Warehousing is a complicated but crucial part of the supply chain. The warehouse entitles a business to store stock until it’s ready for distribution, or, in the case of materials, to store the materials until the manufacturer orders them.

Below is a look at warehousing, taking a deeper look at warehouse management systems (WMS), warehouse storage solutions, warehouse picking, warehouse technology, things to consider when warehousing, warehouse logistics, and warehouse health and safety. We’ll also discuss one of our own warehouse solutions, the modular rollerbed for warehouses, which can help operators boost efficiency when it comes to loading and unloading trailers and to transporting loads around the warehouse.

We start off with a look at warehouse management systems...

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warehouse loading solutions

Before exploring warehouse management systems, the first thing to ask is: what is a warehouse management system? Although the answer may seem pretty obvious, let us explain all the same: a warehouse management system is a type of software that tracks all materials and goods as they come in and out of a warehouse. Basically, the purpose of a WMS is to optimise all the different warehouse processes.

These indispensable systems do more than just track all the goods in the warehouse; they can help you to create systems and streamline how workers pick orders or pack them. The operator can track the goods or merchandise that enters the warehouse, is being packed onto the shelves and in different places of the warehouse, and when it leaves the warehouse for the company to fulfil the order.

Different types of warehouse management systems

The type of WMS you choose for your warehouse will depend on your requirements. There are two main choices when it comes to selecting a system.

Integrated or standalone

Whether you invest in an integrated WMS or a standalone one will depend on how you manage your priorities. An integrated system is more of an add-on to an existing enterprise resource planning system (EPS), which manages accounting, invoicing and tracking inventory. The WMS takes on the orders and directs the picking process, inventory and the receiving and shipping of products.

Having everything integrated into a single system makes it easier to track the orders that are the best investments. If a product is selling well but the profit margin is low, you may decide to invest in a product that has slightly lower sales but a much higher profit margin instead. An integrated WMS would help you to monitor the financial side of things.

A standalone system is packed with features and is designed, first and foremost, for warehouse management. As a result, it may have slightly more limited functionality for other aspects of the business, such as inventory and accounting; the fact it’s tailored to warehouse management, however, means it’s more likely to have more advanced reporting features that enable you to level up your warehouse.

Cloud-based versus on the premises

An on-the-premises WMS will make you responsible for hosting and maintaining the software and hardware of the system, which you’ll have to maintain regularly. You’ll have complete control over the aspects such as security and uptime (the percentage of time a computer has been working and available), but since you’re responsible for all the components, you’ll also have to shoulder a significant upfront cost.

Small businesses might prefer an on-the-premises WMS, but managing everything yourself is stressful and inconvenient. A cloud-based WMS saves you this stress because even though you might pay a subscription for the system, the system itself is hosted on a remote server. The vendor will take care of issues such as bug fixes and software updates, and you’ll also get guaranteed uptime when you sign up for the system.

warehouse storage

Naturally, storage is a key aspect of warehousing, and there are several different systems you can implement when it comes to storage. How you choose to store items is a major decision because it will require investment. A storage system can help or hurt your throughput, so you should give it some careful consideration, taking into account your warehouse floor plan and warehouse processes. Below are the main systems you might wish to consider.

Static shelving

As you might imagine, static shelving is a type of storage system designed to stay in one place. Often, warehouses use static shelving for lightweight items and items they’re continually having to restock.

Static shelving isn’t compatible with the use of forklift trucks, so warehouses tend to use them with items they pick and organise manually. If you have a larger inventory, you might prefer a wide-span shelving system. These can handle more weight and be used in higher-elevation configurations.

Mobile shelving

Mobile shelving is similar to static shelving and, like static shelving, is adjustable, but many of the systems are designed to hold more items in a smaller space. When implementing mobile shelves, the warehouse mounts shelves or cabinets onto carriage and rail systems. This type of system removes the need for fixed aisles and, by making inventory more accessible even when there’s little space, boosts productivity.

Pallet racking

Pallet racking is the main component of warehousing needs for the busiest, largest warehouses. These systems hold inventory in large boxes and are often made from wood, metal or plastic. The warehouse will use either an automated system or a forklift truck to place these boxes on the system.

When choosing a system, the warehouse operator will base their decision on the weight, flexibility, limits and whether the system will call for a change in the infrastructure. They can select one of several different pallet racking systems:

  • carton flow racking, a regular racking structure that comes with downward sloping flow levels which use wheeled tracks to push the stock to the picking area at the end of the process;
  • cantilever racking, a racking system that consists of vertical single uprights that have long, cantilevered arms to carry long-length products and varied loads;
  • coil racking, a racking system for the storage of any material that is rolled in coils e.g. cloth, rope, cable, etc;
  • double-deep racking, a cross between an adjustable storage system and a compact system in which the warehouse stores pallets two rows deep instead of one;
  • drive-in racking, a system similar to block stacking that uses cantilevered rails, allows warehouses to store more per cubic metre and in which the forklift truck will only load or unload on one side of the racks;
  • drive-through racking, a system in which, unlike drive-in racking, the forklift truck will access the goods from separate entry and exit points;
  • mobile racking, a system in which the warehouse places pallets on a chassis or a mobile base guided by tracks on the floor;
  • narrow aisle racking, a highly efficient storage system that enables forklift trucks to operate in much narrower aisles than conventional adjustable beam pallet racking systems;
  • pallet live racking, a system suitable for perishable goods that consist of roller tracks into which the pallets are slid into the higher end of the storage channel and then slide over the rollers towards the lower end for extraction;
  • push back racking, a type or racking system that enables the warehouse to store the pallets from two to six deep on either side of an aisle;
  • vertical racking, a simple but effective system that consists of tall metal frames divided into sections using adjustable arms.

Multi-tier racking

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all warehouse, which is why multi-tier racking is such a good system. Multi-tier racking is flexible and makes efficient use of vertical space, allowing you to add or remove tiers in line with your needs.

Warehouses often implement multi-tier racking with lightweight items they pick and organise manually. The way to get the most out of a multitier system is to organise items strategically and pack them as densely as possible, but observe weight limits and comply with ceiling-to-rack height guidelines at the same time.

