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Best Practices to Get More Throughput and Capacity Out of Your Distribution Centers

Increased demand on your distribution centers from improved e-commerce sales, changing seasons, or other shopping patterns can limit your throughput. While expanding capacity with new construction is certainly one solution, other ways exist to get more throughput and capacity in distribution centers without major overhauls to existing operations. Before you break ground on a new building/annex, hire and train new workers, or invest millions into new software, consider some other proven ways to get more throughput and capacity in distribution centers.

1. Start With Small Improvements, Such as Using More Vertical Space

Small improvements can have significant impacts on your distribution center. Consider adding mezzanines (including one over your office space) before adding horizontal space. It may seem obvious, but consider adding racking to any areas that are set aside for floor space today. It is best to take advantage of as much space as possible without incurring the added costs of new construction.

2.Use Narrow Aisle Equipment to Reduce Lost Space

This idea can be a double-edged sword in the arsenal to improve throughput and capacity in your distribution centers. It does increase space, but it could lead to severe aisle congestion and unexpected delays during the putaway and replenishment process. That said, many of the best warehouse management systems (WMS) have the ability to limit the number of users in an aisle. Furthermore, use data from your existing WMS to compare the opportunities and risks from making such changes.

3. Implement Waveless Picking Strategies

The traditional waves of batch order picking worked well for multi-channel supply chains in the past, but in the omnichannel supply chain. Wave-based picking results in peaks and lulls in worker activity, increasing labor costs. However, waveless picking strategies, such as order streaming, can reduce labor peaks and valleys and reduce the amount of time needed to ship an order, explains Mark Owen of Supply Chain 24/7.

4.Focus on Staff Members’ Impact on Throughput

Staff members are the center of increasing throughput in your distribution center. Involving staff members in decisions that affect picking, packaging, and movements within the warehouse will improve employee morale and satisfaction rates. Cross-training existing staff on other warehouse functions can reduce the need to hire temps or additional labor. While not an overnight fix, creating a culture that seeks to “eliminate process waste” can have a substantial long-term impact on throughput.

5. Improve Building, Aisle, and Bin Labeling

Signage and labeling can have an adverse impact on distribution center throughput. While floor labels might seem ideal, they may be easily overlooked and often become difficult to read/scan with regular wear and tear. Meanwhile, bin and aisle labels that are clear, easy to read, and easy to scan can help pickers find the right bin quickly before adding an item to a pick tote.

6. Interleave Tasks to Reduce Unloaded Travel

Equipment costs are a significant portion of running most distribution centers. Equipment that is traveling without a pallet, or “unloaded”, is not being fully utilized. A top-tier WMS will give you the ability to interleave the tasks performed by the same equipment types. For example, many distribution centers use reach-trucks to complete pallet putaway tasks and also pull pallets down for replenishment. If your WMS supports it, you could enable task-interleaving so that a reach-truck driver is constantly alternating between putting away pallets and pulling pallets down for replenishment.

7. Reduce Travel Time

Time spent traveling by pickers is a major hurdle to increase throughput and capacity in distribution centers. Reduce walking time by consolidating items frequently ordered together into the same aisle. In fact, visually similar items should be placed several slots away from one another to reduce order errors.

8. Keep 10% of Slots Open

A general rule of thumb in increasing throughput and capacity in distribution centers is keeping 10 percent of slots open. However, the increased demand for today’s distribution centers may require that extra 10 percent for stocking in-demand products. As a result, it is better to implement dynamic replenishment procedures, such as designating locations for specific stock keeping units (SKU) and picking from location A, then B and C, as necessary. When the first location gets low on inventory, it can be reordered or used for another SKU. Of course, this level of sophistication requires a system to track and continually optimize slots as freight moves in and out of your facility.

Use These Best Practices to Get More Throughput Today

Getting more throughput increases profitability, productivity, and efficiency in your distribution center. Before you decide to build a new facility to keep up with tightening capacity, implement these eight practices by partnering with Veridian today to get more throughput and avoid the costs of new, unnecessary construction.