Although often ignored by many warehouse managers when optimizing warehouse operations, the put-away process is a critical step to increasing warehouse efficiency. The initial placement of goods has a direct impact on all subsequent warehouse processes, especially the picking process. If goods are not stored in the most appropriate location, there is an increase in traveling time and the time it takes to pick and pack goods. Failing to store cargo in the most appropriate location so also puts at risk the security/integrity of the cargo and/or the safety of the employees.
Warehouse managers suggest that inventory control (53 percent), picking (47 percent), put-away & replenishment (45 percent) are the most inefficient warehouse processes.
In this article, we will review some of the most common best practices and technologies that every warehouse manager must keep in mind to optimize the put-away process and increase warehouse efficiency.
Put-Away Process Objective
First, let’s review what the main objective of the put-away process is.
The main objective of the the put-away process is to move goods from the dock to the most optimal warehouse storage location.
At the heart of the process is the ability to ensure that:
• Cargo is stored fast and efficiently
• Warehouse travel distance is reduced to a minimum
• Security of goods and the safety of warehouse employees is guaranteed
• Warehouse space utilization is maximized
• Cargo is easy to find and track within the warehouse
• Goods are stored in a location that is quick and easy to retrieve during the picking process.
Failing to properly implement an efficient process will have a direct impact in the productivity of warehouse operations.
Collect Data & Introduce Real-Time Analytics
Data is king when it comes to improving warehouse operations and implementing an efficient put-away process.
With the objective of finding the most optimal storage location, information such as cargo size, weight, height, receiving and shipping frequency, cargo type (ex. Hazmat, perishable, high value, etc.), order/sales volume, and storage availability must be consistently and accurately collected and analyzed.
Therefore, the warehouse management system (WMS) must be able to provide two key elements: adequate/flexible data collection capabilities and on-going data analysis.
Once the appropriate WMS is in place, the next step is to make sure that we are collecting data accurately and efficiently by automating collection as much as possible. This in turn will allow us to eliminate entry errors and reduce overhead.
For example, if we are collecting cargo weight, the use of an integrated digital weighting scale will do the job. If collecting dimensions, the use of a parcel or pallet dimensioning system will capture cargo dimensions. Both solutions will allow us to automate these tasks and eliminate data entry errors.
Monitor Storage Capacity & Space Availability
Another important step to optimizing the process and increasing warehouse efficiency lies in the ability to monitor storage capacity and availability to avoid unnecessary traveling time to locations where there is no space or capacity to store the cargo at hand.
In efforts to monitor capacity and space availability, warehouses can use barcode scanners and bin locations to track used/unused space across warehouse zones. This solution is currently available across most warehouse management systems (WMS). However, this system is prone to human errors as it relies on the warehouse clerk to scan the bin location and cargo every time he/she performs a put-away or pick task.
Another approach is through the use of RFID's to automatically record tasks without any human intervention. Although this solution still being perfected and tested, the use of RFID's combined with more advanced solutions such as sensors will be part of an ecosystem of technologies that will deliver real-time capacity and space tracking capabilities within the warehouse.
Reduce Traveling Time
Reducing traveling time is another important factor when optimizing the put-away process and warehouse operations in general. The goal here is to reduce travel time from the receiving area to the final location where goods are going to be stored.
To accomplish this, warehouse managers can conduct an ABC analysis to better understand high volume/frequency cargo. Then, the warehouse layout should be adjusted (if necessary) to move high volume/frequency cargo closer to shipping areas with the goal of reducing traveling time.
Note: For this to be effective, it is important to actively monitor order volume and frequency on an ongoing basis and adapt as major shifts occur.
Defining routes that provide the shortest path to the desired storage location is another way to reduce traveling time. When doing so, it is important that warehouse managers consider factors such as distance, warehouse traffic congestions, and potential conflicts with other processes that involve traveling.
Use Direct Put-away when Possible
Another best practice is to use Direct Put-Away when possible.
When using this method, the cargo is directly moved from its receiving area to its final location without going through a staging phase. Since designated staging locations are not required, this approach not only speeds up the process but also requires less handling and space in the warehouse.
When implementing this approach, it is important to remember that the WMS must be able to assign final locations from Advance Shipment Notice (ASN) or as soon as the cargo is delivered at the receiving dock. Without this capability, it is almost impossible to run an effective Direct Put-Away process.
Use Fixed & Dynamic Locations
Having the proper mix of fixed and dynamic locations can also be leveraged if conditions allow.
A fixed location is a pre-determined storage space, warehouse zone, aisle or bin grouped based on a specific criteria. For example, a fixed location can be assigned to a specific product category, customer, final destination, etc. Fixed locations help increase the efficiency of the process because warehouse clerks can memorize the specific location of where a cargo needs to be stored.
On the other hand, dynamic locations provide more flexibility by allowing clerks to put anything in the first available space they find on their way. When using dynamic locations, one of the most important considerations is to have a reliable inventory management system to track goods and locations.
Dynamic locations can also be leveraged to store high volume seasonal items closer to picking locations and then change to a different item(s) when volumes shift.
Keep the Warehouse Clean & Organized
Last but not least, a clean and organized warehouse/distribution center can make all the difference in running an efficient process.
A cluttered and disorganized facility will have a direct impact on the speed at which goods are put away as clerks need extra time to find available locations, move cargo around to open space and maneuver around obstacles to reach the desired location. Most importantly, the safety hazards to employees and the risks of compromising the integrity of the cargo is increased when the warehouse is not organized.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter how streamlined your warehouse processes are or if you are using the latest warehouse technology unless you have a clean and organized warehouse.
As we have learned, there are various ways to optimize the put-away process and increase warehouse efficiency. By using simple best practices such as keeping a clean and organized warehouse, using technology to track space utilization or performing an ABC analysis to re-structure the warehouse layout, optimizing warehouse operations is a matter of paying attention to details, planning and executing.
In a future article, we will discuss best practices to optimizing storage utilization. For now, see you until then.