Mezzanine flooring

Mezzanine flooring is an expensive but effective, space-saving option to consider if your warehouse layout and budget make it viable. In essence, mezzanine flooring is a second floor (or a third or fourth) above the main floor of the warehouse. Intrusive as it is in nature because of the build, mezzanine flooring offers massive potential for customisation, such as the lighting, lift systems and conveyors.

Wire partitions

Wire partitions sit at the other end of the scale to mezzanine flooring. These partitions are more or less strategically positioned wire cages the warehouse can install and remove quickly and easily. Often the inventory within these cages requires special security. Some warehouses will even erect these partitions as a makeshift temporary office for managers who must work on the warehouse floor.

warehouse picking

What is picking? To put it simply: picking is the act of finding the products a customer orders, extracting them and distributing them to the customer or to the relevant department for packing and shipping. This vital part of order fulfilment is one of a warehouse’s most labour-intensive, expensive activities.

Improving picking is a top priority for many companies because it can have a direct impact on customer satisfaction, business reputation and profitability. Choosing the right picking strategy can make or break the efficiency of your warehousing operations. Factors that will influence an operator’s selection of one strategy over another include:

  • the facility size;
  • the financial and human resources available;
  • the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) in stock;
  • the quantity of orders that come to the warehouse;
  • the frequency of orders the warehouse receives.

Picking systems an operator might choose could be the following ones below.

Zone picking

Warehouses often use zone picking, also referred to as the ‘pick and pass’ strategy, for complex orders or multi-item orders to boost efficiency. The operator will organise the SKUs into specific, physically defined groups (‘zones’) and assign a picker to each individual zone. These pickers are then responsible for picking all the SKUs to fulfil the order.

Discrete picking

Discrete picking is easy to follow and implement, which makes it a popular strategy in warehousing. It's an ideal strategy for smaller warehouses or warehouses that don’t have a lot of SKUs. Pickers just pick items one at a time until they’ve completed the order.

Discrete picking has its pros and cons, however. On the one hand, the strategy makes it more straightforward to track order accuracy and facilitates a quick response for order fulfilment; but on the other hand, the travel time makes it inefficient and labour intensive for warehouses that have to deal with complex orders or high-volume orders.

Wave picking

Just like discrete picking, wave picking entails the pickers picking items one at a time until they complete the order; however, this picking strategy leverages scheduling windows, whereas discrete picking doesn’t. Warehouses schedule order picking at specific times of the day to optimise and maximise picking and shipping operations.

Batch picking

The best implementation of batch picking is in warehouses that force the workers to travel long distances to fulfil multiple orders with the same SKU. Warehouses that employ this strategy instruct their pickers to pick a group of orders at the same time, one product at a time. This cuts out the need for the worker to make several trips through the warehouse by picking items at the same time for several items at each location. To complete customer orders, they only have to travel to the same location once for an SKU.

Combined strategies

A warehouse doesn’t have to stick purely to one strategy, however; depending on the warehouse layout and processes, the operator may find combining strategies serves their needs better. Here are some combined strategies that you might contemplate when managing a warehouse:

Zone-batch picking

In this combined strategy, pickers will have a specific zone, which they cover, but will also have to conduct batch picking to complete orders the zone receives. The strategy will also involve a scheduling window.

Zone-wave picking

Again, pickers will cover a specific zone, just like in the zone-batch picking strategy. Rather than batch picking, though, they’ll use wave picking to fulfil the orders in their zones. Pickers will deal with the picking of SKUs stocked in their zone one order at a time.

Zone-batch-wave picking

Here the combination of picking strategies gets a little complex. The warehouse’s pickers will have to pick all the SKUs for all of the orders in the zone to which they’re assigned. Not only this but there will be multiple scheduling windows per shift. The pickers will also have to pick two or more orders at a time as well.

Warehouse picking best practices

As in many areas of warehousing, there are certain practices it’s possible to follow for efficient warehouse picking. Here are a few:

Set productivity goals

One of a warehouse manager’s top priorities should be to set goals that encourage workers to pick the orders in the quickest time possible while still working safely and accurately. Designing the warehouse in a way that makes high pick density possible can achieve this; organising SKUs into frequently ordered zones is one possible strategy. It will speed up picking activities, shorten travel time and boost productivity.

Optimise warehouse layout to reduce walking time

SKUs should be positioned optimally to keep the walking time as little as possible, so managers should review the warehouse inventory and layout regularly. Pickers can spend a lot of time between picks, just walking around the warehouse. Picklists should also be organised in a way that pickers don’t have to backtrack so much and can complete picks systematically and efficiently in the shortest time possible.

Use suitable tools

Companies can minimise the number of hands SKUs pass-through by investing in the right equipment, which will bolster productivity and efficiency. To do this, they should invest in hands-free equipment and tools that promote automation. This will entail major investment upfront, but the return on the investment will be worth it.

Place frequently placed SKUs strategically

It’s a good idea to place frequently picked SKUs close to workers’ workstations. Placing such items close to packaging and shipping areas will increase productivity. The warehouse can place high-velocity ones at floor level in bins closest to pickers, whereas it can place the slow ones vertically.

warehouse technology

Warehouses employ a lot of technology to keep the logistics process efficient, and smart warehouses are emerging more and more. Technology is changing how warehouses operate and how they do business. Below are some of the technologies a warehouse should employ today if it’s going to compete.

Automated picking tools

Automated picking tools reduce substantially the number of errors when picking orders. Integrate automated elements into the process and the warehouse can achieve almost flawless picking rates. Voice automated order picking, pick-to-light and robotic order picking are all tools that can enhance picking procedures. They make the most of barcode technology that integrates with the WMS to create fast, accurate reporting.

Automated guiding vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs ramp up storage and retrieval operations in the warehouse. They’re safer and generate a greater return on investment (ROI) than manual labour, even if they’re not the latest models. Pallet, rack and container storage are some of an AGV’s most important functions. Some functions even control and automate the receiving process.

Automated inventory control platforms

Automated inventory control platforms remove a lot of the guesswork and labour from traditional inventory control, as well as make the task quicker. To tempt warehouse operators into investing in them, many of these systems are designed and built to count the inventory automatically and synthesise the data for fast, accurate reporting in real time which it’s possible to access remotely.

