What Is the Correct Product Flow in a Warehouse?Posted on March 06, 2023
Warehousing and storage is a big industry in the US, employing more than 3 million people. Of course, it’s also a profitable industry. This makes warehousing a target for ambitious entrepreneurs looking for a new venture to explore. Like most industries, warehousing is more complicated than it looks on the surface. Those new to the warehousing scene often don’t recognize the importance of streamlined product flow in a warehouse.
Yet, correct product flow in a warehouse is a critical factor in overall warehouse efficiency. If you’re just launching your first warehouse venture, keep reading for some key tips on achieving the correct product flow.
The very first step in correct product flow in a warehouse is receiving. Now, assuming your warehouse management system is doing its job correctly, it records everything that enters the warehouse. For some warehouses, that means pallets. For others, that can mean boxes and crates that you need to break down. Regardless, you should have a record of whatever enters the warehouse so you can cross-reference it with orders for accuracy.
Of course, not all warehouse management systems are the same. For small warehouses that deal with a limited amount of inventory and storage, your WMS may well operate more as an inventory management system. For large warehouses or warehouses that must coordinate with other storage centers, you will likely need a WMS that offers extra functionality, such as supply chain fulfillment and possibly even space or labor-management options.
Depending on where you stand in relation to the warehousing and storage functions, you either need a solid handle on sorting or a service that does. Sorting doesn’t always mean breaking down every pallet.
For example, if everything on the pallet is the same product, breaking it down is often a wasted effort. Particularly if you routinely ship out a pallet’s worth of that product to your customers.
Of course, many warehouses deal with mixed pallets. You need a system in place for scanning the individual items or products on the pallet.
Breaking pallets down in this way is often a step in maintaining warehouse efficiency. Bulk storage is often in remote parts of a warehouse.
You or your employees can waste a lot of time going to the bulk storage area to retrieve one item off of a pallet. Breaking down the pallets and deciding what belongs in bulk storage and what doesn’t can save you a lot of wasted effort.
While different warehouses break things up in different ways, you can usually divide the storage approach into two main categories: active and static storage. Static storage is where you put things that you either don’t move a lot of or for bulk items that you routinely ship out in bulk. That’s where those pallets of identical products go.
Active storage is for those products that come and go at a regular clip. Of course, it’s easy for warehouses to lose efficiency here. Your storage system must evolve with the shifting demands of the market.
Let’s say that you provide storage for a toy company. Toy trends come and go in a flash. So, that really hot toy that you kept up front for Christmas may drop off the cultural radar by March.
You should have alerts in place to let you know when items move up or down significantly in volume. This lets you shuffle inventory to keep processing times down.
Even if you keep a supply of popular items in your active storage area, those products will run low. Again, you need alerts in your warehouse management system that will let you know when those active storage areas run low on a product.
This lets you pull more products forward from your overstock area or your bulk storage area, depending on how you organize product storage. These kinds of alerts help you with streamlining warehouse flow.
In some respects, picking is the most straightforward part of the process. This happens almost entirely in your active storage area.
Orders come in. Bulk orders will get directed toward the bulk storage area.
Of course, small retailers often do a lot of mixing and matching in their orders. Those orders get assigned to the active storage area where employees gather the items on the order and send them on for the final parts of the process.
The exact packing process will vary from warehouse to warehouse based in part on what they’re packing and in part on the volume they’re packing. For small orders, the warehouse may opt for plastic shipping storage totes. Those totes are often more practical for packing smaller orders and for delivering them.
For larger orders or bulk orders, the entire order may get put onto a pallet or several pallets. In most cases, the pallet then undergoes a wrapping process with a waterproof film. The film helps protect the products from liquids and keeps the products in place on the pallet.
Once the shipping totes or pallets contain everything they should, they need some kind of shipping tag. Depending on the warehouse, that may mean an internally generated tag or a tag approved by the shipping company that will transport the products to their destination.
The totes or pallets then go onto an appropriate truck. For bulk or distance shipping, it’s typically a semi-trailer truck. For small, local deliveries, it may go onto a box truck.
Locking Down Product Flow in a Warehouse
Locking down product flow in a warehouse is, sadly, not a one-time event. The shifting popularity of products or brands can require regularly shifting products around in your active storage area to minimize wasted time during the picking and packing processes.
For larger warehouses, a sophisticated warehouse management system can help you organize your storage to the best effect. A good WMS system can also alert you to problems like low inventory.
Quality Warehouse and Distribution offers 3PL solutions in the Edison, NJ area. For more information, contact Quality Warehouse and Distribution today.