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Optimizing warehouse labor is much more than hiring the right number of workers. The actual work they do should be optimized as well for peak productivity. This requires having a modern warehouse management system that can collect and analyze the data from your warehouse.
This might seem counterintuitive, as the trend in management right now is to avoid micro-managing your labor. Although good employees do not have to be micro-managed, they still are your most important and useful asset. Good managers, then, learn to use their workforce in the most efficient ways possible. This is not micro-management, so much as finding ways for your workers to do more work with less effort.
The low-hanging fruit in labor optimization is in scheduling. There are naturally peaks and valleys in purchase volume. When purchasing is slow, excess labor capacity is wasted money; but businesses must also be able to deploy labor as needed when purchasing spikes. Not having the needed labor on hand can lead to slowdowns, bottlenecks, and unnecessary overtime pay.
Ideally, floor managers should be made aware of potential labor shortfalls with enough advance warning to do something about them, such as bringing on additional temporary labor. This way they can keep a smaller “core” workforce, augmenting it during peak times with workers hired just in time to meet the surging demand.
Accounts of warehouse employees on the internet tell tales of pickers having to walk 11 miles or more in a single shift. This much walking makes workers tired and thus more prone to error, injury, and declines in productivity.
Not only is that a gruelling pace for employees, it surely represents some inefficiencies in warehouse layout and pick methodologies. Optimizing routes through the warehouse can cut down on the time needed to pick orders and total distance walked. This kind of optimization would have to be done by computer.
Many warehouses still pick orders one at a time. A picker will receive an order, venture into the warehouse to get the relevant items, bring them to the packing area, and then move on to the next order. This method produces multiple trips to multiple areas throughout the day.
There are better methods—wave picking, for example. In wave picking, a warehouse worker is tasked with picking up items for several orders at once, following an optimized route. Such picking activity comes in short intervals, called “waves.” By picking in waves, labor is more efficiently distributed throughout the day and can be more easily monitored and managed. The end result is better productivity overall.
Wave picking and other methods require a WMS that can coordinate and time the release of waves to the warehouse throughout a given time period.
Most warehouses go through “growing pains” as they expand. Many managers find that they hit a given size and then plateau, unable to grow larger or become faster, because the organization and optimization just are not there.
If your own operation is unable to grow because you just can’t seem to rein in the chaos, it might be time to consider some of the above ideas. Switching to Infoplus will allow you to better manage your labor through better scheduling, route optimization, pick paths, and real-time data.
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