Case study

Ways to Improve Production Warehouse Efficiency

Oct 25, 2022 | Pallet Racking

The manufacturing sector is constantly developing with environmental and technological factors driving new innovations and ambitions of growth, and for production this can demand new pathways towards goals as practical undertakings become more varied.

To prevent obstacles forming, the operational environment would need to undergo a degree of corresponding adjustments in an effort to keep pace with evolving demand. The following tips will help you determine your focus areas and guide you through effective space and inventory management solutions as you plan for current and future needs.

#1. Conduct an operational audit

In order to inject more efficiency into your operation, you first need to identify problem areas. An operational audit will communicate those areas to enable you to plan improvements strategically. This process can be viewed as a “research mission” where valid data reflecting the competencies and shortfalls of your operation is gathered and then analysed. A detailed eye and a good comprehension of your operation is required if the audit is to be gainful, therefore a senior warehouse leader would normally be appointed as auditor for in-house evaluations.

Whilst an operational audit is an advised course of action at times of constrained productivity, the procedure can also be adopted as part of an ongoing improvement strategy. Periodic audits can aid the containment of serious production issues at times of sudden growth because it enables a constant alignment to change.

Warehouse inventory calulations

#2. Give right of way to space, flexibility and flow

These are your three main priorities when considering production warehouse improvements, because all three are equally influential on how a growing operation is managed.

Space

Growth will almost certainly eat into your space, but when directed into the space strategically it will lose its heaviness and become more manageable. If at first glance the space seems to be operating at capacity, before the notion of a costly relocation or building extension, you may want to consider the following:

Could your racks be increased in height? If there is adequate space between the current racking height level and ceiling, this void could be utilised for storage by adding further levels to your racking or shelving system. By doing so, you are effectively increasing storage capacity within the same surface area, so without compromising floor space, higher inventory volumes can be supported. Even at such height, direct access can still be achieved by using a high reaching fork lift truck or incorporating floors with access staircases to form a multi tier shelving system.

Could footprint utilisation be enhanced? Looks can be deceiving, so if your floor space seems to have reached capacity, it may be time to think out of the box:

Reduce racking aisle width – This configuration has a lot to offer in terms of effective space utilisation because whilst narrower aisles allow for additional rows, the racks can also be built to ceiling height as already mentioned. This is known as a VNA racking solution and is ideal for those with limited floor space, generous height space and who are looking to store more pallets with the ability to pick selectively.

Consider deep storage – Even within a limited square footage, you can achieve high-volume storage by doing away with multiple working aisles to create more storage opportunities. Deep storage structures which can utilise up to 90% of your floor space consist of multiple deep running lanes in which pallets or units are stored in a single file. As a pallet is loaded from the frontal face of the structure it pushes the rest deeper into the lane. Pallets can be picked and loaded from the same frontal face which furthers storage capacity, or loaded from the front and picked from the rear to incorporate the FIFO (First-in First-out) method.

Implement an upper level floor – A mezzanine floor solution is a steel structured, semi permanent floor level designed and constructed to create more usable floor space in your production warehouse. The great advantage of a mezzanine floor solution is the bespoke design which ensures a perfect fit for your space, use and preferences. The ground floor remains uncompromised whilst the mezzanine floor accommodates the additional office staff, production machines or storage areas.

Office mezzanine in production facility

Flexibility

Variability in demand is a common occurrence for manufacturers so ensuring you have the ability to adapt to varying processes, stock levels and workload is essential. Without room to manoeuvre, your operation could suffer enough strain to hinder productivity and effect profitability as a result. Providing your operation with more elasticity are future proof designs or highly versatile and easy to adjust storage solutions. A mezzanine floor for example may only need to be a certain size to support your current needs, however in the light of anticipated growth the platform can be extended without implications through a future proof design. Long span shelving or standard wide aisle racking systems are both examples of easy to adjust solutions because they incorporate beams that can be repositioned to accommodate a change in inventory needs. Similarly, the arms of a cantilever racking which is a highly robust solution for long and heavy loads can be repositioned to accommodate varying inventory dimensions and weight loads.

Flow

Streamlining your processes so that each function seamlessly runs into the next is how you achieve effective flow management and this is supported by an optimal warehouse layout with a racking layout to match. From a birds-eye view, your layout should see goods and people following an orderly direction without back and fourth motion as they travel from function to function. From the point of raw material entering the facility to the point of finished goods leaving, there should be a singular route along which departments and functions are placed in sequenced order. Guiding your most optimal route are your inventory entry and exit points and as shown in the diagram below, they dictate the directional shape. Departments are then placed in sequence order along your U, L or I shaped route.

