THINKING OF AUTOMATING?

Clues to Greater Efficiency Hidden In Your Warehouse

Acquiring just one more piece of warehouse equipment would enable you to do the job so much more efficiently, right? That new forklift would solve all of your problems, wouldn’t it? Perhaps. Or maybe the answers to operating at maximum efficiency only become clearer when you take a step back and reframe the question as one focused on warehouse solutions.

Whether you’re in the market for a forklift, more specialized equipment like an order picker or walkie pallet truck, additional storage rack capacity or perhaps even a mezzanine to expand warehouse space, chances are there is much to be learned — and productivity to be gained — from taking a moment to examine the bigger picture.

After all, this is the approach favored by most forklift dealers and materials handling specialists. To connect you with the ideal products and services to solve your unique challenges, they’ll want to develop a better understanding of your physical environment and your workflow.

Taking inventory

Keeping close track of inventory is a fact of life in the world of warehouses and distribution centers. But how often do we stop and take inventory of our processes? Making an extra effort to understand the various components that make your warehouse run (equipment, employees and processes) will uncover potential workflow efficiencies, and cost savings as well.

This is especially true if there have been recent or ongoing changes in your operation, but also if you’ve been doing things the same way for decades.

Are you handling different types of products? A greater volume? Have you moved to a new space (bigger or smaller)? If so, make a note of such factors. This kind of information will help your forklift dealer or materials handling specialist work with you to determine the best solution for your needs.

But at a more basic level, the process of discovering how to do things more efficiently involves a more thorough analysis of:

  • How your product comes in
  • How it’s handled within your warehouse, and
  • How it goes out

Expect most forklift dealers to be very inquisitive about the logistical side of the equation. In fact, many of them won’t just want to hear about your work space and workflow, they’ll likely want to make at least one site visit so they can actually see it.

The company that just wants to sell you a forklift will be happy to sell you that shiny new piece of equipment. But the dealer who’s truly looking out for your best interests will want to expand the conversation to one of warehouse challenges and solutions.

They’ll be interested in the details of how material moves through your warehouse or distribution center — the height of your shelves, the width of your aisles, the weight of your typical and heaviest loads.

Several of the key factors that impact warehouse efficiency include:

Touches

Don’t be surprised if the dealer asks about the number of “touches” that occur from the time materials enter your warehouse until they exit the premises, because reducing that number is one obvious way to increase efficiency.

For example, there are a range of (belt and roller) conveyor systems that can be customized to your space to help facilitate a smoother, speedier workflow while reducing handling costs for repetitive tasks.

Aisles sizes

Do narrow aisles create a need for specialized equipment? Do unnecessarily wide aisles create an opportunity to gain storage space by reorganizing?

In the first instance, there are many options available for versatile narrow aisle forklifts capable of operating in tight quarters.

In the second, many materials handling providers are adept at making suggestions for smart reorganization and offering products to help create a more efficient warehouse layout. These include automatic storage and retrieval systems, high-density storage solutions such as SpeedCell and a wide range of pallet storage racks.

Vertical space

Of course, it’s not just the arrangement of the horizontal space that is of interest to warehouse suppliers and planners. Suppose your warehouse has 20- or 30-foot-high ceilings, but most of the action happens at ground level. Such a scenario introduces numerous possibilities for better utilizing that available space.

Erecting higher shelving and making sure you have lift equipment with the necessary reach and power to handle the job is one way to accomplish this.

But options for maximizing your vertical space also include installing durable and versatile mezzanines that can add a second or third level inside your facility.

Warehouse mezzanines can be used to create:

  • New production or storage space
  • Stockrooms or locker rooms
  • Parts departments
  • Records storage
  • Modular in-plant offices

Professionally engineered and designed to meet all building codes, such mezzanines are backed by a lifetime structural warranty.

Equipment

Taking inventory of your existing equipment will help you determine whether the machines you’re using are powerful enough to handle your particular height and weight requirements safely and without unnecessary wear and tear.

But such an analysis could also reveal that you are devoting too much power to certain applications, for example using a bigger machine when a smaller one could save energy while handling the same workload.

Personnel

Warehouse logistics also means making sure your workers do not suffer unnecessary wear and tear, that they have the tools they need to do the job safely and efficiently, and that they aren’t placed in situations that end up needlessly slowing down the process.

For example, lifting a substantial weight may be easy for a rugged warehouse worker. But if that same weight must be lifted repeatedly throughout the shift, or if the worker has to reach too high or too low to move it, a bit of mechanical assistance may boost operational efficiency.

Most forklift dealers and warehouse suppliers offer a range of ergonomic solutions that promote productivity and reduce injuries in the workplace, including lift tables, tilters and pallet positioners; hand trucks, scissor lifts and overhead cranes.

Automation

Automating certain functions in the picking, packing and shipping process is another way to boost efficiency within a warehouse environment, potentially helping to reduce the number of times that workers need to touch products and orders.

For example, robotic automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and vision guided vehicles (VGVs) are capable of hauling large loads throughout the warehouse with programmable navigation that includes the ability to automatically slow down or stop if they “see” someone or something in the way and then resume when the obstacle is gone.

You may also find it helpful to talk about high-tech opportunities to better manage your distribution system — for example, logistics management software that can provide real time stock management and inventory control while enabling greater synchronization throughout your warehouse.

What are your biggest warehouse challenges? Feel free to drop us a line. We love to talk about solutions.

10 Questions You Need to Ask Before You Buy a Forklift
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10 Questions You Need to Ask Before You Buy a Forklift

Asking the right questions will help you select the right equipment to get the job done. We created this free eBook packed with valuable information to help you make a more informed decision.

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