Warehouse management systems

We’ve already addressed WMSs in one of the sections above, but just a note that a good WMS can integrate all your data into one platform that the internal stakeholders, as well as others in the supply chain, can all access. This speeds up reporting and, when used well, facilitates especially efficient planning, even for events you can’t foresee. A WMS will complement other automated elements in a warehouse perfectly.

Internet of things (IOT) implementation

Although more of a concept than an actual piece of technology, the world’s most effective smart warehouses are putting it successfully into practice. The control of a range of moving parts via the internet of things, whether automated or manual, allows warehouses to optimise a wide range of processes, creating an easy-to-access network in which all the warehouse data lives. Labour planning, warehouse inventory control procedures and, through faster order fulfilment, customer satisfaction all receive a major boost.

Collaborative robots

Collaborative robots, abbreviated to ‘cobots’, are independent elements designed to work with existing equipment, not without them. The fact it’s not always possible for companies to invest in fully automated robotic technologies because of the immense costs and the changes to infrastructure makes cobots a useful alternative. Employing cobots enables warehouses to maintain their processes and infrastructure but still enjoy the optimisation these autonomous elements can offer.

Automated storage and retrieval systems

Despite consideration of them as clunky, inflexible and expensive, automated storage and retrieval systems have existed for years. They’ve done what their warehouses have asked of them by improving throughput and accuracy; however, they’re getting sleeker today and still reward warehouses with all their original benefits: greater accuracy, lower labour costs and fewer restraints. They also offer modular possibilities, creating flexibility and allowing warehouses to meet various logistical demands.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is having a huge impact on warehouses. This type of technology enables machines to perform tasks like humans, such as making decisions and recognising speech. To achieve this, this technology uses machine learning algorithms and statistical models to process huge amounts of data.

The use of web-based chatbots is a common practice. Warehouses can use them to resolve customers’ issues with little or no human interaction, driving down the costs of hiring a workforce for customer support. Warehouses can also implement AI to semi-automate processes. One example of this would be the replenishment of stock or materials by assigning tasks automatically to personnel based on inventory levels and predicted demand.

Mobile and wearable technology

Warehouses can increase their operational efficiency by implementing mobile and wearable technology. This is because the technology eliminates the need to walk to a workstation. The access to real-time data, irrespective of the location, also rewards warehouse operators and their staff with greater agility and the scope to make faster, more informed business decisions.  

things to consider: racking, mezzanine floors and pallet shuttle systems

When organising storage for your warehouse and considering the three major options of racking, mezzanine floors and pallet shuttle systems, there are several things to contemplate for each. Below is a look at each option and some of the things to take into account to help you make the right decision.

Racking

Choosing the right racking is imperative. Depending on your warehouse, you’ll prefer certain types of racking over others. Your racking should:

  • make full use of space;
  • save you money;
  • increase productivity;
  • and support the features of your inventory.

Of course, how do you know which system is right for you? Here’s how to choose the right racking system:

Seek the help of an expert

An expert racking provider will help you determine the best type of racking for your warehouse. They’ll have extensive knowledge of the industry and of which systems work best in which circumstances. They can visit your warehouse and get to know the outfit and goals.

As part of gathering information to determine the right system for your warehouse they’ll conduct operations such as the following:

  • Measure your space. The racking designer will consider the height and floor space availability. They’ll look at how the warehouse is using the space and at ways to improve it. Understanding how much space they have to work with makes it possible for them to reflect upon more options.
  • Note down details about the business and its operations. To provide the most appropriate racking for the warehouse, the company must learn everything there is to know about how the business operates. Whether you’re operating a speedy, e-commerce warehouse or a more steady but delicate operation, the racking provider will want to know so they can equip you with the most suitable racking for the warehouse.
  • Establish short- and long-term goals. A provider that is tailoring their racking to your business needs will wish to know your goals. Then they can customise the racking to your current needs, of course, but also future-proof them. Perhaps you’re expecting a surge in demand, due to seasonal changes or because you’re planning to expand your services. Maybe you don’t even know whether you’re going to increase your storage capacity, but your racking provider will want to know.
  • Collect information about the characteristics of your inventory. What’s the turnover? Are the goods perishable? Are there any temperature control requirements? The racking provider will ask these and other questions about your inventory to determine the right racking for your warehouse.
  • Consider the pallet numbers. How many pallets are you storing at one time? The racking provider will collect information on this so that they can tailor the racking to match your capacity.
  • Note the floor load capacity. Pallet racking is heavy, so it’s essential your warehouse floor can withstand the weight. The experts will assess your floor to ensure it won’t weaken under the weight of the racking.
  • Check fire exits and locations. Health and safety is paramount. Your racking expert will be sure to contemplate fire safety exits and locations so that if there’s an emergency, warehouse workers can leave the building safely and quickly.
  • Ask for specific details about forklift trucks. Do you intend to keep using the same forklift trucks, or are you going to buy some new ones? Pallet racking can vary in terms of how compatible it is with certain types of forklift truck. The racking should match the capabilities of your handling equipment, so your expert will want details about these vehicles.
  • Analyse existing features. When you spot any restraints or limitations early, you can address them and work around them. An expert will look at structure supporting columns, heating systems, lighting and any other structural features or fittings that could pose a problem and make a note of their location to ensure the racking doesn’t interfere with them.
  • Evaluate directional flow, departmental space and locations. To achieve the best layout, the expert will look at the goods in and goods out areas, and tailor the racking to position various departments accordingly, streamlining the process sequentially and saving time and confusion.

Mezzanine floors

A mezzanine floor, as we mentioned above, is a second, third or fourth floor above the main warehouse floor. If you have the budget and the space for one, it’s a highly effective, space-saving solution. Mezzanine floors offer several advantages:

  • They remove the need to relocate. You might think you’re getting the most out of your warehouse space already, but a mezzanine floor can squeeze even more out of it and eliminate the need to relocate. They can increase the size of your working area and productivity levels without inflicting all the headaches relocation causes.
  • They can increase your return on investment. By adding a second floor or more to your warehouse, you give yourself the option of expanding your product lines, bumping up productivity or freeing up space to run operations more efficiently.
  • They offer structural flexibility. Mezzanine flooring is adaptable and extendable, so the warehouse can alter it as the business grows. The flooring allows you to future-proof the warehouse and expand it easily if and when it’s necessary.

