St. Onge Company Links Supply Chain Blog
Strengthening your supply chain one link at a time.
 

What Would Your Mom Say About Your Warehouse?

Having visited hundreds of warehouses over the years, the process I follow and my initial observations may well be traceable to my childhood.

My mother was charming, always a smile on her face; but she was also fastidious about the way our house and her children looked.  Our rooms would have passed an inspection by the toughest drill sergeant.  Today, I not only continue to scrub behind my ears, but also still rely upon my mother’s standards during an initial warehouse walk-through.

Here’s the checklist I have used for more than 40 years. Within minutes, it tells me more about the quality of operations and management than an hour in a conference room.

People

  • What’s the mood?
  • Are team members open and pleasant, closed, suspicious and sullen or somewhere in between?
  • Does the tour host know team members by name and greet them accordingly?
  • Does he or she engage their support during the tour?
  • Do workers receive regular feedback on targets and actual results? Many companies use large electronic displays or scoreboards to keep the team in the game and reinforce winning performance.

A Clean Well-Lighted Place

  • How’s the housekeeping? Are work and common areas clean or cluttered with dunnage, paper, labels, banding material, shrink or stretch wrap?
  • Are workers stepping around the clutter or stopping to remove it?
  • How about the restrooms?
  • Are storage and pick locations well-marked with easily readable location labels in a logical sequence?
  • What about warehouse lighting? Is the facility dark and cave-like? If lighted, what about glare and uniformity?  Excessive brightness or poor light distribution can lead to eyestrain and impact safety and productivity.  The use of properly spaced lighting and lighter colored facility walls and even ceilings can help.
  • What about the temperature? Too cold (unless it’s a refrigerated facility)?  Too hot?  Could better dock seals and ventilation help?

 Congestion

  • Do aisles and dock areas resemble a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour? A “yes” here suggests a number of issues including storage and pick area sizing and layout, improper matching of aisle widths to equipment types and traffic patterns, and sloppy task scheduling.
  • A related consideration is inventory slotting and activity scheduling. All too often, I see pickers delayed while waiting for others to complete picks in the same area.  Spread the fast movers across a wider pick front if necessary.

Golden Zoning

  • Is most of the picking executed from locations that are positioned at or near picker waist height? If not, fatigue and back problems are likely to impact productivity, safety and workers comp costs.  Profiling activity by SKU (or product) can help with deployment of fast movers in the “golden zone.”

The Dirty Finger Test

  • While walking through the storage or picking areas closest to the shipping docks, drag a finger across the tops of the stored pallets, cases or items and check that finger every 5 or 10 feet. The quicker it becomes dirty, the greater the problem with improper storage of slow-moving materials.
  • Fast movers, not slow movers, should be located nearest to the shipping docks to reduce travel times and speed trailer turnaround time.

Docks

  • Does the warehouse use proper dock plates and levelers, trailer wheel chocks and restraints like the ICC bar that engages the rear impact guard on the back of trailers to prevent movement away from the dock?
  • When lift trucks tip over or fall from docks or when workers are hit by a lift truck or falling load, injuries can be serious and sometimes fatal.
  • What about dock seals? Are they properly fitted and do they provide sufficient protection from the elements to ensure a comfortable environment for the workforce? The busiest and most dangerous part of the warehouse is not the place to skimp!

Mom would probably have another half dozen and I’m sure that you could add to the list. In fact, if you have the time, please feel free to e-mail me at: jhill@stonge.com and I’ll include them in one of our next blogs.
 
—John Hill, St. Onge Company
 
 

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