The way you handle your inventory can make or break your business. If you’re managing a large warehouse that holds thousands and even millions of products, implementing an efficient inventory system is critical for any operation.
Regardless of your inventory size and experience in warehouse management, have a look a these best practices:
1. Ensure Visibility
Tracking, auditing, and surveying inventory are some of the daily tasks in warehouse management. However, considering visibility in these processes is often overlooked. If all inventories are visible, they’re easier to reorganize, handle, pick out, and review. But then again, sorting a warehouse for visibility is easier said than done. If your warehouse spans acres, you can imagine how challenging it can get.
This is where great organizing skills will help, along with using software programs specifically designed to help manage warehouse inventory, which you’ll learn more about below.
2. Review and Update Inventory Systems
If you have a system that’s been in use for years without regular evaluation, now’s the time to review its value and efficiency. Is it still providing you with the right and adequate solutions or causing problems? Are there areas where you think it could do better?
Your inventory system should help streamline the warehouse’s work process, so if it doesn’t serve its purpose nor help you meet the business’s goals, it’s only a waste of time and resources. With industry practices continuously evolving with technology, updating systems should be on top of the management’s list.
3. Label with Accuracy and Efficiency
Proper labeling is one of the keys to an efficient organizing process. When labels are incomplete or inaccurate, errors will plague your supply chain.
Ideally, all inventories should be labeled as soon as they enter the warehouse, with the details logged in the system before they even get stored away. Leaving random notes on paper, even temporarily, and delaying data entry can cause multiple problems, from the paper getting misplaced to the handwritten note being misread as something else.
Throughout the warehouse, particularly in aisles and storage areas, proper labeling also helps improve navigation and storage. Floors and zones should be defined clearly enough for all employees to understand them and their connection to the other areas of the warehouse.
4. Display an Inventory Health Check Dashboard
Warehouse data constantly changes. But more than that, all the data captured often requires interpretation and analysis to become actionable, typically with the help of software programs. While this may sound daunting, performing proactive health checks, especially on critical inventories, helps maintain smooth operations in any warehouse. And when these actionable data are made visible to the involved teams, it becomes easier to address issues before they occur.
5. Wave-Picking and Cross-Docking
Wave-picking or cluster picking, as well as cross-docking, may save you time and costs if you’re managing huge inventories. In wave-picking, orders are released on a schedule based on factors like similar item category and zone location. Picking up comes in scheduled waves, hence the name.
On the other hand, cross-docking helps eliminate the need for storage. It works by transporting products directly from manufacturers or distributors to outgoing shipments, straight to customers. Aside from saving time, costs, and space, this helps minimize physical labor and product handling.
Deploy New Technology
6. Invest in a Reliable Management System
The multitude of tasks involved in warehouse management can be easily carried out when you have a software program that automatically keeps track of items in stock, including best sellers.
But before you make a significant investment in new technology, first determine the estimated return on investment (ROI) that you can get from it. If its use offers considerable savings for the business, then it’s worth a try. Your goal should be to increase margins and improve workflow efficiency for the new system.
7. Implement Robotics and AI Solutions
AI and robots have been revolutionizing warehouse management for quite some time now. With the amount of work in warehouses, relying solely on manual processes can cause unnecessary delays and avoidable errors.
However, if you automate your processes with AI solutions and robotics, you can speed up all tasks at each level. Automation may include picking up items, sorting and storing them according to labels, programming, and initiating other warehousing tasks depending on the criteria you set.
Transform and Secure Data
8. Eliminate Paper Processes
Digitizing the way you process, store, and share data will benefit your management process in many ways. For one, digital files can be easily copied, backed up, and restored, which makes them more lasting, unlike paper records that catastrophes can easily damage. Transferring data electronically is faster and more secure.
9. Leverage Cloud Storage and Blockchain Technology
Security is a must when you store digital information. Aside from investing in secure cloud storage, using blockchain in data automation, storage, and sharing will help improve traceability and transparency across your network. With a robust security system for all data, your business will also earn the trust and confidence of consumers and stakeholders.
