3 Ways to Optimize Storage and Shelving for Ecommerce Growth
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E-commerce activity was growing steadily prior to the pandemic—but it’s no secret that COVID-19 quickly and drastically changed consumers’ shopping habits. Nearly half the U.S. population has permanently changed how they shop, with an emphasis on making more online purchases, global consulting firm AlixPartners found in a recent study. After all, online shopping is a safe and usually convenient way for consumers to get what they need.
To keep up with this shift, warehouses and distribution centers have had to adjust to accommodate the increase in ecommerce activity.
Continually re-assessing storage and shelving layout and functionality is a great example. With proper planning, warehouse shelving and storage systems can put valuable time back on the clock for workers who are focused on productivity and meeting tight deadlines. But when put together poorly or in a piecemeal fashion, storage and shelving systems can create material-handling inefficiencies that lead to delays and frustration for workers and consumers.
If you’re looking to maximize available square footage while accommodating this unavoidable growth in ecommerce activity, then try these three pointers to get the most out of your warehouse shelving and storage systems.
1. Make changes to support more efficient picking
An increase in ecommerce activity means more picking for your crew. Although it’s a labor-intensive process, you can roll out a combination of workflow changes and technology improvements (which work in tandem with product and process improvements) to decrease the amount of time they spend pulling the right products. These improvements also help your warehouse or distribution center scale quickly to fulfill increasing numbers of orders.
Workflow changes to consider:
- Try cluster picking. With this approach, a worker visits an area once to pick items for multiple orders at the same time. This reduces how often they must revisit a specific pick location. Sometimes called “batch picking,” cluster picking helps workers minimize travel time and fulfill small orders faster.
- Optimize slotting based on data from past orders. For example: Examine your inventory and see how you can strategically place material pick-bin locations to put the most popular items in easily accessible areas. This can remove guesswork for your team, minimize material handling, and decrease the amount of time workers spend looking for a specific SKU.
- Streamline the walking path from picking stations to packing stations to shipping. The elimination of unnecessary steps can be accomplished using conveyors or by shortening travel distances between these locations.
Technology changes to consider:
- Install pick-to-light systems. Light indicators mounted in designated locations (such as on warehouse shelving, workstations, and pallet racks) guide workers to the right place without them having to guess where they’re going or stopping to read a piece of paper.
- Deploy mobile printers. These devices let workers print the labels they need at the point of application instead of going back and forth to the printing station. This reduces the distance they must travel, saving valuable time.
- Use a workflow management system. By storing and managing important information about inventory, order fulfillment, and packing, a workflow management system provides valuable insight into warehouse and distribution center operations at all times.
2. Improve labeling to reduce slip ups
There’s no way to completely avoid human error in a warehouse or distribution center, but simple changes can help reduce the potential for mistakes.
A great place to start is with the labeling for warehouse shelving and storage systems. Be sure to consistently label all inventory (and position the labels in the same place from location to location) so crew members know exactly where to look.
When updating labels over time, make sure the old labels can’t be seen through the new labels. To prevent this from happening, remove the old labels or be sure the new labels are opaque enough to cover the old labels completely. Otherwise, you’ll likely encounter scanning errors that slow work down. Applying too many layers over an existing label can also lead to curling and peeling down the road. At some point, you’ll want to remove all the old labels and start with a fresh surface.
Be sure to consider your warehouse environment when selecting labels as well. If there’s lots of dust and dirt, moisture, or temperature fluctuations, for example, be sure to select labels that can withstand those conditions.
Finally, consider using smart labels and RFID tracking to improve the material-handling process. They drastically reduce the amount of manual work involved with identifying and tracking inventory through the supply chain.
3. Optimize storage to carry more SKUs
As ecommerce activity grows, so does demand for additional SKUs. How can you make more room in your warehouse or distribution center for this extra inventory without a costly expansion of your footprint?
Make the most of existing space by:
- Creating pathways that are wide enough to safely accommodate forklifts and people, but not so wide that you waste valuable space.
- Using modular warehouse racking and shelving systems. They allow you to easily change your layout and rack/shelf heights as needed to make better use of vertical space. They can also be configured in a variety of ways to stock different types of material.
- Adding mezzanines to expand your storage footprint in high-ceilinged spaces.
- Storing items according to their size to maximize shelf space.
- Getting rid of inventory that’s obsolete or doesn’t move. This material not only eats up valuable space but also increases total cost of inventory.
- Cleaning up your warehouse or distribution center and removing unused equipment, discarding trash, and organizing messy areas to reveal hidden square footage.
Global Industrial’s product experts can guide you toward the right products to optimize a warehouse or distribution center space for more efficient material handling. We have solutions to help you implement changes that will make the most of your storage and shelving systems. Contact us today to learn more.
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