Three steps to warehouse efficiency heaven

Published:  05 June, 2014

Matt Farrall, head of marketing and IT at Farrall’s Transport, explains to PWE, how the company and its customers are benefiting from investment in the efficiency of its 100,000ft2 of warehousing.

Warehouse efficiency is not an abstract phrase. It translates to bottom line savings for a company and its clients. By running an efficient warehouse, a logistics company can pass on financial savings to its customers as well as improve service levels in terms of order cycles, accuracy and visibility.

There are three fundamental steps towards making warehouse operations as efficient as possible. They cover storage, lift trucks and IT and while each has its own important contribution, they also interact to provide optimum warehouse efficiency.

Step 1: Optimise the cube

Space efficiency in a warehouse means optimising not only the floor space of a building but also its height. We have ‘optimised our warehouse cube’ by means of a high bay, narrow aisle layout for our racking. The narrow aisles allow more racks within a given area and they occupy the full height of the building.

This layout, which is made possible thanks to the use of Flexi Narrow Aisle articulated lift trucks, gives 40% more space compared to a conventional wide aisle format served by counterbalance and reach trucks.

The high bay racking allows more pallet locations to be stored in a given footprint and enables pick locations to three levels high, which are accessed with the help of man-up order picking trucks. This greater density of pick locations means a greater number of SKUs can be located in a given area of the pick face, thus reducing the amount of travel time between the locations for order pickers and improving cycle times.

Step 2: Choose the right forklift

The old saying goes: ‘the right tool for the right job’. This is true for one of the most important tools in any warehouse: the forklift truck. Counterbalance trucks are general purpose workhorses performing a broad range of jobs such as transporting pallets around a warehouse, moving them between bulk storage, POD stations and the yard. They may be the only lift truck that small and/or basic warehousing operations need.

Adding scale and complexity to a warehouse operation will require an investment in more specialised machines to achieve top efficiency. Order picker trucks, for example, will allow operatives to travel quickly around the pick locations to pick cases or items from the pallet racking onto order pallets or roll containers. To access our higher (three pallet) level pick locations, we use man-up order pickers.

We also have three Flexi Narrow Aisle articulated forklift trucks working in our high bay racking. With their 13 metre lift heights these specialised trucks can access pallet locations in the high levels of the racking. As mentioned previously, The Flexi makes it possible to have a narrow aisle layout thanks to its articulated design. Unlike wire-guided narrow aisle trucks, a Flexi is free to be travel wherever it is required – from the aisle straight out into the yard. So a single Flexi machine can perform narrow aisle, reach and counterbalance forklift truck duties.

When it comes to loading our LGVs, we employ another specialised forklift. Loading an LGV in the yard with a counterbalance unit means having to load from each side of the vehicle or fix cumbersome long fork extenders. To both speed up LGV loading and make it safer, Farrall’s Transport invested in a JCB Teletruk. Unlike a conventional masted forklift truck, The Teletruk’s telescopic boom gives it a forward reach ability that allows it to load and unload full pallets at a 2 metres forward extension. This means it can reach over to the far side of a trailer, or over block-stacked pallets, which a traditional lift truck cannot do. The truck, therefore, only needs to load from one side of the LGV, thus saving a great deal of time and travel around the yard.

Step 3: Deploy real-time warehouse management

Warehouse Management Software (WMS) allows a warehouse operator to be proactive in terms of space efficiency and replenishment as well as helping to optimise the warehouse layout, the way orders are picked and the goods in operation. One of the best ways to save space in a warehouse is moving from fixed to random locations and this needs a WMS to manage where the best available location is for locating a SKU, as well as providing accurate order picking instructions that allow the picker to complete orders as quickly and accurately as possible.

Any software is only as good as the data it receives so it is important to have the right hardware that can collect data in real-time. Working in real-time makes it easier to keep track of everything that moves in the warehouse, the orders being sent out and replenishments. It gives an instant and accurate picture of what is going on in the warehouse, at any given moment, to improve decision-making by managers.

The information can be shared with customers, to provide greater service levels, and with others in the supply chain to improve efficiency. The metrics can also be used to refine processes to further improve overall warehouse efficiency.

We have equipped our warehouse staff with Radio Data Terminals (RDTs) and Radio Frequency (RF) scanners for reading barcodes to scan everything in and out and at key stages in the operation. In addition, we have computer terminals at our packing operation stations and in an area of the warehouse where we add value for a client by offering an assembly operation.

What’s on paper is generally out of date as soon as its printed so moving to a completely paperless operation, as we are doing, will further streamline operations.

RDTs can capture a massive amount of data, which can be customised to report in the way the customer requires – whether it’s pallet numbers, case or even individual serial numbers on items. State-of-the-art storage tracking using serial number ‘track and trace’ technology keeps customers informed.

Among all of this equipment it should never be forgotten that people hold the key to each of these steps - whether in the role of order picker, lift truck driver, IT or warehouse management. Any efficiency produced by these three steps will be further enhanced with trained and experienced staff.

We have found that taking these important steps towards warehouse efficiency has a double impact on the bottom line: financial savings through efficient practice and, by demonstrating a commitment to customer care service, these steps sharpen competitive edge leading to increased business.

For further information: www.farralls.co.uk

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