5 Tips to Improve Warehouse and Distribution Center Operations

checking inventory with tablet

Running a warehouse or distribution center isn’t what it used to be. Today’s facilities are full of automated equipment, precise picking paths and thousands of individual SKUs as more companies start selling their products online. Managing a warehouse now means keeping track of thousands of dissimilar items while making sure they arrive at their destination on time. If you fall behind on inventory management, you could lose track of important items or miss certain delivery deadlines. 

If your company is having trouble keeping up with demand or you’re in the process of increasing throughput in distribution centers, use these operational tips to make sure your inventory stays accurate.

Automated Inventory Tracking

A whopping 93 percent of warehouses are now using some type of warehouse management system (WMS) to help keep track of everything coming and going out of a facility. Distribution centers are faced with the challenge of monitoring inventory levels of both incoming and outgoing goods. When you’re fielding demand from all sides, you need to be as precise with your inventory management as possible.

Ideally, you should know exactly how many items you have on hand at any given moment. Your employees should scan all incoming items so they show up in the system. They should do the same for all outgoing items so you can keep an accurate count. Streamline the scanning and unloading/loading process. That way, your workers don’t leave anything to chance. Your employees should follow a precise list of instructions when handling these items so every item is accounted for. They should compare what’s on the screen with what they’re holding in their hand.

Look for certain features that help improve accuracy, such as automatic alerts for redundant barcodes, flagging unusual quantities, matching the data in the system with your work orders and automatic software updates and backups. 

warehouse manager checking shipping spreadsheet

Manually Spot Check Inventory on the Shelf

As important as it is to use a warehouse management system in this day and age, some errors are bound to occur. Items may not be scanned before going on or leaving the shelf. Your employees may scan the same item more than once, throwing off your inventory estimates. 

That’s why it’s important to make sure your team is manually spot-checking your inventory so you can address any discrepancies in the system right away. They should also get in the habit of identifying the quality of all incoming and outgoing items. If an item is damaged in any way, it shouldn’t go on the shelf or out for delivery. Your workers should flag it in the system to keep your count as accurate as possible.

You can conduct manual spot checks at the end of each day, shift or week, depending on how much merchandise you have coming in and out of your facility. The more often you conduct these checks, the more accurate your inventory will be. You can also track down missing inventory in real-time instead of waiting until it’s too late.

Adopt a Lean Model

Warehouse rental rates are quickly rising as more companies invest in local distribution centers. To help conserve storage space, adopt a lean warehouse model whenever possible. This means your facility should have the absolute minimum number of goods on hand at any given time. When managing your inventory, you should only order or accept new items when sending out other items for delivery. This way, you won’t have to worry about holding onto too much inventory at once. 

Keep track of the velocity of your inventory to better understand the rate at which you need to reorder more goods and supplies. Use data analytics to predict future demand so you don’t order too many items at once.

plastic containers on roller conveyors

Utilize Reusable Containers for Shipping and Storage

When storing and shipping out packages, it’s best to utilize reusable storage containers so your team doesn’t have to waste time building up and recycling boxes. Just gently rinse out your containers and put them back in the supply chain. Use industrial totes for shipping and storage to keep your costs as low as possible. These containers will last the test of time so you don’t have to worry about ordering new containers or running low on supplies. 

Consider the Safety of Your Storage Practices

You should also spot check the overall condition of your inventory. Make sure your stack racks are stable and packages and containers aren’t being crushed in storage. Look for cracks, leaks and disjointed parts to protect the goods you have on hand.

Improve your throughput rates with these storage and inventory management tips.