Nowadays, warehouses need to be more productive, and in a smaller spaces than ever before. Not only is the cost of property and labour going up, but consumers are expecting more and service is becoming king.
This is one of many reasons why warehouses need to become more flexible, proactive and efficient - every day. The following 8 points have been designed to help make your warehouse more productive so you can meet these ever increasing needs, while keeping your staff safe. A healthy, happy workplace is always one that will be able to strive to meet both the customer's needs and the business goals.
Safety and warehouse operations go hand-in-hand. It not only to maximises productivity and efficient handling of material, but also contributes to making warehouse operations less risky. Both smaller basic warehouses and multi-network warehouses need to ensure their operational safety and efficiency is up-to-scratch.
1. Limit forklift use around staff to reduce risk of injury
In a warehouse, forklifts are used to move and lift pallets and other larger and awkward products. However, forklifts have a high risk of accidents and can have disastrous effects when they do happen. According to WorkSafe New Zealand, between 1 May 2017 until 30 June 2017, there were 7 workplace fatalities involving moving machinery like forklifts. This is why it is important to work on safe operational practices, and wherever possible, reduce the number of forklifts in areas where other staff will be walking and potentially in the path of a forklift.
Alternative ways of handling, receiving and storing items, should be looked at in order to minimise the number of forklifts in operations. Undoubtedly, it is time-consuming to do so and may result in an initial outlay, but it will be beneficial in the long run.
2. Ensure the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn
Your company is required to provide your team with the resources and tools they need to be safe and secure - including protective clothing. Personal protective equipment includes things like protective outfits, safety goggles, helmets, gloves, footwear and safety harnesses and equipment or clothing intended to protect the workers from any possible injuries or other risks. Be sure to assess the environment your team is in, and provide relevant PPE accordingly.
It is vital to ensure any of this equipment doesn't hinder sight or movement, and doesn't endanger personnel. Only use what is required and do not go overboard.
3. Using safe racking equipment, palletising practices, and efficient packing and dispatch processes.
Pallets or goods falling from racking is extremely dangerous. Even a smaller item can pick up reasonable speed and weight when falling from height, and if it hits someone the effects can be awful. Not only is it risking your staff’s lives, but there is a loss of inventory. Items should be carefully stored.
Shrink-wrapping each pallet should be done carefully and in a manner so it won’t break. It is good to wrap or strap the load down on the pallet. Running a few loops of tape around it is also a good practice to ensure the load has minimal movement. Ensure the plastic wrap is not pierced or ripped, as it can weaken the loads containment force. If it is ripped, tape up the tear or just put more plastic wrap on. It doesn’t matter if it is put over top, as it will still help strengthen it. Automatic pallet wrappers do a good job, but even just a turntable or running around the pallet is sufficient.
The other option is to put up safety netting to catch anything if it happens to fall. Other alternative options include pallet racking restraints, which keeps the items from falling in the first place. This is a good idea with items that are awkward and more likely to fall, and any loose items should be retained in bins or cages.
When unloading or loading pallets, it is important that the person loading it doesn’t have to strain, reach and bend. Using scissor lift tables or turntables at a relaxed and stable operational height will mean that team members will not have to bend and reach as much, reducing the risk of injury and helping to deal with pallets quicker.
Conveyors can also be a great help as the infeed and outfeeds for this equipment. Rollers can be integrated into the table top too, reducing load on employees. Gravity roller conveyors or other conveyors taking the pallets away from those loading it, means that the forklifts removing the finished pallets and packages don’t get close to other staff members.
Picking, packing and dispatch
Dividing the warehouse up into areas and having automation internally is an excellent idea. This means the palletising, packing and dispatch areas can be free of forklifts, having just conveyors to move pallets and goods. Having a conveyor in the warehouse like the picture below, means the order pickers don’t need to move so far each time they pick an order. All they need to do is deliver the order to a conveyor, which will move them to the packing and dispatch area. From dispatch, conveyors can deliver pallets and goods out to the awaiting trucks and couriers. If needed, forklifts can be used outside. Keeping forklifts from operating in these areas means staff are at less risk of an accident. This leads us to our next suggestion, the usage of conveyors.
4. Using conveyors to aid in warehouse productivity and safety
Conveyors can be used to increase productivity and efficiency, while improving the safety throughout the workplace. There is quite a risk operating forklifts where people are moving around packing goods, so reducing the number, or taking them out all together helps. Conveyors also limit the amount of manual lifting and shifting of heavy or awkward goods, which in turn can reduce the risk of back and other injuries to your team.
Conveyors can be integrated with equipment such as packing tables, taping machines, labellers and more. They can handle a huge range of sizes, from tiny goods all the way up to pallets. Automation can reduce the amount of labour needed and ensure product isn’t damaged.
The running costs of conveyors is lower than other methods, such as using forklifts or just human labour. They do need to be maintained and will need to use electricity, however these costs are relatively low especially once you consider the savings. We recommend an overall maintenance check once every quarter along with continual preventative maintenance, but this depends on the requirements and demand on the system. As safety is a big issue in any operation and is important to us, we design all conveyors to be as safe as possible. Any dangerous areas are guarded, and we can fit E-Stops and Lanyards wherever needed.
