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Manufacturing Industry Updates Supply Chain Industry Updates

Unraveling the Secrets to Warehouse Modernization for Small and Growing Operations

iStock/Andrii Borodai

Warehouse leaders recognize that modernizing their operations is critical, but many aren’t quite sure how to get started. In fact, 77% of surveyed warehouse IT and operational decision-makers say they need to modernize their warehouse operations but admit they are slow to implement new devices and technology.

This can be particularly true for small- and medium-sized warehouse operators who must support the same complex processes as larger operations, but may not have the IT resources needed to find the most appropriate technology solutions. All too frequently, these warehouse operators end up with an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution that does not directly address their specific needs or support their growth. These mistakes often lead to costly, disruptive redeployments and a whole new set of problems.

That’s where conducting an in-depth assessment of warehouse operations can help. To maximize return on investment (ROI), small- to medium-sized warehouse operators need a technology provider that spends time assessing their inbound, outbound and internal operations to see exactly where they can gain efficiencies. At a high level, the operational assessment should answer three key questions.

What Are My Operational Priorities and Benchmarks?

The first step in determining how technology can help streamline operations is delineating precisely what needs to be accomplished each day, week or month. For instance, knowing how many stock keeping units (SKUs) are stocked, controlled and handled — as well as what customers’ expectations are for order turnaround time or other aspects of what they would consider to be a “perfect order” — can go a long way in helping improve operational efficiencies.

Furthermore, determining what level of order accuracy is specified in customer service contracts and how many orders must be processed will also be critical for setting expectations.

Where Can I Quickly Gain Efficiencies?

The next step is determining what inbound, outbound and internal processes are keeping your organization from meeting those priorities. For example, on the inbound or outbound side, printing customized labels for numerous materials might require employees to travel back and forth to a print station. A mobile printer could speed up operations by eliminating this wasted travel time. Perhaps a smartphone camera is currently processing packages when a wearable device with an enterprise-grade built-in scanner is better suited to increasing efficiency and worker productivity.

For internal operations, one of the areas where technology can provide the most efficiencies is picking. Research shows that wearable technology such as smart glasses and ring scanners allows warehouses to pick up to 24% more orders a day without adding extra staff.

In addition, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), often referred to as “cobots,” are used to transport materials from the picking area to the loading area, eliminating unnecessary travel time for human workers. Using AMRs to complete transportation tasks also enables employees to focus on more high-value activities.

Robots as a service (RaaS) options now allow companies to lease cobots instead of purchasing them, making them more affordable for a broader range of warehouse operators. What’s more, today’s advanced cobots can safely work beside humans, making it easier to integrate a cobot deployment into an existing warehouse design.

Another way to optimize outbound materials transport is to use efficient sensor-based load planning technology, which allows warehouse operators to maximize packing efficiency and load more materials onto each trailer.

What Technology is Right for My Operations?

The first thing to consider, of course, is whether the technology can help increase operational efficiencies. But warehouse operators recognize that it’s also important to consider safety and ease of use.

Moreover, 88% of warehouse leaders state that worker comfort and ergonomics are among their top labor initiatives in the next few years. They recognize that eliminating both wasted motion and worker discomfort leads to greater productivity and employee satisfaction.

For instance, handheld devices requiring workers to “tilt and verify” not only result in a loss of productivity but can also lead to potential repetitive motion injuries for workers. Scanners that don’t work on the first try result in productivity losses, unnecessary frustration and muscle fatigue.

Meanwhile, using ergonomically designed wearable mounts to support applications such as scanning can quickly boost productivity. Even just saving one second per scan with a wearable scanner can amount to a 4% productivity improvement — or about $1,500 per year per picker.

The Million-Dollar Question

If you could fix one thing in your operations tomorrow, what would it be? Chances are, deploying the right mobile technology can help your business resolve that issue — and gain efficiencies almost immediately.

Mark Wheeler is director of supply chain solutions for Zebra Technologies. To learn more about how technology is helping warehouse operators modernize their operations and future-ready their supply chains, click here.