Warehouses and distribution centers are facing a historic combination of factors that make it extremely difficult to keep up with demand. Between labor shortages, rising costs, supply chain problems, and surging demand from customers, it can seem like an impossible task to keep up and get ahead.
Somehow, warehouses have to get more done with less and keep customers happy, without breaking under the pressure. Fortunately, there are a few simple, cost-effective ways to maximize operational performance and not only meet today’s warehouse demands, but actually gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
In this article, we’ll take a look at two major ways we’re helping warehouses do this, using powerful warehouse management solutions: warehouse slotting and wave picking. By implementing these two strategies, warehouses are able to optimize operations, boost efficiency, get more done with less labor, and not just keep up with high demand but get ahead of it.
Let’s take a look at each of these strategies, what they involve, and how they can help you optimize your warehouse operations in a hurry.
1. Warehouse Slotting
Warehouse slotting is a process where you analyze and organize your inventory to make picking, put away, and replenishment operations faster, easier, and far more efficient. It involves analyzing a number of important factors, such as:
- SKUs and the frequency with which they’re picked
- Item dimensions, weights, groupings and Units Sold per Day
- Pick by pallets, cartons or cases
- Space utilization and storage
- Order, pick and replenishment quantities
- Picking, handling and replenishment workflows
- Workflow pathways
- Introduction of new SKUs to the warehouse
- Forecasting SKU attributes based on Seasonal Items
Quantifying and analyzing these factors help you evaluate your current warehouse and your workflows to identify the best ways to reorganize and reconfigure your physical layout and your operations for maximum efficiency.
It can help you free up space, eliminate bottlenecks and wait times, reduce picking and replenishment travel time, reduce process errors, improve inventory visibility, and minimize damage to SKUs.
Figuring all of this out might sound complicated, but it’s relatively simple when you use a dynamically integrated tool to help you, such as warehouse slotting and optimization software. At BCI, our WarehouseVision software is a powerful slotting and warehouse profiling tool that connects with your warehouse management system (WMS), crunches all the numbers, and helps you determine how you should slot your warehouse and where you need to optimize.
For example, WarehouseVision can show you how you should slot your inventory by SKU velocity. It helps you identify your fastest-moving SKUs with the most frequent picks and replenishment, so you can rearrange your layout and place them in the closest and most easily accessible locations. In contrast, you can store your slowest movers in areas that are further away and not as easily accessible, especially since those items are lower priorities.
Another way you can slot your SKUs is by zone and by how they’re picked and replenished. For example, items of certain weights or dimensions might need to be stored in a different zone for proper storage, and they might need to be accessed by ladder, forklift, or scissor lift as opposed to by hand. You might also want to consider item grouping or kitting opportunities, where you can slot items that are commonly picked together in the same zone for faster picking or easier assembly of your kits.
These are just a couple of examples of the many ways you can use data from WarehouseVision to conduct a full slotting analysis to optimize your warehouse storage inventory and all related processes.
2. Wave Picking
Wave picking, or cluster picking, is an order picking process that releases specific orders to the warehouse floor according to factors such as shipping date, similar items, items that are typically picked together, warehouse zone, and others.
It’s a proven strategy for improving picking efficiencies and getting more out of a limited workforce by scheduling picking in waves. This allows workers to pick and fulfill orders faster and more strategically, with a focus on specific SKUs, optimal inventory locations and pathways, shipping and departure times, carriers, and other considerations.
For example, you might wait to schedule a picking wave until all orders for a particular SKU have come in or to meet a particular deadline, so pickers aren’t left waiting. Or you might schedule a wave of picking for a particular zone, where items that are often ordered together are stored, so pickers can quickly retrieve items, kit and assemble them, and get them off to shipping.
You can define and schedule different types of waves based on differing factors and on criteria that makes sense for your customers and your warehouse. But the one common denominator is that it’s all about making the most of your picking workforce, avoiding a more random approach to picking, and enabling timely shipping with reduced bottlenecks and less travel time or waiting around.
Built by WMS implementation experts, Inyxa EasyPick is a mobile picking application that’s easy to use, quick to deploy, and a highly efficient automated picking solution. EasyPick offers an adaptive user interface with picking productivity analytics and multiple optimized workflows. The progressive web application is optimized for seamless integration with phones, tablets, PCs and a wide variety of handheld devices and printers, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems such as Oracle.
Using BCI’s inventory management solutions, mobile-picking software EasyPick and warehouse optimization tool WarehouseVision, you can easily identify the best ways to logically group your order picking waves, along with all the key factors you should consider. Then you can start scheduling your waves when all considerations are right for maximum efficiency.
When it’s time to actually pick orders and get the job done, it’s also ideal to provide your workers with the right mobile automation technologies to help them receive pick lists, pick orders along the most efficient paths, validate correct picks with bar code scans, print and apply bar code labels when needed, and streamline each step in the process. There are many great hardware options that can help with this, particularly from Zebra, one of our key partners in helping warehouses optimize.
From rugged warehouse mobile computers and tablets with built-in bar code scanners to hands-free wearable technologies and bar code label printers for high-efficiency warehouse workflows, Zebra is continuously developing new solutions to keep warehouses ahead of the game. And the right application of these technologies, with smart warehouse slotting and wave picking strategies, can be some of the key ways you can do the same.
To learn more about the best ways to optimize your warehouse and how our WarehouseVision and EasyPick softwares and Zebra hardware can help, visit us now at www.bciincorporated.com/Warehouse-Modernization/ where you can contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.