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No perfect picking process – warehouse performance plateau

Article by Michael Trimmer

When you reach the warehouse performance plateau, it is very easy to enter a stage of operational denial. If growth can’t help you get back to the path of enhanced performance, maybe perfecting the present process is the path to take. It is very tempting to imagine that the same kind of incremental ongoing improvement that worked before, can be used again.

Perhaps the warehouse performance plateau is not actually as flat as it seems. Perhaps it is just a question of perfecting your process. The right picking system, the right warehouse arrangement, the right employee retention programme. Just blend all of these in a perfect balance for your business situation, and your company can be back to where it was before.

Tempting as this sounds, it isn’t true.

The reason the warehouse performance plateau is so level is because of the very nature of the manual warehouse. A nature that no amount of adjustment will let you advance past. Discover why no matter how much your business strives, studies, and strikes out with interesting new manual warehouse management techniques, it will not climb any higher than the warehouse performance plateau allows. Not without an entirely new way of thinking.

Picking processes aren’t enough

Many warehouses want to try different types of picking technology. Maybe you want to move away from paper-based processing of picks, and into voice picking. Or perhaps you use handheld terminals and scanning equipment. Barcodes or RFID panels on packages can help you keep track of things and make your picking process more accurate and much faster.

All this is true up to a point, but again it is fiddling at the edges when in reality the whole structure needs to be reconsidered.

Different estimates will diverge in opinion. There’s much discussion on the advantages of paper picking versus voice versus barcode scanners, or many other broader points. But in all these cases you are shaving a few seconds there, or maybe up to a minute on larger orders there. None of these things in any way altering the underlying issue.

A picker in a manual warehouse has a host of tasks to do in order to pick a single item.

At every stage here, a picker is expending energy. That can be in the form of concentration, or simple kinetic movement. This energy depletion across the shift leaves pickers more prone to error and fatigue, ultimately leading to inconsistent performance.

Not only that, but this list makes it seem as though all the tasks taking equal length. In truth, 50%-70% of a pickers time is being consumed by walking to and from the shelves. In the light of that kind of timesink, shaving seconds in the picking process is fiddling while Rome burns.

With such a narrow focus on things like picking processes, you’re never going to get past the warehouse performance plateau. Industry 3.0 approaches are not going to work here. You need a model of automation that recoups all that lost time and makes good use of it.

Picker’s price isn’t controlled by performance

Pickers have an upper ceiling on the amount of productivity they can add to your business. This ceiling is not the cause of their costs. A picker’s price is determined by factors entirely outside their personal performance.

The competition for pickers in the modern marketplace is fierce, and it shows no sign of slowing down. While the recent surge in ecommerce demand in all fields can be attributed directly to the pandemic, the reality is that it shows no sign of slowing down.

Several have shown that the genie will not go back in the bottle, and many businesses and retail customers plan to continue using online purchasing for a wider range of goods and supplies than was the case in the pre-2020 era.

This makes pickers in much more demand than ever, with even ecommerce giants like Amazon unable to meet their hiring requirements. When you factor in the problems of how dramatically seasonal sales are now becoming, the broader problematic picture is very clear.

With so many businesses needing pickers, competition is becoming ever more fierce. It was only natural that salaries, agency fees, and other associated labour costs would soar. When operational efficiency has a ceiling, but operational costs do not, it doesn’t matter how much adjustment you do. Productivity will be beyond your control.

Diagnosis – Under-automation

Are you experiencing these problems? Have you been struggling with order wells? Are costs around storage space becoming prohibitive? Is labour expense becoming unbearable?

Your business has hit the warehouse performance plateau and will not be able to rise above it without radical change. If you want to learn more about what that means and how to make that possible, come see us in person with a tour.

Not only is Wise Robotics built on the back of three decades of warehouse management experience, but we also own and operate Europe’s first flexible automation demonstration centre. Thanks to this facility, we can provide hands-on experience of the robotic revolution.

When you see what your business could be doing when you move past the warehouse performance plateau, you need to answer an important question. Which future do I want to be a part of? The one where I’m using this advanced new technology, or the one where I’m competing against it.

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