Manufacturing and distribution companies have a big incentive to control their costs since they operate in industries with slim profit margins. They often dedicate a significant amount of time on continuous improvements so they can identify and address inefficiencies in the facility and maintain a competitive edge. A common but often overlooked area for improvements in warehouse operations is material handling.
Material handling refers to how materials and products are moved, protected, stored and handled throughout the supply chain. It includes a wide range of manual, semi-automated and automated machinery and systems that support logistics and ensure that the process from production to delivery is running smoothly.
Why Pay Attention to Material Handling
When materials are correctly handled, the number of damaged or lost items reduces. A systematic and efficient way to handle products and other items also promotes a clean work environment. An ergonomically designed material handling system also ensures worker efficiency and safety.
It’s helpful for any business to have a feasible material handling system in place that adapts to the needs of its industry. Having one allows the company to increase efficiency in the warehouse and save money in the process.
Improving Your Warehouse’s Material Handling Process
Consider this approach to material handling to ensure that operations are more efficient.
Documentation of Work Processes
Be proactive in improving the efficiency of handling materials by recording every activity during the warehousing process. Doing so allows you to observe trends and identify ineffective processes and bottlenecks. For example, you can identify worker tasks that overlap and how long one process takes before the employee moves to another job. The data is also helpful in forecasting which days or seasons are busy so you can adjust your staffing and equipment needs accordingly.
With the bottlenecks identified, look for options to improve the floor layout. Reroute workers so that they don’t cross paths and slowdown of the process. Use clear signage to direct better traffic flow.
Restructuring the warehouse layout may be disruptive and time-consuming, but a streamlined workflow ensures a faster and more efficient turnover. Vertical storage and workspace can be utilised by installing mezzanine floor systems, carousels and lift modules.
Equipment and Technology
After analysis of your material handling processes and warehouse layout, the results will indicate areas for improvement, including the updating of equipment and technology. This will require some upfront investment, including training, but doing so allows you to accomplish tasks more efficiently. For example, skate and track systems, roller tracks and conveyor belts enable workers to load and unload cargo to and from delivery trucks. Investing in new equipment improves safety and speed and reducing fatigue and labour hours.
Protect your employees from injuries by training them on the proper handling procedures. Redesign tasks to minimise handling materials that are too large or heavy, and that could cause strains, sprains or more severe injuries. Make sure that they’re also wearing the proper protective equipment while they’re working and comply with government safety standards.
Managing the movement of materials and products in warehouses presents challenges of balancing speed, safety and cost. When identifying improvements to efficiency, look at the overall function and purpose of the warehouse, whether it’s for manufacture, storage, or distribution, before identifying weak points and streamlining, simplifying and automating the work processes.