Optimizing Warehouse and Loading Dock Operations

We know that your food processing loading dock and warehouse operations can get out of hand despite your best efforts. But that doesn’t mean the blame lies with your hardworking employees or late shipments. More often than not, the order and efficiency of warehouse operations directly affects how effective warehouse and loading dock operations perform.

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Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Food Manufacturing

Without a doubt, the warehouse is a virtual bazaar of activity, especially when it comes to food processing dock operations. Transport lanes buzz with forklifts speeding with inventory to and from the loading dock. Workers scan barcodes, palletize product and oversee production. Inventory moves in and out of the warehouse all day, every day. And to be frank, this imagery does little justice to the actual scope and breadth of daily warehouse operations.

We know that your food processing loading dock and warehouse operations can get out of hand despite your best efforts. But that doesn’t mean the blame lies with your hardworking employees or late shipments. More often than not, the order and efficiency of warehouse operations directly affects how effective warehouse and loading dock operations perform.

ALSO SEE: WMS Versus ERP: Who Wins in the Warehouse?

Consider for a moment what optimized operations means. “Every element and function within a system integrates and works in harmony at peak performance.” In other words: maximum efficiency.

Your loading dock is the gateway to and from your warehouse. This is the last place inefficiency should live; if things are moving slowly here, every other department of your warehouse grinds to a halt in response. Yet, this happens despite management’s best efforts, and upon closer inspection, it’s a rather common issue in many warehouses.

Unfortunately, even when you think your warehouse is working at peak performance, it’s more than likely it probably isn’t … and you didn’t even know it.

Creating optimal warehouse and loading dock efficiencies is crucial to the success of any logistics operation, no matter what the size.

Storage

Basically, no warehouse is big enough. Warehouses quickly outgrow their physical boundaries, and then face one of two options: expand by building an addition, or move vertically. Building an addition to your warehouse is extremely expensive and ROI takes decades before you’ll ever break even.

The alternative is to move vertically. Building an industrial mezzanine platform is a fraction of an addition’s cost, can nearly double your storage and work space, can be custom built to perfectly fit your specific needs/ambitions, and can be installed and functional within a few weeks. Mezzanine platforms can even be built above and up to loading dock bay doors, freeing up space and creating maximum storage/work flow area you may never have realized you even had.

A mezzanine platform comes loaded with potential and practical benefits to operations. By doubling your storage space, product can be more effectively stored and categorized, and inventory can be better managed. Workers are less likely to have run-ins with forklifts or dangerously stacked pallets of inventory because of space constraints. Add all this to the tax depreciation advantage that accompanies an industrial mezzanine platform upgrade and the savings compound. Now that’s optimized!

Transporting Product

There are an unlimited amount of conveyor and lift system configurations at any given location in the warehouse. In many cases, there are long lines of conveyor tracks running just about everywhere. This creates an all too common issue; workers either crawl under or even leap over a raised line, while floor level conveyer rollers are blatantly walked on. This is a major safety concern, but it also can damage the conveyors or even product.

Incline lift conveyors pose another problem entirely — they take up a lot of room. With usable space being one of a warehouse’s biggest assets, incline conveyor lines eat up a large portion of this valuable real estate. Because they can only lift product one foot for every 10 feet of conveyor track, the amount of track needed is significant. Additionally, these lift lines don’t often create optimized workflow from one area to another. It’s not ideal to have workers and warehouse vehicles travelling farther because of a lift conveyor path impediment.

So how do you free up your warehouse from these conveyor problems? Again, think up. There are a wide variety of crossover designs that allow workers to safely traverse a conveyor track (without climbing on or around it). These crossovers make it easier and far more efficient to work on larger machines, and in general, can optimize workflow at minimal expense.

Freeing up warehouse space consumed by incline conveyors is easily solved with vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs). With an average of 6x6 footprint, mechanical VRCs are an excellent solution. They free up space, significantly improve travel time between levels, are easier to maintain and operate than elevators and forklifts, save money, and can even be integrated with a conveyor line to automatically lift product without a break in workflow.

Safety

Everything from forklift operating guidelines to packaging and storage and weight regulations have all been enacted by two safety commissions — OSHA and ANSI — both of which have distinct guidelines where safety procedures are concerned. It may seem a bit counterproductive, but the safety rules and regulations put forth by these organizations have both a direct and indirect impact on optimizing warehouse and loading dock efficiency.

Falls are a common injury source in warehouses and loading docks. There are so many reasons why this can happen, but the danger is the same — a fall from any height can lead to serious injury or death. When a worker is injured, there can be no efficiency. Operations are either delayed or halted altogether and it can take a significant amount of time before work can resume. Falls with equipment such as a forklift or pallet jack are equally as dangerous to people, inventory and overall efficiency. A fall can not only injure multiple people, but can damage/destroy product and even a truck bed or trailer. The cost of one bad step is far too great to ignore safety standards.

Vehicle traffic flow, storage and foot traffic lanes come into conflict more often than anyone wants. The damage to product, equipment and people can be devastating. In order to increase safety and efficiency, installing bollards or industrial guardrails is the key. While bollards are an accepted standard, they can’t protect against the fork tines potential danger, and when hit, can damage both a forklift and the warehouse floor.

A guard rail system provides a more complete solution because they are easily identified, helping to designate pedestrian foot traffic flow, are customizable, protect against fork tines, and can keep workers from falling over edges. Where swing gates or slide gates are used at elevated levels, installing an open-gate sensor alarm truly takes the next step in optimized warehouse and loading dock safety.

Guard rail installation is OSHA recommended, and depending upon the manufacturer, is rigorously tested to withstand variable speed vehicle collisions. This helps to protect everyone, as well as everything, in the warehouse, and in doing so, workflow remains uninterrupted — which of course optimizes operations.

Warehouse and loading dock operations should always run like a well-oiled machine. By optimizing the installation and safety considerations of your warehouse’s operations, you’ll maximize everything from productivity to workflow and beyond.

About the Author

Scott Dachel, Senior Outside Regional Sales Manager for Wildeck is an expert in warehouse optimization and safety. Based in Waukesha, Wis., Wildeck is a 100% employee-owned company and the largest manufacturer of safety guarding products, industrial steel work platforms (mezzanines), vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs), dock safety gates, stair systems and ladder equipment. For more information, please visit www.wildeck.com, email info@wildeck.com or call 800-325-6939.

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