Of course, when deciding whether to install mezzanine flooring, there are several things to consider:

Health and safety

Safety first is always the case with mezzanine flooring. No warehouse worker must ever work in unsafe conditions at any time. Handrails and steps will be essential, and your mezzanine flooring provider will include these in the design and construction of the floor.

Other health and safety features to think about include fire alarms and fire-protective ceilings. When deciding whether to go ahead with installing mezzanine flooring, check for any industry requirements to which you’ll also have to adhere.

Purpose

Now you’ve established your health and safety requirements, and how you’re going to address them, you must think about how you’ll be using your mezzanine floor and about the requirements this purpose will create. Mezzanine floors are bespoke, so once you understand your purpose and the corresponding requirements, as well as the benefits the floor will bring to your warehouse, the mezzanine floor providers will be able to work around you.

If, for instance, you’re going to be placing machinery on the mezzanine floor or storing a lot of materials, you’ll have to think about the weight and whether the floor will be strong enough. The provider will bear this in mind, but you should think about it, too.

Size

A warehouse’s size and footprint correlates directly to what mezzanine floor the operators can install. They increase space dramatically and can create as much space as to double up your floor plan; however, before you go ahead with the installation, you must take into consideration the height of the warehouse, making sure there’s enough headroom for staff and for any storage facilities you’ll use on the floor.

Lighting, materials and design

This is where you get to have more of a say in how you want your mezzanine floor to be. Before construction, you can decide, to an extent, how the floor should look and function. Do you want a suspended ceiling on the underside? What colour would you like everything to be? What type of flooring would you like on the top? What style of balustrade would you like? You can also make decisions regarding any enclosed staircases or specifically designed office spaces on the floor.

Pallet shuttle system

A warehouse shuttle system is a high-density, compact solution that relies on remote-controlled satellites to lift, move and place pallets in a rack. These systems are flexible insofar as they can accommodate first in first out (FIFO) and last-in-first-out (LIFO) systems. Since forklift trucks don’t have to enter the unit, pallet shuttle systems are a lot safer and cleaner, and they generate less damage than other high-density storage systems. Pallet shuttles are an excellent option when it comes to high turnover products with massive input and output.

What to consider when deciding whether to choose a pallet shuttle system

Just like any other system, whether to install a pallet shuttle system will depend on the needs of the warehouse. You could find yourself choosing between a pallet shuttle system and a dynamic racking one. Below are a few factors to think about.

Application

Are you going to implement a FIFO system or a LIFO one? A dynamic tracking system is likely to be more a LIFO, as are most dynamic racking systems, but this creates accessibility problems. The space-saving will limit access to your stored pallets.

Pushback, drive-through and drive-in systems tend to be LIFO, and this works for many systems that call for deep lane storage. They suit higher picking volumes on a small pool of SKUs. Depending on your layout or picking strategy, drive-through systems can be LIFO. The flexibility of pallet shuttle systems makes them compatible with FIFO and LIFO systems. Pallet shuttles are the more common system to use when loading and unloading from a single lane in LIFO operations.

In essence, pallet shuttle systems are FIFO. All the forklift trucks need to do is access the pallet offered up by the system. The shuttles should be used to load and unload the entire level, and you’ll need two aisles: one for loading and one for access. Although FIFO systems have more dynamic elements, such as flow rails and shuttles, they’re safer because the forklift truck doesn’t have to enter the rack structure.

Pallet depths

Pallet depth is a crucial metric because the purpose of these systems is to pack more pallets into less space. As a general rule of thumb, more pallets means less access. Pallet flow and shuttle racks are more space-efficient because you can pack more pallets into less space than in drive-in systems or pushback ones.

Pallet shuttles will allow you to go more deeply. They don’t rely on gravity or on forklift trucks entering a deep lane. Since they control pallet placement more accurately, they also maximise the front-to-back storage capacity.

Ease of SKU selection

How easy is it to select pallets? The more your storage density increases, the harder it becomes to select pallets. Whereas selective racks will allow you to pick any pallet at any point, dynamic systems suffer more limitations. Drive-in systems are limited to a single SKU per bay, but pushback, flow and pallet shuttle systems create scope to store a different SKU in every lane.

Shuttles can move in any direction and access pallets from any position, which means you can store pallets in deep lanes similar to flow systems or drive-in. You’ll be able to slot one SKU per lane.

Forklift interactions

Do forklift trucks enter the structure or engage any other way with the rack? In many designs, these trucks only pick and place at the front of the rack. The potential for collisions and component damage triggers safety concerns when the forklift truck has to enter the structure. Since forklift trucks enter the rack constantly in drive-in and drive-through systems, the structures of these systems feature heavier components, and it’s important to manage the frequency of interactions.

Pallet shuttle systems don’t have any issues with forklift trucks engaging with the rack at all, and, in general, warehouses will stock and pick them from one side of the structure. This is also the case with pallet flow systems, although they’re slightly different in so far as that stocking takes place from the rear of the structure and operators pick at the front of it. Pushback racking is also manageable from the front, and there’s no need for the forklift truck to engage with the racking because it’s possible to pick and load from the same aisle.

Drive-in systems, however, will require a forklift truck to enter the rack. They must pick or place pallets deep within the structure. Drive-through systems also call for a forklift truck to enter the rack. The driver may enter either side to place or pull the pallets.

Load interactions

How does the forklift truck touch the load or impact it?

In pallet racking systems, generally, the interactions between the forklift truck or the rack and the load are minimal. The loads sit on pallets, and the forklift truck will handle them and deposit them on beams of the rack, the rails or the guides. In the case of some containers, there could be direct interaction with the product.

Pallet shuttles often sit beneath the pallet and transport it without interacting with the load itself. This also tends to be the case with pushback racking (because it uses mechanical carts) and drive-in racking, which calls upon heavy steel rails as the pallets are picked and placed.

Cost

How expensive are the different high-density storage systems?

From a cost-per-position perspective, drive-in racking is the least expensive option because it doesn’t require shuttles, carts or rails, whereas pushback racks rely on carts and these drive up the cost per position. Shuttles will cost about the same per position as pushback racks. The shuttles, power and maintenance will all increase the cost.

health and safety

Warehouses, due to the loads, machinery and traffic, pose a variety of potential dangers. Below is a look at some of the main causes of injuries in warehouses and, in more depth, at ways to make different aspects of the warehouse safer.

