Best Practices for a Quality Distribution Center

Previously, we covered the differences between warehouses and distribution centers, the operations that are often handled by the latter, and the essential questions to ask a distribution center when considering working with them. Finding a solution to your distribution center needs won’t be a quick fix, but with a little guidance, you’ll be well on your way to finding a center that works best for you. 

The operations of a distribution center are its lifeline and those operations aren’t optimized, they can result in a decline in performance and ultimately lead to a negative impact on your business. Today, we’ll be focusing on the best practices to implement in your center to have it running as smoothly as possible. 

Safety

When operating a warehouse or distribution center, building, and maintaining a healthy and safe workplace should be a priority. Whether it’s through mandatory training, enforcing the wear of protective gear, or consistently checking for path obstructions, it’s important that your facility remains a safe working environment.

Safety Gear

Most operations within distribution centers often require heavy lifting and the use of machinery. Proper training is required to carry out such tasks, but additional measures should be taken to prevent injury. Before beginning these operations, you must ensure that your staff is wearing the proper gear.  Once hired, the staff is required to participate in mandatory training that teaches them how to correctly put on and take off safety gear or operate equipment, but sometimes there are those who don’t adhere to rules. To reduce the chances of this happening, distribution centers hire site guards to survey the center to ensure that safety gear is being worn. Accidents can happen in a matter of seconds and its results can be life-changing. Making sure your staff is properly protected won’t stop them from happening, but it can help diminish their severity. 

Spot Checking

Storage is an essential function of some centers, but when items are stored haphazardly they become a problem. Some of the most common accidents that occur within distribution centers are due to items being improperly placed on shelves which could topple over onto someone or something. Aisle blockages can also become a hazard, as they are oftentimes out of the line of sight of most. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if your floors are frequently traversed by forklifts. Running into aisle blockages can not only injure bystanders but also inventory as well. 

Studies have shown that 15% of injuries result from slips or falls. Making sure your floors are free of spilled liquid is a must, especially if it’s one of the types of products you store in your facility. Having site guards patrol the center can help prevent such incidents from occurring. Looking out for spills may seem like a minor task, but being cognizant of simple errors can prevent major damage from ensuing.  

Communication

With several different processes taking place under one roof, it’s important that everyone is fully aware of the requirements of each task. The workplace will thrive, as a boost in morale and a drive to complete tasks are typical results of proper communication. Communicating poorly will lead to a decrease in productivity, however, it can be prevented by establishing effective practices. 

Recognition

Sometimes, even the best employees need to be reminded that their hard work is truly paying off. According to a study, it was reported that 78% of employees were more determined to work harder if their efforts were recognized. One of the ways you can show your staff that you value them is by providing them with incentives or praise. Vocalizing the efforts of your staff will benefit your workplace overall by boosting morale and sparking an increase in productivity.

Easy Access

Communication is everything. When operating a distribution center or warehouse, it is important to have clear channels of communication established to ensure that everything is running smoothly. This can be done in several ways: email, telephone, or even hiring a designated point of contact to handle employee concerns. Making the process of obtaining answers to questions as easy as possible will save the company time which can be used to optimize other functions.

Effective communication isn’t solely for your employees. Staying in contact with your customers until their order is delivered will keep scathing reviews at bay. One way you can keep your customers from being in the dark about their order is by implementing advanced shipping notifications. Once the customers order ships, the ASN will send them a notification regarding the status of their order. As the package travels along its route, it will continue to receive updates until it reaches its destination.

Organization

At the forefront of all operations within a distribution center should be organization. Without it, the center will be unable to function properly. Misplaced items, incorrect SKUs, and missing equipment are only a few of the problems that could arise without proper organization. Slow operations won’t only cost you time, but it will also cost you money.  Here a few ways you can improve your center’s organization. 

Optimal floor-plan

Whether you are considering operating a distribution center of your own or looking to work with one, it’s important that the layout of the facility will support the goals you are trying to achieve.  As previously mentioned, distribution centers and warehouses alike are comprised of many moving parts. With an array of operations being handled simultaneously, it is imperative that staff performing these tasks don’t collide with one another. This can be prevented by strategically planning out the layout of your center’s floor plan. Placing related materials and corresponding equipment in a designated area can support the smooth navigation of the center

Incorporating a good lighting system will also improve the functionality of the facility. Tall ceilings are a common feature and with numerous products moving around the center, being able to see clearly is a definite requirement.    

Will the movement of fast-moving items be a common occurrence in your facility? Incorporating a cross-docking station into your floor plan will be beneficial. Save time and money by placing those items into a temporary staging area which is often found near the loading dock. 

Implement technology 

In this day and age, reliance on technology to carry out daily tasks isn’t uncommon. In fact, there are some instances where incorporating technology into our tasks can make completing them more efficient. Countless shipping and receiving operations are handled in distribution centers on a daily basis. Thousands of products are in constant movement, each with their own set of data. Making the collection of this data automatic will not only save time but will also decrease the chances of entry errors. Using handheld scanners during shipping and receiving is one way to automate this process.

After receiving shipments, items are typically stored for either a short or long term. Through inventory management software, you’ll be able to easily track and locate products for optimal order fulfillment. This software is typically synced to scanning devices that are frequently used during shipping and receiving. By centralizing your data, you’ll be able to keep an accurate record of all items that have come through your distribution center.

Another way process efficiency can be improved is by utilizing an automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS). With an ASRS, your employees can focus and higher priority tasks while the system handles storage and retrieval. Avoidance of injury is also a benefit of using an ASRS since the machinery can handle extremely large packages with the risk of bodily harm. 

Finding the right distribution center can be challenging and finding one of quality isn’t any easier. In most cases, ensuring quality begins with planning the layout of your center. Does the layout of your center support the operations needed to achieve your goals?  Is your staff properly trained in essential safety procedures? Is there a clear and convenient channel of communication established? Taking all of these things and more into account during your search will help you find a distribution that actively works to incorporate practices that’ll optimize its operations and can meet any special requests you have.  

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