Accuracy and speed are two essential elements of effective warehouse management because they help boost productivity, but reducing the cost of running a warehouse is the biggest business improvement challenge, explains Charlie Brackley, Sales Manager at Harland Simon.

Increasing competition is forcing companies to tighten up their business processes and nowhere is this more critical than in warehouse operations.

More is being asked of warehouses than ever before. Customers expect faster stock deliveries, picking complexity mounts as products become more diversified, e-commerce places greater demands on store management and warehouses must improve their agility in the face of fast-changing market conditions. In this uncertain business environment, a warehouse will quickly find itself falling behind its rivals unless it can develop and maintain efficient storage and handling processes.

Almost half of the 132 respondents to a survey of warehouse operators by The Access Group said that cutting the cost of running a warehouse was their biggest business improvement challenge. One in seven blamed losses on conflicting software and data collection systems for warehousing and invoicing. As communication between these vital functions breaks down, errors become inevitable and it is these errors that lead to waste in the form of rocketing expenses, lost time and unnecessary work.

The processes that tend to waste the most time in warehouses are inventory scanning and pallet tracking. So how can they be made faster, easier and error-free? The answer lies, at least in part, in emerging technologies such as automatic identification and data capture (AIDC).

With such tight profitability margins in the operation of a warehouse, something as simple as the way a pallet or asset is scanned can make the difference between a haphazard and smooth-running operation.

Scanning is typically done by capturing barcodes. While this isn’t particularly laborious, it is time consuming and prone to human error which can, in turn, lead to wasting more time.

In part, this is because a forklift truck driver will have to position the vehicle in a way so that the pallet can be scanned before repositioning the truck to pick up the load. This double movement wastes valuable time and effort. Add to this the possibility of missing pallets, or scanning the wrong pallet location when dropping a pallet, and it is clear why a more effective scanning method is desirable.

An AIDC system, such as my own company’s Vero, digitally tracks the movement of pallets and inventory in three dimensions and in real-time, so every element of a pallet and forklift truck’s journey is recorded and monitored.

AIDC increases the number of pallets you can move an hour by tracking to locate not only the position of every forklift truck in real time, but also its load to within 50cm in two dimensions. The third dimension is catered for with a height sensor. When used in combination with the other two dimensions, this co-ordinate indicates the exact location at which a pallet or load was either picked up or dropped off.

Cutting-edge AIDC technology accelerates pallet movements and improves data accuracy to save time and increase productivity. Each pallet can be moved up to 15 seconds faster, a saving of more than four hours for every 1,000 pallets moved.

AIDC’s benefits don’t stop there. It can also record and measure data which can then be used to improve pallet/product traceability, and forklift truck movements can be tracked, analysed and optimised, boosting both the efficiency and safety of the warehouse operation. This also increases driver accountability and provides information that can help improve warehouse efficiency by adjusting its layout.

AIDC increases the accuracy of inventory which means workers don’t have to search for items that might be misplaced. As a result, less time is spent on stock reconciliation like cycle counting and stock checking. Additionally, the amount of dispatch checking that needs to be done can also be reduced or even eliminated.

Every pallet counts towards improving profit margins, so investing in a system that reduces errors and saves time makes sense for everyone working in a warehouse and AIDC contributes to that by offering fast and precise storage and handling.

The benefits of AIDC

The rewards you’ll reap by adopting the latest AIDC technology are considerable and include:

  • Every pallet move is up to 15 seconds faster
  • Mispicks are reduced
  • Time spent looking for pallets is decreased
  • Less time is wasted on stock reconciliation
  • Inventory is 100% accurate with no on-going cost
  • Automation delivers increases in picking efficiency