Main causes of injury during warehousing

According to the HSE's HSG76: Warehousing and Storage - A Guide to Health and Safety, available on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website, there are two main causes of major injuries in warehousing:

  • slips and trips;
  • manual handling;
  • being hit by falling objects;
  • falls from height.

Health and safety management

Warehousing can expose the workers to lots of different risks. Warehouse managers should get proactive when it comes to health and safety. This means taking the following steps to manage health and safety in the warehouse:

  • identifying major health and safety priorities within the business;
  • focusing efforts on these priorities;
  • assessing the risks to employees;
  • eliminating risks wherever possible or, if not possible, reducing the risks;
  • implementing safe work systems;
  • providing adequate training for the workforce;
  • involving health and safety representatives in workplace health and safety decisions;
  • reviewing performance regularly.

Managing risk is the first step in managing health and safety. It’s also a legal requirement to assess workplace risks so you can implement a plan to control them. Risk assessment consists of five main steps:

1. identifying the hazards;

2. identifying who the hazard may harm and how it may harm them;

3. evaluating the risk and deciding which precautions to take;

4. recording your findings and implement them;

5. Review your risk assessment and, if necessary, update it.

Slips and trips

Slips and trips are the most common cause of major injury in warehouses. Under health and safety regulations, employers should maintain workplaces in good order. Floors and traffic routes should:

  • be suitable for the purpose the operator is using them;
  • be free of holes and unnecessary slopes;
  • not be so uneven or so slippery they could cause someone to trip;
  • have effective drainage where necessary;
  • be free of obstructions, articles or substances that could cause someone to slip, trip or fall;
  • have suitable, sufficient lighting.

As a result, the accompanying Code of Practice features requirements for maintenance and keeping workplaces safe and clean:

  • the workplace should be kept sufficiently clean;
  • spillages (especially when they’re a slipping hazard) should be addressed immediately;
  • waste materials shouldn’t be allowed to accumulate in the workplace anywhere other than in suitable receptacles;
  • workplace equipment should be maintained;
  • staircases should have at least one handrail or, if there’s a particular risk of falling, two.

Preventing trips

There is a number of steps you should take to avoid trips:

  • establish a positive culture — this can avoid trips;
  • eliminate holes and uneven surfaces in floors, buildings and the areas outside of the buildings;
  • plan workflows in such a way that equipment and goods don’t cause obstructions in any areas where people walk;
  • designate and clearly mark walkways, and make sure there are no electric cables or pipes obstructing them;
  • provide enough storage, even in busy times, to avoid the need to store goods or other items in areas where people walk or in traffic routes;
  • plan waste disposal to make sure items don’t build up on the floors of walkways;
  • clear materials that fall onto traffic routes as soon as possible;
  • fit good lighting;
  • mark any obstacles clearly that can’t be removed or eliminated;
  • ensure workers wear suitable footwear.

Preventing slips

Often, slips happen because the floor is wet or contaminated. Water, oil, cleaning products, dry powders and foodstuffs can all make a warehouse floor slippery. Polythene stretch wrapping, plastic bags and other less obvious items can also make a warehouse floor more slippery.

The first step is to implement procedures for stopping floors from becoming contaminated. To do this, you should:

  1. check goods on arrival for leaks;
  2. have systems in place for reporting and addressing leaky goods properly;
  3. maintain the plant, equipment and work environment and the enclosing process and plant that may discharge a leak (such as bunding);
  4. stop outdoor contaminants from getting indoors, such as by placing mats at the entrance for people to dry wet feet on.

When removing contamination:

  • keep people out of the wet area by using barriers, cleaning during quiet times or cleaning in sections so that there is always a dry path;
  • if you can’t clean the floor to dry, use warning signs to let people know the floor is wet;
  • note that spot cleaning is the best approach for cleaning non-hazardous liquids because it avoids spreading the contamination or increasing the size of the contamination risk area;
  • always have staff available to clean spillages when contamination levels are at their worst.

Electrical hazards

Poorly designed, maintained or constructed electrical installations and equipment can cause major injuries… fatal even. If in doubt about whether any of your electrical equipment is safe enough for work purposes, consult an electrician, technician or engineer.

We start by discussing a few generic requirements of electrical equipment:

  • to ensure non-overloading of cables, use the correct fuses or circuit breakers in the supply to equipment;
  • replace damaged cables immediately and, if you have to repair them, use suitable connectors, not blocking connectors and insulating tape.

You can achieve cost-effective maintenance of electrical equipment by conducting the following:

  • user checks, conducted when a user takes the equipment into use and during it;
  • formal inspections, carried out regularly by a competent person;
  • combined inspections and tests, performed by a person competent in electrics.

Health and safety for fixed electrical equipment and machinery in warehouses

Of course, a warehouse will have the machinery and fixed electrical equipment. These should also observe some requirements:

  • Any fixed electrical equipment or machine that has a permanent supply cable must have a means of isolation so that it’s possible to disconnect the supply safely for maintenance work. This isolator must have markings that make it clearly identifiable and identify the machine that it supplies. When disconnecting it, it should be possible to secure the isolator in the ‘Off’ position.
  • You must protect any power cables from damage. Ways to do this include using armoured cables, positioning the cables in a safe location or running them in conduit or trunking.

Health and safety for IT equipment and portable or handheld devices

Warehouses work with a lot of technology, including IT equipment and handheld devices. You should observe the following requirements for them:

  • Choose equipment that is suitable for the working environment itself.
  • Ensure the workplace has enough sockets, instead of overloading them with adapters. If several pieces of equipment need electrical supplies in the working area, consider installing overhead sockets that are accessible to everyone who uses them.
  • Connect plugs on cables correctly and secure the cable in the cord grip.
  • Based your testing and inspection frequency of this type of equipment on your risk assessment.
  • If working in wet or damp conditions, always use plugs and sockets designed for wet conditions, with terminals protected against water ingress. Standard domestic 13-amp square pin plugs won’t be suitable for wet environments such as outdoors.
  • Note that it’s more advisable to use lower voltage, supplied from a transformer with the output windings tapped to earth when working in especially harsh environments.
  • Consult a specialist for advice regarding the electrical equipment to use if you have to store flammable liquids or solvents, or to store flammable gas containers.
  • If you’ve recently installed electrical equipment, you should mark it with ‘EX’ to show that it’s suitable for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.

