices and training, and documenting damage during receiving are just a start. Accurate counts, WMS-guided putaway, automated picking, and adding multiple scans for every order or utilization all protect your inventory. As you push a digital transformation strategy, keep these kinds of functionalities in mind.
If you don’t have it, you can’t use it. That hurts the bottom line, which comes for jobs if left unchecked.
Minimize team decisions
Automation is often touted as a way to save warehouses and bring them into the future. Robotics aren’t a silver bullet, but those and AI systems do point us in the right direction for securing warehouses and inventory during daily tasks. Removing unnecessary decisions and options with clear, correct answers keeps people moving and processes flowing.
We’re not talking about turning every employee into an automaton. This is about reducing risks of misplacing items or damaging them when inventory requirements are unclear. Instead of putting goods away wherever they seem to fit, a WMS can direct the process to specific bins that it tracks for accurate retrieval during picking.
One-way aisles in fast-paced environments limit the chance that you and a forklift will run into each other when rounding a corner simultaneously. Guiding picking can move teams through the warehouse on the best route for an order or activity, reducing congestion points and overall walking.
Wouldn’t your team like to walk fewer miles every day and also have fewer accidents?
Bring this to your intensive work, too. Failure analysis should have clear definitions to ensure people use proper techniques, have the right investigation teams, and are quarantining properly. Structure mitigates risk and ensures the reliability of systems going forward.
Review your entire supply chain
Warehouse inventory operations are only getting more complex. The past few years have thrown everything at warehouse professionals and asked them to outperform continually. The “new normal” is a fast, demanding pace where your team needs support to succeed. Help them by proactively planning for coming shifts and downturns and having an answer on the decision to run just-in-time or just-in-case operations.
Review safety stock levels and inbound freight timetables. Work with teams to understand if lead times have changed and how ordering more goods or additional containers is changing their workflow. Inventory management that gets hung up during the receiving stage can slow down all other areas.
Data accuracy and forecasting are paramount here. Inventory management has always required accurate stock and cycle counts. However, modern efforts now need the ability to look across the supply chain to see delays or demand shifts. Understanding where things are and what might come next is the best way to plan and optimally use inventory in any warehouse.
Jake Rheude, Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment
Companies enhance their productivity and profitability by performing appropriate maintenance on their physical assets. The assets need to operate optimally and be available throughout production cycles. Most organizations optimize their maintenance programs to lower maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) costs. Excessive expenditure on equipment maintenance results in lower profit margins.
Visual inspection is one of the most basic and oldest maintenance interventions. Skilled technicians traverse facilities to identify structural flaws, surface wear and tear, cracks, leakages, corrosion, buckling of welds and other structural members. The main goal of visual inspection is to identify defects that may impede the performance of an asset. After recognizing the flaws, technicians take the initiative to fix them before they worsen and result in asset damage or accidents.