When looking at the factors that affect productivity in the distribution center, some are out of your control, like the magnitude of volumes shipped, item variety, order profiles and sizes as well as unionization. On the other hand, some are within your control:
1. Align HR policies with productivity targets
Never lose sight of good practices such as proper supervision and frequent benchmarking. Additionally, the implementation of several initiatives can improve labor productivity:
- Workload balancing: often, a majority of the work will occur during the first half of a shift; staffing – and what is expected of the workforce – must address this reality. See an example through a replenishment short story (#3)
- Engineered standards: establish performance standards which are fair and aligned with expectations. Monitor & enforce
- Incentive programs: reward performance, quality and speed. Whether it is by employee or team-based, a properly calibrated program will encourage hard work and be beneficial to both parties
2. Marry up the physical layout to the operation
- Have an appropriately sized pick line where the slot of each item balances space utilization and labor tied to the replenishment and selection of this slot. CLICK HERE to watch our webinar on warehouse slotting or read more about pick line productivity
- Adjust slotting and family sequencing to adapt to seasonality and other demand variability factors
- Ergonomics: from inbound pallet sizes to pick slot configurations, allocate ergonomics the importance it deserves; not only will it improve productivity but it will reduce product damage as well as the risk of injuries
- Different order profiles warrant different processes. For instance, batch picking proves to be adequate for a foodservice operator while zone picking is appropriate for a hardware retailer
- Congestion creates bottlenecks. While it may be the result of multiple causes, there is no doubt that dock and aisles must provide sufficient space for mobile equipment to circulate freely, even during peak times
3. Get the most out of technology
Many technological alternatives support the ability to operate faster and virtually error-free. From WMS to voice-directed picking, these technologies will yield tremendous value both from a productivity standpoint and the richness of information they provide:
- Inventory accuracy is critical to an operation’s performance
- System-directed work assignments will contribute to obtain uniform efficiency
- Hands-free activities will provide labor with an edge
Furthermore, tweaks to the configuration of a WMS can bring additional improvements. As an example:
The system creates orphan order lines when it splits an order onto two different pallets as it converts the orders on a route to pallet work assignments in the warehouse.
When it has accumulated the maximum cube allowed on a pallet, the rest of the order goes to the next pallet. Sometimes, that can mean a case or two has been put on another pallet; if the system accepts a small tolerance, those cases could have remained with the rest of the order on the first pallet.
Eliminating orphan order lines means one less point on a truck that a driver must access to complete the delivery – less time, fewer errors.