Handling materials

A business should conduct an assessment of all manual tasks and operations that pose a risk of injury and can’t be avoided. This assessment should detect where improvements or ways to reduce the risk of injury are necessary. You should consider the following:

  • The task. Do any of the tasks involve foreseeable risks? Think here about unsatisfactory bodily movements (such as twisting), long lifting or lowering distances (floor level to above waist height, for instance), excessive pulling or pushing distances, situations where the load must be held a distance from the trunk of the body or repetitive handling.
  • The load. Are the loads too bulky? Too heavy? Unwieldy? Sharp? Slippery? Unstable? Think about whether the loads are suitable or otherwise for manual handling.
  • The warehouse conditions. Does the warehouse have any conditions in it that increase the risk of injury? Constricted work areas? Narrow aisles?
  • Individual capabilities. Do any of the workers need to undergo a specific assessment before they perform any manual handling operations? Do they have any specific conditions? Do they have injuries from previous manual handling tasks?
  • Other factors. Does protective clothing hinder movement or posture at all? Do any organisational factors, such as order-picking software, have an impact on risk?

Manual handling and the supply chain

Warehouses encounter risks that come to them through the supply chain. They may receive goods that the supplier hasn’t placed on a pallet, for instance. Suppliers and customers should agree on product weights and pallet heights, and how the warehouses should handle the products, so they can use suitable solutions for the purpose at each stage.

When considering manual handling risks, also think about the risks for distribution staff, delivery workers and customers. Every supplier in the chain should work with the others to identify problems and agree upon solutions.

For more extensive information on good health and safety practices when it comes to handling materials in warehouses, consult the HSE’s Warehousing and storage health and safety guide.

Storage

Warehouses store lots of different materials, products and other items, and must observe some clear and simple requirements. Here are some basic tips for storage in warehouses:

  • The method(s) of storage a warehouse uses will depend on the shape and fragility of the items. The tendency is to store long thin articles in horizontal racking and box-shaped or loose materials in sacks built into a stack, with appropriate bonding to make sure they’re stable.
  • You can store cylindrical articles on their side or on their end. If storing them on their side, secure the floor-level tier to prevent movement. The subsequent tiers can rest on the preceding one. Alternatively, you can lay them on battens and wedge them.
  • Designate specific storage areas and mark them clearly. Consider the layout of the warehouse to avoid tight corners, inconveniently placed doors, pillars, uneven surfaces and changes in gradient. Also, think about using guardrails to protect any pedestrian routes.
  • Any materials you are handling with a crane or a lift truck, you should place on battens or other appropriate materials so that it’s possible to insert a sling or the forks. If you’re handling pallets with a crane, only use attachments suitable for the design of that pallet. Use a ‘C-hook’ where appropriate.
  • When using forklift trucks, it’s possible to place most loads on pallets and stack them as complete loads or store them on pallet racking.

Loading pallets

Of course, loading pallets is a major part of working in a warehouse. Here are some things to remember when loading pallets:

  • to achieve maximum stability and safety within the rated load, you should load pallets to an established pattern for this purpose;
  • apply loads gradually, and, unless the specific design of the pallet is for point loading, you should distribute the load uniformly over the deck area;
  • keep the load height less than the longest base dimension of the pallet;
  • note that shrink or stretch wrapping can provide greater security and safety and minimise the possibility of the goods moving.

When dealing with block-stacking, here are some further things to remember:

  • Avoid stacking palletised loads of cartons and packs that it’s possible to crush. This is because they can lose their strength and stability.
  • If it’s possible to stack loads directly on top of each other, you should position them on a firm level base. Depending on the loads’ characteristics and the design of the pallet, you may have to supply extra packing for the top of the lower palletised load.
  • In general, you should avoid block-stacking pallets with more than a 4:1 ratio between the height of the stack and the minimum depth/width of the pallet. Four loads high could be considered a maximum due to the possibility of crushing goods on the bottom of the pallet. It may be possible to build taller stacks, depending on the height, strength and stability of the load.
  • As long as the pallet design and the packaging of the goods are designed to exceed the four-high strength, the maximum permissible height can be up to six loads high.
  • Keep adequate clearance between rows for safe stacking and withdrawal.
  • Check stacks periodically and, if necessary, take corrective action.

Racking systems

Depending on the racking type and size of the system, as well as the nature of the building or area in which you’re going to implement the system, requirements for installing racking safely will vary. The designer and manufacturers of the system should set safe working loads, heights, widths and equipment tolerances. Here are some basic principles to follow for installing racking, though:

  • Only allow competent people to install racking, and they should do so in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Only put up racking on sound, level floors that can withstand point loading at the base plate.
  • Use suitable running connectors to connect and space double-sided runs.
  • Fix racking securely to the floor where necessary, such as in cases that involve the use of lift trucks.
  • Make aisles wide enough to manoeuvre mechanical handling equipment. The widths will depend on the equipment you’re using.
  • To prevent accidental lifts of beams, such as by a lift truck, beam connector locks should always fix the connectors at the end of each beam.
  • Secure a clear, unambiguous notice next to your racking that states the maximum load and any necessary specified load configurations.
  • Establish the weight of each palletised load before deciding to store it in racking, and never exceed the maximum weight.
  • Avoid altering racking or removing components before consulting the manufacturer, and if you change the position of adjustable components on the racking then identify first the limitations of the new configuration and, as necessary, amend the safety notice.
  • Implement high visibility colours for major elements of the racking, such as horizontal beams, to help forklift truck operators position the forks correctly and avoid damaging the racking.

