Technology challenges and opportunities for warehouse management
01 February 2019
As a business grows, business owners face the challenge of managing this growth and its implications for business operations. Stock control management is one area of a business that can experience growing pains, often showing itself in increased costs, poor service, slow productivity or stock wastage.
As growing companies often discover, their methods and technology implemented at the start of their business journey can become a hindrance as they grow.
Growth can cause a drop in staff morale, as they struggle to cope with extra work, causing a decrease in work productivity. This can result in an increased likelihood of human errors when it comes to stock management, which will ultimately impact profitability and customer satisfaction.
Fortunately, businesses can take steps to resolve these stock management issues, such as taking advantage of more advanced and efficient forms of technology. After a review of current stock management processes, businesses can implement the likes of barcode technology and adopt worker mobility management.
Stock management processes
As a business continues to grow, their stock management processes should be reviewed to keep up with said growth. Many growing businesses often have basic record keeping, no returns management process, and they have not organised location management efficiently. This may go unnoticed initially for low volumes of stock, but as operations continue to develop, these processes will not be efficient enough to cope with growth. Management will need to assess their operations for increasing efficiency.
For businesses that prioritise stock, implementing an ABC analysis is a great way to deliver process efficiency. Stock is split into A, B and C, according to the stock turnover; for instance, sale items that move fast are categorised and placed nearer the packing station to speed up processing, whereas less popular items are shelved further away. This is a simple, flexible system that can change with seasonal sales requirements, enabling businesses to adjust the warehouse layout and stock management priorities.
Another popular technique for growing businesses is to adopt the first-in, first-out (FIFO) system. By shipping the oldest stock first, businesses can ensure that perishable and fashionable items move quickly, avoiding wastage and preventing storage damage.
A disorganised warehouse, where workers cannot locate stock or do not have guidelines for stock storage, will waste time and increase the likelihood of human error. By labelling locations and putting in a system for storage and retrieval, businesses can speed up put-away, pick-ups and stock audits.
Businesses should spend some time designing the layout of their warehouse in consideration of the forecasted sales growth and volume of items passing through to manage capacity accordingly. A key consideration is the movement of staff through the warehouse. Redesigning to a more efficient layout can increase throughput and reduce stock holding. Location management becomes even more important as businesses grow and start to look at the picking process; there are several choices including single order picking, zone picking, batch picking and many more.
Switching from a manual stock control process to a computerised system brings enormous benefits to a business’ stock control management, enabling businesses to scale their operations without losing control. Manual record keeping through the likes of paper or computer-based spreadsheets are insecure, prone to human error – studies have shown that a proficient data operator will make one error for every 300 characters manually entered – and are not accessible to those who need them in real-time.
As a business grows, the only solution to cope with the increased volumes and complexities of their operations is to adopt a computerised stock control system. These enable operations to process stock, audit stock and dispatch with speed and accuracy, sharing the data in real time across the business.
So, what can businesses expect from an automated stock control system? There are a wide range of systems available, from simple systems to book the stock in and out, to fully integrated, automated stock control systems that work with back-end systems such as Sage 50 accounts, connecting operations across the entire business.
A business’ process complexity, budget and requirements for integration will determine which system is the right one for their operations, but the fundamental tools of each are similar. At the most basic level, each system consists of a database, database management software, labelling or marking method and data capture devices. Where computerised systems are implemented, data is captured about an item via the likes of barcode scanning or reading RFID tags – eliminating the need for data to be entered manually. The software design of stock control systems determines its complexity, from simple stock count and control, to more complex tracking for assembly and batch tracking operations.
When a business switches to computerised stock control systems, this opens up the possibility of boosting productivity with the use of mobile technology to enable work on the move. Barcode scanners not only allow for quick processing, but they allow for the use of mobile scanners, mobile computers and mobile printing, completely altering the way a business operates.
The growth of mobile working has been spurred on by ever-increasing wi-fi and mobile network availability, and as businesses start switching to modern barcoding stock control systems, they are able to take advantage of this new, mobilised workforce.
Benefits of a mobile workforce include:
• Improved communication – Industrial mobile computers have come a long way, with business scanning capabilities and smart phone design, they enable workers to access business and stock apps, emails and work documents virtually anywhere. They allow for increased communication capabilities, and updates to the stock records and processes are instantly accessible.
• Quicker processes – Mobile handheld computers can be used to scan stock straight into the stock control software apps and updated in real time.
Trends Driving Warehouse Efficiency
The rise of digitalisation has allowed businesses to implement well-designed stock management systems into their operations, leading to greater customer responsiveness, streamlining their operations and consequently boosting their revenue. Wireless networking has become the backbone of the modern warehouse management system, and the easier and low-cost access to these types of systems have allowed virtually any sized business to reap the benefits.
Barcodes and RFID technology allow for efficient data capture, which is essential for accuracy in a warehouse environment. With all of this technology integration, data can migrate between software and databases to enable improved business processes. This further promotes the use of mobility within a warehouse. Being able to work anywhere in the warehouse and externally conduct business processes on mobile devices via wi-fi creates a truly connected company with strong internal operations.