Increasing the efficiency of your warehouse operations

John Geary -
Your Focus
- 23 Mar 2006 ( #252 )
3 min read
John has 23 years' experience in the electronics industry. He is the co-founder and vice president of sales for Glacier Computer. He was previously national sales manager for Citadel Computer (industrial computers) and US northeast regional manager for Data 911 (public safety rugged computers).
Efforts to improve efficiency over the past century have often focused on reducing waste, defined as processes and resources that are direct costs and opportunity costs, but do not add value.

Newly-constructed high-tech warehouses are designed from the bottom up to automate most or all operations. Elaborate cranes, conveyor belts and robotic systems are coordinated to perform put-away and retrieval operations with little or no human intervention. While these operations are highly efficient, the high capital requirements make them cost-prohibitive for most warehouse operations.

A more practical, affordable solution for many new and existing warehouses is to empower operators by installing an onboard computer on each forklift, making location of items and empty storage space immediately visible.

Rugged PCs, with user-friendly touch-screen user interfaces, can now connect to a warehouse management system (WMS) via a wireless local area network. Some more sophisticated WMSs can indicate not only the location to pick from, replenish from/to, and put-away to, but also the optimal sequence of those events.

A WMS is typically interfaced with an existing enterprise resource planning system or an accounting package. That provides an integrated method of automatically tracking inventory, processing orders, and handling returns. A WMS is frequently implemented with automatic data collection using barcode scanners and the increasingly common radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, now mandated by Wal-Mart and other retailers.

The benefits directly address elimination of wastes at the core of a lean manufacturing philosophy. Equipping forklifts with computers integrated with a WMS immediately reduces the waste involved in transport, human motion, and waiting.

Shorter, more direct routing reduces travel time, demand for forklifts and the associated labour, capital, maintenance and energy costs. Travel time is reduced because operators always know their precise destination. After a put-away, a WMS can direct a forklift to do a pick at the closest available location in situations where like items may be stored in different areas.

Forklift operators provide a necessary function only when they pick the correct item. Any searching activity leading to locating and retrieving an item is a waste of time and resources - waste that should be eliminated.

A more efficient warehouse operation means better response times for dependent production processes and for customer fulfillment.

Onboard computers connected to a WMS dramatically reduce the incidence of retrieving and shipping the wrong items by matching items with information on items' locations. Use of automated data collection (barcodes and RFID) virtually eliminates such errors and significantly improves inventory accuracy.Onboard computers equipped with barcode and RFID readers remove guesswork and force better habits, allowing workers to achieve higher productivity.

A WMS reduces defects in another way, by reducing wasteful disposal of spoiled perishable goods. The WMS can automatically direct an operator to retrieve particular units with the shortest remaining shelf life, in a FIFO (first in, first out) arrangement, without an operator having to engage in the time-consuming process of manually checking and comparing dates. Some companies shipping perishable goods will use FIFO for closer destinations and LIFO (last in, first out) for overseas destinations with longer in-transit times.

For those reasons, onboard forklift computers integrated with a WMS provide a good return on investment for many traditional warehouse and distribution centre operations.
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Inside The News
One of the biggest forklift manufacturers in the world, Crown Equipment Corporation, has been crippled by a malicious cyber attack... Continue reading
Toyota fits out 3PL warehouse Ipswich, United Kingdom

Are you recruiting? Find your ideal candidate among a diverse range of materials handling professionals:

Forkliftaction's JOB MARKET

Inside The News
One of the biggest forklift manufacturers in the world, Crown Equipment Corporation, has been crippled by a malicious cyber attack... Continue reading
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