Warehousing can be a rather complex business and one area in which this is especially true is in the food distribution business. Strict regulations and standards abound and along with that is the goal of enhancing both safety and efficiency to the distribution process. Fortunately, plenty of opportunities for new efficiencies are available. Below are four essential ways you can better manage your food distribution warehouse.
1. Use the Technology That’s Available
Warehouses today have the benefit of a technological boom that is making tracking and stocking more logical than ever. You have access to machines and software that drastically improve your ability to store and move items in your warehouse. Here are just a few:
- Tracking software: Logistics software can help you organize materials and group them in ways that make sense. You can also better track where items are within your food distribution warehouse, how long it’s been there and where it should go next.
- Sensors: Like tracking software, sensors help you keep tabs on materials within a warehouse. Not only do they help with immediate tracking and shipping tasks, they give you valuable data that you can use to be more efficient going forward. How long are food materials in any given place? How many times are they handled? Does your current shipping and storing system make the most sense?
- Robotics: Automation is a huge trend in manufacturing overall. It’s finding a home in warehousing, as well. Robots don’t suffer from fatigue and they are incredibly accurate. You can significantly improve your food distribution efficiency by reducing human error and increasing overall speed.
2. Invest in High-Quality Pallet Accessories
In food distribution, the use of pallets is inevitable, so it only makes sense that you would use the best options available.
- Pallets: Invest in pallets that won’t crack and break over time. In food distribution, where materials will inevitably spill and leak, it’s worth it to get top of the line.
- Pallet jacks and pallet trucks: A quality pallet jack (also called a pallet truck) will reduce the strain on your workers and make it possible to store up rather than out. With a pallet jack, you are able to lift, move and store pallets much more easily.
- Pallet racks: To preserve space and to take proper care of your pallets, use a horizontal pallet rack that allows you to make the most of your storage space.
- Pallet cleaners: Sanitation is a huge concern in food distribution. Never overlook the beating your pallets will take from spills. Invest in a quality pallet cleaner to keep within industry standards and to ensure the longevity of your pallets.
3. Reconfigure Your Layout When Needed
Don’t become attached to your current warehouse layout. Other layouts could make more sense. Your layout should be easy to navigate, with limited overlaps and obstacles. For example, segment your food distribution warehouse into specific areas based on temperature requirements and order of shipping. Limit the need to move materials from one section to the next. Similarly, shipping and receiving areas should be well identified or even physically separated by a barrier.
Consider a grid layout so that coming and going makes more sense for the workers on the ground. Include plenty of perpendicular aisles to make it easier to move throughout the facility without having to make long trips back to the start. Post plenty of detailed maps for your workers.
4. Make Warehouse Safety a Priority
Your food distribution warehouse will be more efficient when workers know that they are safe. Here are a few tips for promoting a safe work environment.
- Keep it clean: In a food distribution warehouse, spills can go unnoticed, and that can be a lethal mistake. Take care to keep floors very clean at all times. Use rubber floor matting where needed, and line any stairs and steps with slip-resistant tape.
- Label the traffic flow: This is especially true in the loading dock area, where people and machines might share paths.
- Know your workers’ limits: Strain and fatigue can be deadly, so know what to watch for, and listen to your workers.
- Restrict access: An untrained employee is a huge liability. Restrict access to machines and certain areas of your warehouse to reduce workplace accidents.
About the Author
Jerry Matos, Product Specialist at Cherry’s Material Handling, the leading online e-commerce store for material handling equipment for warehouses in the food distribution, industrial and 3PL industries.