Two Key Strategies to Boost Warehouse Efficiency

If you’re managing a busy warehouse, you’re probably feeling constant pressure to increase efficiency, manage your inventory and supply chain more effectively, and get more out of your workforce. But the hard part is figuring out how to do it.

Growing warehouse demands, labor shortages, and rising costs all seem to be working against the prospect of improvement, but you can get an edge and ultimately get ahead by combining two key strategies.

One is warehouse modernization, where you look to gradually improve, enhance, and reinvent your workflows and processes so you can maximize efficiency, performance, and accuracy across your operations. The other is to upgrade or integrate technologies in key areas of your warehouse, to help streamline workflows, get more done in less time, and give you better visibility and control over everything that’s moving and happening.

In this article, our warehouse modernization and technology experts at Vantage ID will give you a quick introduction to these two strategies and how you can use them to rapidly implement meaningful but manageable change, with results that can relieve the constant pressure by enabling you to achieve better performance every day.

Strategy #1: Warehouse Modernization

We’ve covered this topic in detail previously, but warehouse modernization is a pretty simple idea in principle. Warehousing has traditionally been a low-tech industry, but to keep up with current and future demand and rapid changes in the industry, warehouses must modernize how they operate and reinvent their operations and workflows in order to survive and thrive.

Think of it as becoming your own version of a Walmart or an Amazon, where you apply lessons, strategies, and technologies learned from these juggernauts to your own warehouse, even if you’re just a small or medium-sized operation.

It doesn’t mean you need to have a billion-dollar budget or an army of logistics experts at your disposal. It just means figuring out how you can reinvent better ways to manage inventory, fulfill orders, and keep up with changing business needs, just as the biggest players have.

To get started, you can look at frameworks or models for warehouse improvement, such as Zebra’s Warehouse Modernization Model. It’s a simple conceptual framework that can help you assess where you are today, how “mature” your warehouse is in terms of performance and transformation, and where you should focus your efforts and implement changes and improvements to enable better results.

Zebra’s model is a five-phase framework that breaks warehouse modernization into manageable pieces guided by a bigger-picture strategy as well as your long-term goals.

Depending on where you are and which phases you’ve already passed through, it provides you with a reference to help determine what you might need to do to complete a current phase or get to the next one. It also provides some basic indicators of the types of capabilities and even some of the technologies that you might need along the way, to realize your goals.

To learn more about how this framework can be used and how you can apply it to a warehouse modernization and improvement plan, connect with our team at Vantage ID. We can help you assess your current situation and goals, show you how this model can help you improve your operations, and provide some great tips and ideas based on other successful warehouse transformations.

Strategy #2: Next-Generation Warehouse Technologies

Ultimately, whenever we reach a limit or a breaking point in what our workforce and our processes can achieve innovation and technology are always the key to helping us escape and defeat those limitations.

As a good example, the barcode was originally invented in the 1940s and later introduced in the 1970s as a way to help grocery stores check out customers and restock their shelves faster and more efficiently. Growing demand, long lines, and slow processes were wreaking havoc on grocery stores and starting to cost them business, so a forward-thinking inventor came up with a potential solution, and the barcode was born.

Similarly, today innovation and technology have already been the key to success for many industry leaders in warehousing and logistics, from e-commerce conglomerates to small mom-and-pop warehouses. The great thing about technology is that it’s not just a way to help automate and streamline warehouse processes, but it’s also accessible to virtually any business, and it’s a great equalizer.

The same technologies used by the global leaders in warehousing are also available to other businesses of all sizes, and here are a few quick examples of the innovative solutions they’ve been using to boost productivity, efficiency, and accuracy while enabling better warehouse visibility and control.

Wearable Technologies

One of the most significant advancements in warehouse technology in the past decade has been the introduction of hands-free wearable devices and voice-guided picking software.

These solutions help dramatically improve and streamline picking processes by automating them, reducing errors, and enabling associates to fulfill orders with greater speed and accuracy.  They also reduce warehouse walking by miles per day and help minimize the physical strain on workers’ bodies.

Utilizing a compact and lightweight mobile computer worn on the wrist, along with a finger-worn barcode scanner and a head-worn display resembling safety glasses, employees can effortlessly access pick lists and orders. They can receive audio and visual cues through apps running on their wrist-worn computer, which send the cues to the computer, their headset, or their head-worn display, guiding them along the most efficient paths to the correct items. Additionally, they can scan inventory barcodes to verify accurate picks.

