Right out of the gate, Benchmarking Time Allocation for Warehouse Employees doesn't sound like a thrilling topic that you want to spend your weekend investigating, but it can help motivate your employees, save your company time and money, and improve your customer service. I divided the topic into three sections to help show the necessary process to improve your warehouse and increase the efficiency of the people that work there. The sections are: First, use of warehouse capacity; Second, accurate labeling of warehouse space and inventory; and Third, time from order placement to order completion. This article does not take into account the importance of having dedicated and properly trained employees.
Use of warehouse capacity can have the biggest impact on the time it takes you to operate your warehouse and your business (besides having enough dedicated, properly trained employees). The two major factors are the use of prime warehouse capacity and the use of average warehouse capacity. Both are important, but the prime warehouse space is where you can save the most time and money. You also might want to consider getting your employees excited about taking on the task of benchmarking by putting up dry eraser boards with the projects and giving them the authority to solve the problems.
Prime warehouse space is the top ten percent of the warehouse, where all the transactions take place for shipping, receiving, loading customers and loading deliveries. You need to look at the time it takes your employees to unload the inventory that is coming into your warehouse (look at all the docks and doors). Check to see if your vendors are delivering the inventory at the right time of day and at the right dock doors. Evaluate if you are spending time moving the inventory that comes in from your vendors long distances. Are you stocking inventory in the warehouse right where it is being pulled for deliveries, pulled for pick-up orders and loaded onto trucks for intercompany deliveries? The less you have to handle the inventory, the better.
Look at the prime warehouse house space layout and its accessibility. Make sure that you have the warehouse space set up so you can unload the inventory the way it comes off the truck, right into stock in the prime warehouse space. If you are unloading items on pallets, use inventory and the area between products wisely. Evaluate the height of your warehouse space and be sure to use proper shelving and stacking to clear up stocking space on the floor and make it easier and faster to pull orders for your customers.
Get the top-selling items and make sure that they are in a prime warehouse location. Place high-moving items next to the spot where employees will pull them for customers or load them for deliveries. Make sure that the area around the high-velocity items is clear and organized for easy access and safety. The ideal situation would be that you unload the stock right off the truck into a properly prepared prime warehouse location in the form that the manufacturer ships it in. On our front dock, we moved slow-moving items to an average part of the warehouse and put the high-volume items where we could unload them with a forklift right into the stocking area, making it easier for us to pull the inventory for walk-in customers and deliveries, while handling it half as many times as we used to.
The last step to maximizing the use of your prime warehouse space is to evaluate its physical setup. Make sure the shelving is set up for easy order picking and for easy storage of a large quantity of inventory. Make sure the spacing in between the shelves is set up to get the most inventory into the prime warehouse area while keeping it organized. Measure the spacing (height, width and depth) needed for the inventory and set up the floor storage, shelving and racking accordingly. Be sure to add hanging shelves and mezzanines when necessary to gain space.
Average warehouse space is any space that is not prime warehouse. When molded correctly, average warehouse space can help accommodate your company's needs. Average warehouse space will not save you as much time as prime, but it can be a big benefit to your company. Set up average warehouse space to accommodate easy order-pulling and stocking of inventory. Place like items near each other. Store similar items next to each other. And the physical setup of the space should reflect the items that are being stored in there.
The average warehouse should reflect the velocity of items that you sell to your customers or deliver to other branches of your company. Make sure items that are fast-moving are as close to the dock as possible or are located where the customer picks them up. Items that are slow-moving or that you rarely sell need to be deep in the back part of the warehouse. Make sure you take into account the size and weight of the items in relationship to where you are locating them. If you have heavy, fast-moving items, place them near the ground, and place light, average-moving items on the shelf right above the heavy items. By stocking items that that are similar or related next to each other, you will save time and increase sales (this works really well for inventory stored in the showroom). A common example would be to place screwdrivers next to screws and hammers next to nails.
The physical setup of the average warehouse space needs to be organized in a tighter, more-organized fashion than the prime warehouse space. Measure shelving space and adjust according to the inventory you intend to store. Storage areas should have easy access for a forklift or a cart for order-pulling and placement of stock. Having the correct type of storage device (racking, shelving, bins or mezzanines) can help create usable space and save time by having inventory that is organized and easy to pull.
The overall use of your warehouse space is a big part of time management and eliminating errors. This will save the company time and money, and lead to a better work environment.
Jason Trimbach is the branch manager of Dayton, OH-based 2-J Supply and the chair of HARDI's Distribution/Logistics Management Committee. Contact him at 937/223-0811 or at [email protected].