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Warehouse Productivity

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Productivity in an operation is driven by many elements. Improving productivity means reviewing each element and optimising it. No one has an ideal warehouse and unless you are lucky enough to be looking at a new facility the scope to tackle some of the elements can be limited.  However LPC is of the view that just because you have constraints on your operation – old building, doors in the wrong place, IT systems etc., does not mean that you cannot improve your productivity. If you can’t change what you have you can change how you use it.

The elements of the operation that are facility dependent such as design, layout and material flows generally require a re-engineering exercise to investigate and identify opportunities for improvement.

The elements that are activity related apply to virtually all operations, and can offer opportunities to improve productivity.  These can be split into three categories:

  • Product Location and Slotting
  • Workflow and Resource Planning
  • Order Management and Fulfilment
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Product Location and Slotting

A key driver of productivity is the location of products.  If you can locate products in such a way that you reduce the amount of walking involved in the picking operation you will increase your productivity.  Every business has products (SKUs) with varying levels of popularity - its fast movers, medium movers and slow movers or ABC SKUs.  The fast moving A’s should be placed in location closest to packing or despatch with B’s and C’s further away.  Some companies have very static pick faces with an unchanging demand profile, while others are very seasonal or fashion driven with rapidly changing SKUs and demand profiles.

If you can match your pickface to your demand profile you have optimised one of the elements in keeping your productivity high.  Your warehouse management system (WMS) should be able to support you in identifying SKU popularity and providing the reporting to enable you to update the pickface as SKUs and demand changes.  

There are four things to consider in locating or slotting your products:

Location Map

Look at your pickface layout and allocate a movement category to each pick location or group of locations with A’s at the front, B’s behind them and C’s at the back. Remember to take account of the physical layout of your racking and shelving and allow for what the resultant pick tour looks like and make use of cross aisles  or up one aisle and back on the next to ensure that the pick route is not extended where unnecessary.

Categorise Products

Identify the SKUs by popularity and rank them so you can allocate to the locations with the same movement category, A’s to A’s etc.

Manage New Products

New Products don’t have any history. It is a simple fact, but means that your WMS has no data on popularity and cannot therefore suggest what to do with it.  Typically something of an arbitrary decision of where to locate a new product will have to be made.  It may well turn out to be wrong, but the quicker it is moved to the correct position when actual demand starts the less your productivity will take a hit.

Location Size

The right product in the right location will improve picking productivity, but don’t forget to consider productivity across the whole operation.  As demand depletes the quantity in the pick locations, you will have to replenish the pickface from the reserve store.  The size of the location will impact the replenishment frequency – a larger location will reduce the replenishment frequency for popular movers and therefore eh labour involved.  However extending too many locations will involve the physical size of the pickface growing bigger, which may not be possible and increasing the length of pick tours and reducing pick productivity.

Improving Your Slotting

Improving slotting depends on the capability of your WMS.  If your WMS is not capable of identifying ABC categories or helping you to you might want to consider using the ABC Profiling and analysis Tool developed by LPC

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