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Creating an Efficient Warehouse without Complex System Logic

By George Gulliford on

Posted under: Metrics, NetSuite

Many companies think they need complex warehouse logic (like system directed putaway) to make their warehouse more efficient. But in many cases, spending time simply focused on the picking process will provide the greatest efficiency. The beauty of that truth? The need (and cost) to have complex logic disappears, and basic intuitive thought processes can be used effectively.

So where do you begin?

When looking at creating an efficient picking process, you must first look at your physical layout. Depending on the items you are picking and types of orders you are processing, the physical layout will have the greatest effect on efficiency – at the same time, it may be the hardest, slowest and most expensive to change.  If you’re moving into a new warehouse space, that is a great opportunity to reexamine your operation. But, if you’re like most and do not have that luxury, there are some easier changes that can be implemented:

  • Consider the path your employees take: Get out on the warehouse floor and literally walk the walk, identifying the path your workers take from the time they start a pick and collect the items to releasing those items and then the movement back to start a new pick. When statistical analysis is performed on the picking process, the distance traveled has the greatest impact on performance.  Minimizing the distance traveled and having no vertical movement (all items should be picked from the floor if possible) will substantially increase the number of lines pick per hour.
  • Adjust the route along the way: To reduce traveling distance, you need to take control of the path. Instead of your workers wandering aimlessly around the warehouse, give them a picking GPS. A quick and easy way to do this is to identify the frequency an item is picked from a bin (not the quantity of the item), and then place those frequently picked along the path. Just make sure to spread them out on the route. Placing all of the top-picks together will create congestion in your warehouse and cause wait times for employees to get to a bin.
  • Consider patterns in your orders: There are many ways to look at orders to determine the best placement in the warehouse, including common items that are ordered together, orders coming from unique eCommerce stores, servicing different customer channels, or even item weight, size or packing requirements. You can create various reports from NetSuite to assist in this analysis, but an understanding of the business (seasonal trends, item turnover, etc.) and your customer’s ordering profiles will be very important.

To support more efficient picking, you’ll also need an inventory control process in place. The old warehouse saying “Having the right item at the right location at the right time” is extremely important. If you’re in a preferred bin/replenishment methodology, then it’s critical items are in the preferred location (with enough quantity) to meet the picking demands – otherwise your pickers are left standing around trying to find product. And even if you’re in a pick-to-clean environment, items need to be accessible for the equipment the pickers are using.

I meant it when I said that focusing on picking can have a huge impact on the entire operation. Once you’ve determined where items will be picked from, the decision of how items will be putaway is MUCH easier. For example, if you’re using a preferred bin method, then the simple rules are: Returns go to the picking bin, small receipts go to the preferred bin, and if it is a large receipt, find an empty location close to the picking bin (you should already be standing by the preferred location).

If you’re using a mobile inventory solution, it should be showing you the preferred location – plus any other bins where the product is located to assist in this intuitive process.

Each warehouse is slightly different, and the examples I shared today might not fit your business exactly.  But taking a step back from the daily operation and bringing in a fresh set of eyes, should help you to better see what can be done to make your warehouse more efficient. Small changes over time will generally create a more efficient warehouse then trying to make a number of major changes at once.