As fulfilment warehouses across the land enter the Christmas trading period, much sweat and toil will be expended by pickers, packers and loaders to ensure customers receive their parcels in good time. The rapid build-up of stock that precedes this usually exacerbates problems associated with ‘non-compliance’, specifically, the speed at which goods can be receipted and processed into picking locations. Indeed, the efficiency of ‘good inwards’ is often overlooked in favour of dispatch activity.
In a small to medium sized warehouse up to, say, 20,000 sq ft, space is not usually a luxury. On that basis, most warehouse managers would operate a delivery window system and set a KPI for completion of goods in, QA and put away at eight hours. Provided that stock is pre-identified and clearly labelled, everything should flow and this can be enhanced by the use of warehouse management software and handheld scanners. However, as margins are squeezed, supply chains have extended across the globe and, very often, procedures are challenged by goods that cannot be identified or reconciled to a purchase order.
Reverting to manual processes slows the flow and leads to stock discrepancies. So, it is vitally important that warehouse, product and purchasing functions are working in perfect harmony. Focus has to be placed on the importance of compliance and there are a number of circumstances in which your warehouse could experience difficulties. Here are a few cases and tips:
1. Large consignments (e.g. over 4 cartons) being delivered without a booking in reference – warehouses operate delivery windows to ensure staff are available to de-van and confirm goods receipt immediately. Ensure the procedure is communicated to suppliers and contact details for booking in are included on your purchase order.
2. Mixed pallets and cartons – accurately checking individual items rather than boxes or consignment quantities is often a very slow process. Consider buying in case quantities.
3. Goods received without a packing or advice note – correct accompanying paperwork enables warehouse operatives to quickly confirm receipt of goods and correctly prioritise put away tasks. Inform your suppliers that provision of correct paperwork is a condition of purchase.
4. Goods received without corresponding paperwork – in most cases a receipt should not be acknowledged without a matching purchase instrument. Ensure Purchase Orders are correctly raised with a unique reference quoted on placing the order. This should detail all line items with individual SKUs and quantities.
5. Goods received without a corresponding Product record or barcode – in a ‘best practice’ environment, items are scanned into the warehouse upon receipt and then locations during the put away process. This effectively de-skills the role and ensures accuracy. Quarantine any products without barcodes or no matching system record. Management of resolution should be the responsibility of a purchasing or product manager.
6. Goods received that require further rework e.g. bagging, labelling prior to put away – items that are not in an appropriate state for resale will slow availability. Unless you have a specific rework or production function, ensure that all goods purchased are delivered ready for sale.
7. Goods received on custom pallets – the minimum depth of pallets for installation in standard racking systems ranges from 1 to 1.2m. Stock received on custom pallets may need to be re-palletised. Check your racking specifications for depth, beam and weight-bearing metrics. If you are buying in pallet quantities, ensure you specify the minimum handling requirements. All pallet deliveries must be delivered in a safe and stable condition i.e. not over-stacked or exceeding 1mt in weight. Any deliveries not conforming to safe handling guidelines should be refused. Remember, you have a legal responsibility for the wellbeing of your staff.
A cost-effective and efficient fulfilment warehouse relies on adherence to safe working practices, good system processes, a positive culture and consistent prioritisation of workloads. Compliance isn’t a ‘nice to have’ or management-speak; it is absolutely critical to the bottom line and delivering your promise to customers.