This automated and streamlined approach results in significant time savings for each order, which adds up to minutes and hours saved per worker on a daily basis. Over the course of a year, this translates into countless hours and substantial labor cost reductions. It also creates a more appealing work environment for warehouse employees and prospective new hires, as it alleviates physical stress and burden.

Touch Handheld Computers and Tablets

Rugged industrial handheld computers have been a mainstay of warehouse technology for a few decades now. But these workhorse devices are continuously being improved and reinvented, and one of the biggest improvements in recent years has been the introduction of touchscreens.

houses can boost efficiency and reduce the time and effort required to complete each task by combining touchscreen app interactions with the traditional keypad and rugged form factor of a handheld device. A good example is Zebra’s portfolio of rugged handheld Android touch mobile computers, which enable as much as a 40% increase in worker productivity with 60% fewer errors.

Instead of having to use a physical keypad to navigate mobile app or terminal app screens, warehouse associates can just tap their devices and use simple on-screen touch interactions to get to the information and screens they need and complete transactions and tasks.

With Zebra’s Android touch devices, you can also convert your green-screen terminal apps to beautiful, modern touch mobile apps with Zebra’s All-in-One Terminal Emulation (TE). This simple toolset helps you convert your apps and screens in no time, with no coding or back-end IT modifications required.

We should also mention that Zebra rugged Android tablets are also becoming increasingly popular, for many of the same reasons. With rugged warehouse tablets, you can get the same functionality but take your efficiency improvements even further by using a larger screen, which allows workers to access more information and data on each screen and complete app-based tasks and workflows in fewer steps.

Warehouse tablets are also versatile devices that can be mounted in vehicles or used as a 2-in-1 laptop or desktop replacement in offices or at workstations, with an optional keyboard and docks.

Long-Range Barcode Scanners and RFID Readers

Upgrading to highly durable long-range barcode scanners, such as the DS3600-ER scanner from Zebra, can significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your barcode capture, particularly in warehouses where inventory is stored high on shelves and forklifts are used.

These advanced devices accurately and reliably capture both 1D and 2D barcodes from distances of 3 inches to 70 feet away, so they’re great for scanning barcodes on pallets and inventory located high on shelves. It’s also an ideal way to help keep your forklift drivers and other workers safer since they won’t have to get out of a vehicle and get onto a busy warehouse floor to capture barcodes. They can stay safely in a forklift and let their scanner do the hard work.

Zebra’s advancing decoding algorithms also ensure that barcodes can be scanned the first time, every time, even if they’re poorly printed, dirty, smudged, or scratched.

If you use handheld RFID readers in your warehouse, you can also extend the range of your RFID tag and data capture by using Zebra’s ultra-rugged long-range barcode scanners, such as its MC3390xR device.

The MC3390xR reads RFID tags from 200% further away than other devices, so you get accurate reads from up to 60 feet away. This handheld RFID reader is also an Android touch mobile computer with a physical keypad, so it can power your warehouse management system or other business apps, and it provides all the warehouse productivity tools you need, such as push-to-talk and Wi-Fi capabilities.

Mobile Printers

With mobile printers, your workers can start printing labels on-the-spot and on-demand, during receiving, put-away, picking, packing or even shipping. This is a great alternative to spending precious time walking back and forth to printer workstations, which can add up to hours of wasted time.

Instead, you can print high-quality labels and tags at the point of work, and you can match them to the right product, order, or shipment. This helps eliminate the risk of errors or mislabeling that frequently occurs with batch printing and delays between label printing and application.

 These are just some of the many great warehouse technology innovations and improvements that are readily available to any warehouse, and with the GO Zebra trade-in program from our technology partners at Zebra, you can trade in many of your aging or outdated devices and get rebates of up to $650 per device toward the purchase of new hardware.

Alternatively, even if you’re still doing a lot of work on paper or with spreadsheets, there are still great opportunities to save when you decide to invest in warehouse improvement technologies, and the resulting boost in productivity, efficiency, and accuracy that you enable will often pay for your investment in as little as a few months.

To learn more about the possibilities and some of the best new technologies and how you can use them to get ahead of today’s and tomorrow’s warehouse challenges, visit our Zebra warehouse improvement page, and then connect with us at Vantage ID.

We’d be happy to provide expert tips, guidance, and suggestions, and we’d be happy to share case studies and insights from successful warehouse transformations that we’ve helped enable.