Stability is of the essence when installing racking, and once in use, racking can end up on the receiving end of damage from forklift trucks and other elements. Here are some tips for keeping racking stable and protecting it:

  • avoid using free-standing racks — i.e. not fixed to the floor — in areas where you use lift trucks, order pickers or other mechanical handling devices;
  • if racks encounter imposed loads from storage of products and also horizontal loads from loading and unloading, the minimum requirements for floor fixings should be:
    •  floor fix all uprights adjacent to aisles and gangways where the height/depth ratio doesn’t exceed 6:1;
    • floor fix all uprights where the height/depth ratio is more than 6:1 but doesn’t surpass 10:1;
    • consulting the manufacturer for specific guidance in cases where the height/depth ratio is more than 10:1.
  • Consider securing all uprights to the floor for extra safety, as many suppliers feel this is prudent. The floor fixing should allow the horizontal shear and vertical tensile forces to be safely resisted. In the case of the drive-through and drive-in racking, always design and fix these racking systems in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Protect any racking that forklift trucks or other vehicles are likely to strike. Lower level racking is especially at risk: use renewable column guards to keep the risk of accidental damage to a minimum. Provide corner racking in a run, which is especially at risk, with a suitable protection device in a clearly noticeable colour.
  • Think about fitting protective devices to uprights case by case. Retrofitting them to an aisle on which you’ve not provided them until that point can reduce the clearances available for forklift truck manoeuvres. This can then increase the amount of damage the vehicles inflict on the racking.

Loading and unloading vehicles

Operating a warehouse also means staff will be loading and unloading vehicles, so you should perform a risk assessment and implement any control measures necessary. Things to consider include:

  • being careful to ensure that staff, stock or equipment don’t fall where it’s likely this could cause an injury;
  • protecting the edge with a safety rail or, where there are unprotected edges, highlighting the edge with a bold, visible line;
  • taking measures to exclude people, other than people who have training and authorisation, from areas where it’s more impractical to protect the edges and there’s a risk of falling from a height or of falling objects;
  • restricting the loading bay working area to staff who are working in the area.

Note you should never jump down from the loading bay. Always use the steps. Also, avoid lowering cages manually down from the loading bay.

warehouse logistics

Warehouse logistics, if you’re not already aware of it, is the detailed planning, organisation, movement and management of the operations involved in warehousing. It includes the flow of physical inventory — i.e. shipping and reception — as well as more abstract items such as time and information.

Warehouse logistics can also cover anything from warehouse pest control to handling damaged goods, safety policies, human resource management and customer returns. Basically, warehouse logistics consists of all the policies, procedures and organisational tools required to keep warehouse operations running smoothly.

The challenges of warehouse logistics

Of course, warehouse logistics comprises so many different operations that the challenges of the industry revolve chiefly around the organisation. Warehouses are large. How can operators accomplish detailed control over such a big building?

The operators must be able to pinpoint the exact location of a certain item of inventory. They must be able to identify the pallet that might have carried an expired food item. They must be able to track down the truck that contained an item, which got damaged during transportation. They must be able to achieve these and many other things, and being able to be is essential for strong revenue and smooth operation.

These are just some of the immediate concerns. Warehouse logistics operators also have to contemplate deeper issues, such as supply chain management, inventory management, human resource management, cost control, risk management and security. They must achieve the flexibility to remain competitive, exercise enough control to protect revenue and keep their offering suitable enough to satisfy customers, all at the same time.

Warehouse management best practices

To manage a warehouse well, there are some best practices to follow. Observe the practices below to help run your warehouse smoothly.

Avoid relying on manual input

Humans have the potential to make mistakes — lots of them — and they do, which is why a warehouse should employ tools to help minimise these in inventory management and other warehouse operations. Manual entry, whether typed or handwritten, could be asking for trouble, so warehouses should use RFID or barcode scanners, and a simple system such as point and collect to tag or scan items. To keep a record of your inventory, the warehouse should connect the system to the inventory management system.

Plan procedures for picking

Standardise the picking process and make it easy to follow, regardless of whichever one you choose. Although a warehouse management system will help you to set up more streamlined procedures, ideally you should be picking in either waves or batches already, rather than as orders come in.

Reduce touchpoints

You can remove unnecessary steps from your fulfilment process by cutting out the number of touchpoints through which a product travels. Sometimes the number of touchpoints through which an item must go is unavoidable, but the more you minimise them, the more you reduce the potential for wear and tear and can speed up the process.

Make it easy to reach popular products

Analyse your inventory to establish which products are sold the most, the highest value and other aspects. Make the products that customers order the most the easiest to access. Moving the high volume products close to packing stations will enable you to cut down the time it takes to fill orders.

Share information

Installing a good warehouse management system will enable you to share information across the business and with other stakeholders. Doing so will:

  • increase the visibility of information across the organisation;
  • make it easier to track inventory locations and levels;
  • help you to fulfil orders to or from retail locations;
  • provide a single system of record;
  • allow you to integrate the system with accounting and ERP systems.

Not only this, but the implementation of a WMS will cut your costs because you’ll be tracking or tagging your inventory the same way in every location.

Monitor your warehouse's key performance indicators (KPIs)

Warehouse KPIs are a combination of inventory and fulfilment KPIs, and they give managers a snapshot of how their processes are playing out in the real world. Depending on the size of the business and volume, you should monitor these regularly. This should be weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually as appropriate. Some KPIs will be more a question of set and forget, whereas others you’ll have to track much more closely.

Make warehouse safety a priority

Making your warehouse safe can generate a massive difference in the efficiency of your operations. At the very least, you should meet the minimum requirements for warehouse safety. Note that health and safety is one area on which you shouldn’t cut corners when you’re running a warehouse.

A safe warehouse will have longer-lasting equipment, safe processes, happier workers who are more productive and fewer slumps in productivity. Being proactive regarding health and safety will also lower the risk of workers injuring themselves, reducing the overall cost of insurance and compensation for workers.

Prepare for emergencies

You could encounter a data breach. You could come up against a natural disaster. You never know what emergencies are going to crop up in warehouse logistics, but you should have a plan in place to cope with the unexpected. The more you try to prevent emergencies, the fewer emergencies you’ll actually experience.

Standardise vendor operations

Managing vendors well can boost the efficiency of your operations. There are three main factors when it comes to this: when they deliver (the time of day and the day of the week); how they deliver (volume, packaging and boxes); and your receiving area and processes. Align these factors and you can get your operations running in a highly productive manner. Sellers should have windows assigned to them for delivery, and they should deliver the same way almost always. This might not be possible if you increase the amount you order, but you should try to standardise the processes.

