Using technology to increase productivity and streamline operations is nothing new. But with the increase in distribution centers and a lack of labor to meet the demand, warehouse managers are looking to optimize their workflows by using innovative technology to become leaner and more efficient while reducing errors.

Common problems that lead to inefficiencies include inventory placement, inventory tracking, stocking and picking optimization, and device availability. Here are five tips for optimizing a warehouse and keeping things streamlined.

1. Leverage the Power of a WMS

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) provide a tool for managing material handling equipment, collecting and storing data, and tracking inventory flow from arrival to shipping. Combining RFID and barcode scanning with a WMS significantly automates manual entry and reduces errors as well as employees’ time spent on manual processes.

Initial implementation can be a cumbersome undertaking, but once a WMS is in place, the time and cost savings are invaluable. Most WMS can house all details of a warehouse’s operations, giving complete visibility to managers of everything from inventory status to warehouse layout to employee effectiveness. The data they capture can be placed in reports for more accurate forecasting and business decision-making.

2. Upgrade to Modern, Innovative Equipment

The equipment your company uses in your warehouse makes a significant difference in how your warehouse performs. While you may already have a fair amount of equipment in use, consider the current performance and age of that equipment. Is it still performing to specification? Are employees using that equipment experiencing any issues? Does that equipment still provide business value?

If you have any doubts about your equipment in these areas, it may be time to upgrade or even outright replace them. The advantages of upgrading include better security (which should always be a top priority), faster performance, better ergonomics for warehouse employees, as well as better compatibility with operating systems that allow certain functions to be done on mobile devices. Wearables are a great example of an equipment upgrade that might be useful to your organization in this area.

3. Stay Connected

It may seem like a no-brainer, but pay attention to wireless connectivity. Using mobile digital products and services only works if the connectivity within your facility is strong. As employees move around racking and your warehouse configuration changes, it could disrupt connectivity, which in turn will affect all Internet-based tools and devices and hit productivity hard.

Start with a site survey to determine the effectiveness of your wireless network. These can give heat maps of wireless connectivity and pinpoint weak spots, holes, and interference. Make sure to incorporate ongoing assessments, particularly if new equipment, racking, or reconfigurations come into play.

4. Manage Mobile Assets Through Automated Lockers

Warehouses invest a ton of money in equipment like scanners, mobile devices, and radios. However, sometimes things happen, and the technology goes missing or isn’t charged. Having an automated locker system in place can help protect those investments and keep them in the hands of employees when they need them.

Lockers such as the ones sold by Apex can help warehouses get control of their assets by requiring employees to return devices to a dedicated location and plug them in for charging. These lockers are intelligent digital devices where employees check in/out the equipment, giving managers full visibility of assets for each individual who works in the warehouse. The typical ROI on these solutions is less than a year.

Pairing these types of lockers with a platform like ServiceHub by TRG gives warehouses complete information on what the deployment is and how many devices are supposed to be onsite, what’s in a repair facility, and what’s due for an upgrade. ServiceHub gives insight reports detailing service call logs, history, and status, giving full transparency and awareness of hardware fleet and repair operations.

5. Upgrade to the Next Generation of Your Equipment

Often, companies look to upgrade their handheld or vehicle-mount computer when it nears end-of-service. This is actually an excellent time to consider not just an upgrade, but a change in operations overall. When a device is nearing its end, it’s a good opportunity to consider other technologies like robots, voice, and RFID.  

Incorporating RFID technology alongside barcoding is another huge time-saver. RFID tags don’t need to be seen in order to be scanned, so consider that a win for warehouses with a large inventory to sort through. Similarly, employees can be equipped with RFID tagged bracelets or other wearables, and their movements can be tracked and analyzed to find efficiency holes (like a poor warehouse setup creating difficulty moving around) or transparency for accountability.

RFID also improves accuracy, giving warehouse managers the ability to track inventory in their WMS and ensure correct deliveries. Robots, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones can be equipped with RFID scanners and can scan up to 200 tags at once to ramp up productivity.

Voice-directing systems are another innovative solution that can optimize warehouse processes. Warehousing staff can focus on picking with both hands-free while communicating information to a WMS through a headset or wearable device. The WMS can then give staff members instructions for next steps. All of the data gathered from these technologies can be housed in the WMS for easy analysis and management.

Robots are the hot ticket item these days, with the ability to automate warehouse operations such as picking, sorting, and scanning. Having a fleet of robots on hand can help mitigate employee safety risks, reduce errors, speed up processes, and deliver significant long-term cost savings. Robotic equipment often uses artificial intelligence (AI) for continuous machine learning, finding the path of least resistance and real-time optimization.

Pricing has become much more affordable, and user interfaces are simpler than they were several years ago, making robotics an achievable solution for optimizing warehouse operations. Taking advantage of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) options available from some third-party suppliers can make for an even more affordable solution.

If you’d like to learn more about these options for optimization, don’t hesitate to contact us. TRG has helped countless companies across the globe make improvements for the better, and we’re here to help you, too.