Inventory directional flow diagrams

#3. Look at systemisation to enhance labour performance

Labour is an invaluable resource for manufactures, and yet it’s one of the most costly, but whilst reducing staff numbers may sound like the most obvious way to cut costs, sacrificing required resources is likely to be far more costly to the business. Instead the goal is to see a return on your labour costs through advanced labour performance promoted by optimal solutions designed to simplify processes. Whilst the layout of your facility will play a role in process efficiency, there are ways in which operator tasks can be simplified to promote ease of use, speed and accuracy:

The FIFO (First-in First-out) system – Manual stock rotation is both time consuming and open to human error, both of which can cost greatly, however the task is crucial for manufacturers of perishable goods such as food or medicinal items. Accuracy and speed is critical for those prioritising stock rotation which is why systemised storage operating on the FIFO basis is recommended. The space-saving dense structures have two aisles running parallel just outside of the racks, one on the loading face and one on the picking face. There are varying types of FIFO systems to consider and these include:

Pallet live racking – Once loaded, a pallet will make its way to the picking face as more units are loaded behind it, creating an assisted stock rotation system. The base of the slightly sloped deep running lanes are made up of rollers on which the pallets move forward as more are loaded. Pallet live racking can be suitable in any industry where there is a need to efficiently manage high volumes of perishable goods and the system works perfectly well with a standard FLT

Shuttle racking – The FIFO configured shuttle racking system uses radio controlled shuttles on which the pallets are loaded using a standard FLT to transport the pallets to the picking face. The more shuttles you have, the faster the processes so you can incorporate shuttle numbers to suite the speed of your operation.

Drive-through racking – This structure is without horizontal beams and this creates a tall tunnelled lane in which the FLT can enter at apposing sides to place and retrieve the pallets which rest on supporting rails. The pallets are placed and picked in a back to back, bottom to top sequence. A standard FLT is suited to a drive-through racking system, however a side seated truck will provider the operator with higher visibility.

Carton live shelving – Deep sloped shelves fitted with rollers, carton live shelving can simplify stock rotation in fast paced operations that are managing hand loaded goods. As the operator loads goods on one side, the picker collects from the opposite side.

Utilise the experience of your workforce to power through peak periods and to enable the less experienced employees to learn from with on-the job training. Cross-training is another way to heighten workforce productivity because widens knowledge and experience amongst the team therefore increasing competency in varying roles and tasks.

#4. Adopt energy saving storage configurations

The cost of energy is something everyone is talking about right now and whilst you may have implemented LED lighting, sensor lights and switching off unused equipment to reduce your consumption, have you considered energy saving storage configurations? The larger the footprint area used for storage, the more there is to light or even more costly, keep at a specific temperature. Deep storage replaces widely spread racking rows with one very compact structure requiring only a limited amount of footprint area. That’s a smaller area to keep lit and keep at temperature which means less energy consumption and lower costs whilst at the same time, your storage capacity it increased.

#5.  Ensure safe movement

Congested, heavy traffic is something any production warehouse would want to avoid because it can cause hold ups in production and accidents are more likely. For operators on foot you can ensure safe passage as they travel the facility by creating segregated walkways using barriers, railings and painted floor sections. This enables the FLT operators to use the vehicle only sections without risk of causing injury to people in the proximity. Another collision concern involving the FLT is knocks and bumps into the storage structures they are working with and navigating between, so it is important to ensure aisle are clear of obstruction as part of your regular warehouse cleanliness standards. In the event of accidental bumps, the structures can weaken overtime, particularly if repeatedly bumped which is why end of rack barriers, upright protectors or mezzanine floor column guards are advisable. Accidental knocks may be inevitable, however having been placed at the most vulnerable areas, these protection barriers will safeguard the structure.

Narrow ailse racking

#6 Prioritise safe use of equipment and working practices

Production warehouse efficiency relies heavily on safe operational processes, working practices and equipment. Cutting corners when it comes to safety will increase the risk of accidents which can lead to enormous costs both financially and reputational. There are countless ways to help you to improve the safety of your operation, these include:

Staff training – Knowledge in itself is power, so by providing effective safety training, you are providing your staff with knowledge that will help to keep them and everyone around them safe. Given the various machinery, equipment and structures in a production warehouse, safe use and conduct is essential and whilst some areas may be obvious, training must be thorough to ensure the highest level of safe working practices are demonstrated continuously.

Safety inspections – Over time, machinery, equipment and storage structures can suffer the consequences of knocks, bumps or general ware and tare and this is why safety inspections are so important, because they help to ensure safety is maintained. An annual rack inspection for example, can detect weaknesses or damage that may not be immediately visible and so without detection could go on to cause a catastrophic incident.

Safety labels – Placed on machinery, equipment and storage structures, labelling provide immediate guidance as and when required. Weight load notices placed on the pallet racking structure is one example. The clearly illustrated notices advise operators of the maximum load capacity along with details on how to use the structure safely.

Mesh cages – These are particularly useful in manufacturing settings where sophisticated machinery is in use. The mesh caging can be placed around machines and areas that only authorised personnel should have access too. The wired mesh panels give full visibility to the segregated area, whilst safeguarding people in the vicinity or acting as extra security for high value inventory such as components or finished goods.

chute mesh caging

A helping hand from WSL

WSL have a strong team of design technicians whose experience and knowledge you can rely on when it comes to implementing the right solutions to improve the efficiency of your warehouse. Call 0113 2045350 or email sales@wslmail.co.uk to arrange a free site survey at your convenience.

 

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