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What would your mom say about your warehouse?

A 15-minute walk-through of a facility can tell more about operations than an hour in the conference room.
By John M. Hill, Director, St. Onge Company
October 27, 2011

Having visited hundreds of warehouses around the globe, it occurs to me that the routine followed and initial observations made 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 her house and children looked. Our rooms would have passed an inspection by the toughest drill sergeant, and I still scrub behind my ears. On an initial warehouse walk-through, here’s a baker’s half dozen items from the checklist I have used for more than 30 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 members of the team open and pleasant, closed, suspicious and sullen or somewhere in between?
—Does their personal appearance seem to count?
—Does the tour host know team members by name and greet them accordingly? And, does he or she engage their support during the tour? 
—Do workers receive regular feedback on targets and actual results? A number of companies are now using large electronic displays or scoreboards to keep the team in the game and reinforce winning performance.

Clean, well-lighted ship:
—How’s the housekeeping?
—Are work and common areas clean or cluttered with detritus (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 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 productivity. The use of properly spaced luminaries and lighter colored facility walls 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 an LA freeway at rush hour? A “yes” here suggests a number of issues including storage and pick area sizing and layout, possible improper matching of aisle widths to equipment types and traffic patterns, and activity scheduling.  A related consideration is inventory slotting and activity scheduling. Time and time again, I see pickers delayed while waiting for others to complete fast mover picks in the same area.  Spread the fast movers across a wider pick front.

The Golden Zone:
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 and workers compensation costs.  Profiling activity by SKU (or product) can help with deployment of fact 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 10 or 15 feet.  The quicker it becomes dirty, the greater the problem with improper storage of slow moving materials.  Fast movers, not slow, should be located nearest to shipping 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 send them to me and I’ll include them in one of the next columns.

Read more columns by John Hill at Modern.
More Best Practices content.

About the Author

John M. Hill
Director, St. Onge Company

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