10. Use Data Analysis
To make the most of your data, use analytics to determine the strengths and weaknesses in your management process. As mentioned earlier, all the data you gather will only be useful if they’re actionable, which can only be possible through data analysis.
It uses actual data from the business process, you get specific and detailed insights according to the metrics you set. Subsequently, the data collected and analyzed can be used in budget planning, creating forecasts, and improving workflow.
Implement Quality Control Procedures
11. Anticipate Surges And Seasonal Fluctuations
It’s pretty common for commercial products to go through low seasons. Consequently, when these are over, surges may occur, and these peak seasons can result in poor quality products and services when your business fails to prepare.
With the help of your historical data in sales, you can anticipate these fluctuations in product demands and therefore make adjustments beforehand to avoid losses while also equipping the business with the resources it needs to meet sudden demand increases without compromising quality.
12. Foster Flexibility
Unexpected changes and disruptions may occur in the supply chain at any time. If your business isn’t flexible enough, it can suffer and eventually break in the resulting stress. As the manager, it pays to be calm and adaptive in the face of these challenges, which are traits you should also foster among your workforce.
13. Inspect Regularly And Randomly
While regular inspections help control quality, random checks help maintain consistency and ensure compliance. Both should be strategically conducted across the supply chain and include facilities and equipment.
14. Keep Workstations Organized
Warehouse workstations can quickly get cluttered throughout the day. In most cases, this can dampen your staff’s productivity and efficiency, particularly in the busiest hours. To avoid this, require using labeled boxes or compartments with dividers and encourage your team to organize as they go through their tasks, even with the smallest things.
15. Restructure Floor Layout
Your warehouse’s floor plan directly affects all work processes that go through it. Consider reviewing its layout if you notice it doesn’t flow as smoothly as you want. Ideally, the warehouse should be set up according to its operations—from the receiving process to storage and distribution or shipping.
If needed, restructure your floor plan and use a layout that promotes the safety and productivity of your workers and the efficiency of the work process.
Enforce Safety and Security
16. Restrict Access
Not all areas of the warehouse should be accessible to all workers. For example, workers unaware of how the inventory labels work shouldn’t be allowed to handle them as they might unknowingly rearrange them without considering how it may disrupt the organized setup. This can be easily avoided by strictly limiting access to authorized workers only.
Maintain Health and Cleanliness
17. Minimize Touchpoints
To curb the spread of contaminants, including disease-causing microorganisms, minimize touchpoints across the warehouse. If possible, integrate hands-free systems in the workflow process. Look into the use of voice technology, automate tasks as much as possible, and optimize your warehouse’s layout, so workers don’t have to go back and forth a single order.
18. Disinfect Regularly
Using a disinfectant fogger can save you much time when it comes to maintaining your warehouse’s cleanliness—schedule regular and thorough clean-ups and disinfection, especially in areas with high foot traffic.
But regardless of your inventory size and experience in warehouse management, consider these best practices we recommend you adopt this year:
Invest in Your Team
19. Train Your Staff in Big Data
Handling data requires technical skills and knowledge. With the number of complex information involved, big data can only be transformed into meaningful figures by trained professionals. If you have an in-house tech team for these tasks and you want to improve data management, invest in training them even just with the basics. Another option is to outsource professionals specializing in data science, preferably with years of experience in warehouse inventory.
20. Adjust Manpower
As you make changes in your management process, you may need to make adjustments too in terms of your employees’ roles and responsibilities. This may also help eliminate the need to hire new staff for new tasks that your existing employees may already be knowledgeable in and could probably just use additional training to fit into the new roles perfectly.
21. Encourage Excellence
Changes in the system will naturally prompt retraining across the involved departments. As they go through upskilling, don’t forget that it’s also an opportunity to encourage them to aim for excellence, as it will not only benefit the business but more so themselves as professionals.
Today, in the age of technology, businesses can grow at a speed one can only imagine many years ago. And if you don’t keep up with the modern developments, there’s a bigger chance you’ll eventually get left behind. The good news is it’s the same technology that will help you manage your warehouse better, no matter the size. All you need to do is learn the best ones, adopt them, and leverage them to your business’s advantage.