Allow comprehensive feedback

Don’t just leave it up to the management team to come up with all the ideas. Teams on the front line can identify problems that managers can’t see, and they should have somewhere they can share this feedback. It works both ways, though, and managers can spot issues that workers won’t be able to spot.

Always seek to improve operations

Don’t seek perfection. That’s impossible; however, do seek to operate better than you did last year or last month. Evaluate your operations. How have things been going? Is there anything you can test or change?

the loading dock

A loading dock is attached to the outside of manufacturing, industrial and other business facilities, and is used for the delivery or loading of raw materials or goods as well as for that of finished goods.

There are no rules regarding how many loading docks a facility needs. It all depends on the business, the products they make, the size of the facility, the flow of the manufacturing process and whether the business is receiving goods, shipping them or both.

The critical elements of loading docks

When an operator runs their loading dock efficiently, they can enjoy a much faster inflow and outflow of goods, as well as a safe one. To help achieve this, good loading docks will feature the elements below.

Loading dock access points

Almost all loading dock interactions will require the driver to drop off some paperwork or receive it, and they’ll likely have to enter the facility to do so. These loading dock access points are important for the safety of the employees and for the security of the items in the warehouse. They should be as secure as any regular entry door. It’s possible to equip them with cameras, entry access systems and security systems.

Loading dock shelters or seals

Loading dock shelters and seals are ways to seal a truck tight to the building when it has backed into the loading dock.

A loading dock shelter is a cover that consists of industrial curtains. These curtains are set around 18 inches off the building to cover the trailer and sides of the truck. The loading dock shelter’s purpose is to keep out wind, rain and other harsh elements, and extreme cold or heat out of the facility, while employees are loading or unloading. This provides energy savings and comfort for the employees.

The loading dock seal consists of foam pads against which the truck pushes, creating an airtight seal between the trailer and the loading dock. Dock seals allow maximum environmental control and can stop rodents, bugs and other pests from getting into the building.

Levellers

Levellers connect the truck and the building so that staff who are loading or unloading a trailer can access it for the purpose. Levellers can be mechanical, hydraulic or air-powered, and these are the most common. Levellers can also be vertical or on the edge of the dock.

Overhead door

The overhead door of the loading dock operates like a garage door, and its job is to protect the inside of the building from outside elements. The door should offer suitable thermal protection, be durable and provide security. A fast, functional and reliable door is necessary if you’re constantly shipping.

Dock bumpers

You’ll find the dock bumpers at the bottom of the loading dock. Their purpose is to absorb the impact of the trailer. They stop damage to the concrete foundation wall, dock leveller and trailer restraint. Usually, they’re made of durable rubber, and they come in different sizes depending on the vehicles they serve and on the slope of the loading dock driveway.

Loading dock trailer restraints

A trailer restraint is a device you’ll find on the exterior of the building which locks the trailer into place. This reliable safety measure will prevent the trailer from moving during loading or unloading. If a trailer disconnects before workers have completed loading or unloading it, the workers and/or heavy equipment, such as forklift trucks, can fall into the gap between the trailer and the loading bay. Accidents like this can result in serious injuries and even death.

The interlocking loading dock system

Loading docks are high-traffic areas, and, as a result, are riddled with potential dangers such as trailer creep, forklift fallout, slips, trips, falls and more. An interlocking loading system will keep the overhead door locked at all times, except for times when a trailer is locked securely to the dock and restraints. The system stops employees from opening the overhead door for any reason except for when the unloading or loading of a trailer is taking place.

Loading dock lighting

Loading dock lights are essential to help workers see what they’re doing during loading and unloading. They have a flexible, swinging arm so that the workers can direct the light in the direction they want it.

Loading dock lighting is also important so that drivers can see the loading pit and the building. Signal lighting is another crucial feature because it indicates to drivers when a truck can leave or enter a dock. This lighting looks like a traffic light, flashing green for ‘enter’ and red for ‘do not enter’.

what are modular rollerbed loading solutions for warehouses?

Streamline your air cargo handling with Joloda Hydraroll’s modular rollerbed solutions. Upgrade your warehouse into a ULD handling station, and improve safety and efficiency, in just a day.

Our modular rollerbed solutions are simply placed on top of the concrete floor and fixed with screws, with the option to remove at a later date. The system can readily incorporate a MK15 balljoint rollertrack making ULD's easy to move in all directions with minimum effort. 

our modular rollerbed system is compatible with...

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why choose modular rollerbed solution for your warehouse?

  • Upgrade your air cargo warehouse to a ULD handling station in just a day
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  • No civil work required and no additional costs to the building structure
  • Ideal for temporary usage in rented or leased warehouses
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  • Modular design for endless layout variations

 

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The solution is ideal businesses handling and warehousing air cargo, that are in rented or leased premises and in need of a quick and efficient solution. Our system is flexible and can be utilised in any size of warehouse. 

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Joloda Hydraroll has been busy helping air cargo logistics operator, Georgi Handling maximise their handling efficiencies in their new hub, based at Leipzig/Halle Airport.

Learn how we've been able to apply our proven rise and fall rollerbed technology into a new setting in our case study, Joloda Hydraroll help air cargo operators maximise handling efficiencies and see how the business maximises their business efficiencies, whilst also improving the level of safety in the warehouse...


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We'll call to arrange a convenient time and date to visit your site. We'll analyse your logistics operations, assessing how goods/pallets are loaded and unloaded. Our design experts will work out how best to safely, efficiently and transport loads from the end of production lines into trailers. Next, we'll design you a comprehensive loading solution that can streamline your logistics processes and send this you to via email.

We'll do all this to ensure we fully understand your product loading and unloading requirements and help lighten your load!

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What truly makes us great is our fantastic product assortment supported by the best partners worldwide. We have an experienced network of 30+ distributors that also support an aftersales network, which is key, especially for automatic loading and unloading. 

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We help businesses lighten loads and are highly regarded as the world's leading loading and unloading solutions provider in the logistics industry. Over the last 60 years, we've helped thousands of businesses streamline their logistics operations to be more cost-efficient, more sustainable, and more health and safety-conscious. Learn more About Us here.

As experts in all kinds of unloading and unloading solutions, we can help innovate, automate and streamline your end-of-production line problems, wherever you are.

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