Having a conveyor system running to the end of each row of racking means that the order pickers can spend more time picking and restocking racking, instead of wasting time going all the way to the dispatch area and back again. This optimises productivity and efficiency and means more orders can be dispatched quicker, all with of a smaller carbon footprint. In larger warehouses, it could mean less order pickers are needed overall. This all helps to get a higher inventory turnover, making the warehouse more lean, effective, and decreasing labour.
Contrary to common stereotypes, conveyors and conveyor systems don’t have to be big and complicated. Dispatch areas can be improved, and very simply. Gravity conveyors are often enough for this, and we have many happy clients with these sorts of systems. Delfast Fasteners is one of these.
5. Protect warehouse equipment and staff with barriers, and clean up any spills or mess that could cause accidents
Barriers and guide rails can reduce the risk of damage and falls, and is recommended in any warehouse. Railings are a must on ramps and other places there is a drop-off. It is also a good idea to put barriers around pallet racking so products don't become damaged by forklifts, and around packing stations, conveyors and any other things that could be driven into and damaged.
Make sure your warehouse is reasonably clean, tidy, and dry to improve safety for the team. It is important that employees understand the importance of keeping the workplace clean and tidy. Untidy areas and passageways increase the potential for slips and trips.
The aisles and passageways in a warehouse must be kept clear and clean. Make sure employees clear and sufficiently clean around doorways and loading ports as mess is made. Racking and shelves should be organised and tidy. Netting or other safety methods for keeping goods from falling is also important to consider, and keeps products from messing up the floor.
6. Train your staff to create a culture of improvement and safety
Safety training sessions can help employees become safer and more valuable members of your team. Someone may be specialised in one area, but they need to really understand how the business runs overall and how to keep everyone safe to reduce the risk of injuries. Properly trained employees are valuable, and will help you maximise productivity.
Asking for their feedback and suggestions is a great way to improve and increase employee engagement. These training and feedback sessions need to be done on a regular basis to ensure any changes in policy or procedures are enforced, and any bad habits are stopped - solving problems quickly and successfully before they become habitual. It also keeps newer employees up to speed and encourages the staff to become more of a team.
The distribution of information helps to minimise chances of health and safety risks, and maximises productivity and inclusion. Include cross-training so that your workers have the expertise to manage more than one kind of job.
Accidents are most likely to occur when workers try to take short cuts to save time. If your team is aware of the consequences that can arise from this and training is properly done, the risk will be reduced. And if staff are trying to save time, discuss with them why they need to save time and if they have any suggestions on ways to make the warehouse more efficient - your team can have many valuable ideas here!
A culture of care is always an advantage as well. Keeping staff safe and showing them you care for them and value them helps them to be inspired to put more effort into their work. It helps to teach them to treat other team members the same way, resulting in a team that is more tight knit and looks out for each other. When people are emotionally invested they want to contribute, which in turn will help productivity and profitability.
7. Use automation to reduce labour costs in the warehouse and increase accuracy
Not only can automation help warehouses accomplish efficiency, but it can also be less costly than human labour - especially as the minimum wage is rising.
Automation is an influential tool and comes in various forms and shapes. In a warehouse, automation is usually used to make improvements to current operations by refining speed of dispatch, effectiveness of picking, accuracy on orders and cost savings.
Automation in a warehouse can free up space, as forklifts take up more room and need room to turn. Using automation often means the aisles and other spaces don’t need to be as wide or as big. Where space is restricted, switching to automation can free up extra space for other operations. It makes the most effective use of space; when building new, many savings can be had, as the floor area doesn’t need to be as large to accommodate the same amount of storage.
AGVs (automated guided vehicles) are the most advanced version of automation in warehouses (at the moment), and a good automated conveyor system integrated with other automation equipment can be very effective and costs substantially less. Even integrating conveyors with AGVs is a very good proposition to consider, as it means the AGVs do not have to travel as far when picking goods. This is the future of warehousing, and the future has already started!
8. Dimension goods to save shipping costs
Using dimensioning equipment is another way to save costs and make your warehouse more efficient. Instead of just estimating the volume of a package, or measuring it for getting the freight costs, dimensioning equipment calculates it precisely which can help you reduce costs.
Freight companies charge extra if package sizes are underestimated, but they don’t give a credit for items that are smaller than dimensioned. This is a quick win cost saving that could be made.
QubeVu, inventor of the fastest and quickest dimensioning equipment, has made it simpler and easier for warehouses have this technology set up. The return on investment is amazing. We supply QubeVu dimensioning equipment, and it is unique in the fact that it can dimension not only square or rectangular parcels, but any shape!
So, what's the rush to become safer & more efficient?
With the minimum wage rising and tightening of safety laws in New Zealand, there is no better time to invest in ways to save labour. Labour accounts for 50-70% of the average warehousing budget for a business, so there is plenty we all can improve on! The above tips are sure to help aid this, and let us know if we are missing anything!
We would love to help you out, so give us a call if you want one of our materials handling productivity expects to give you a visit, or book a time for a call below!