What are the sources of errors in a warehouse? We explore these issues and how you can rectify those errors.
For businesses involved in warehouse management, distribution or third-party logistics, inaccuracies and errors in areas such as inventory and fulfilment have always been something to avoid.
But the increasingly stringent demands placed upon such businesses by recent developments in the retail environment mean that, today, the cost of getting things wrong can be significantly higher than in the past.
End-to-end tracking, same or next-day delivery, not to mention fulfilment services such as click-and-collect, when taken together, have resulted in a sharp increase in the pressure put on warehouse managers to maximise accuracy and efficiency – both to maintain profitability, and to adhere to service-level agreements (SLAs) with customers.
This consideration is especially important for companies looking to maintain their reputation among clients in an ever more competitive marketplace. It is crucial, therefore, that warehouse managers are able to identify what errors are being made at any stage of the fulfilment process. They then need to find a solution to each problem that will minimise inaccuracy and waste in the future.
So what are the most common sources of such problems – and how can warehouses go about putting them right?
Regardless of the quality of your workforce, it is inevitable that human error will creep into your operations in some form or other. This can occur where data such as picking sequences and inventory status are added manually or held in a paper-based system. In these instances, the potential for inaccuracy increases. Warehouses and distribution centres need to consider the benefits of a warehouse management system (WMS) that can minimise human errors.
Training employees to record or handle stock clearly has an important role to play in minimising workers’ mistakes. But by implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) which is intuitive to use and can be quickly understood by short-term staff, as well as employing strategies such as pick-to-voice or handheld scanners, much less will be left to chance. Research suggests that such technology can help companies achieve pick-accuracy rates as high as 99%.
Mistakes in terms of where stock is held can frequently lead to picking or delivery errors. By holding individual stock items in a specific area, ensuring there are as few exceptions as possible, and avoiding holding multiple products at a single location, such mistakes can be eliminated.
At the same time, workers should be trained to ensure they understand the importance of following scanning procedures to the letter, as this will reduce the risk of stock being misplaced. Equally, your WMS may be able to help you organise your inventory so that picking efficiency and even accuracy is increased.
This might entail computerised analysis of picking routes so that time spent on the shop floor is kept to a minimum. The WMS can also help to introduce new, potentially more efficient and accurate picking methods, such as zone picking -- where employees pick solely within a specific zone -- or batch picking, where products for several orders are picked at the same time.
A WMS could make it easier to introduce conveyance technology in the company: this can help reduce the estimated 60% of the typical warehouse worker’s time that is spent moving products around.
One of the most serious problems with accuracy can arise when management simply does not have a clear overview of where mistakes are being made or why.
A WMS dashboard can provide warehouse managers with real-time insight into what is happening in their business. If the warehouse is not hitting its key performance indicators, you can drill into the data to discover the errors. The WMS should also be able to quantify the impact of such issues on your business’s performance and, ultimately, its bottom line.
The right WMS should also be able to integrate with a number of legacy management systems. This can, in itself, help to improve visibility throughout the warehouse by ensuring that no business data is hidden away in a silo.
The rise of omni-channel fulfilment and mobile ecommerce means that demand peaks are becoming much harder to predict. Businesses which are unable to anticipate fluctuations in demand are more likely to incur errors as the result of staff being put under pressure to meet usual service levels.
A WMS can alert management to the influx of extra orders. This gives the team enough time to make an informed decisions about whether to bring in extra resources to cope with any unexpected demand spikes.
One possible impediment to making the changes necessary to address these issues is the idea that implementing a new WMS will be expensive, time-consuming or disruptive. By choosing the right provider – one which can work with you both to tailor the system and ensure that it can be integrated with as little disruption as possible to the warehouse – you can start to quickly realise the benefits of improved accuracy and see a return on your investment.