Immediately Improving Productivity in Your Warehouse by Becoming a Paperless Business | Zebra Blog

If You Want to Immediately Improve Productivity in Your Warehouse, You Need to Become a Paperless Business. Here’s Why.

Here are three ways to digitalize your processes quickly and efficiently.

A warehouse worker scans the barcode on a pallet of items after being unloaded from a truck
by Your Edge Contributor
July 27, 2020

*This blog post was contributed by Wendy Stanley, Marketing Director, EDI, Manufacturing & Warehousing Software Solutions at the Radley Corporation. Radley is a registered Zebra Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and reseller.

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Efficient warehouse operations are crucial to customer satisfaction. Every extra minute a warehouse worker wastes on an inefficient process is valuable time lost, fewer picks per hour and fewer customer orders filled per day. That’s why a greater effort must be made to eliminate paper-based tasks across all functions.

When warehouses run smoothly, operations themselves are invisible to customers: inventory is managed well to eliminate out-of-stocks, promised ship dates are upheld and customers are able to track and trace to accurately know their delivery date. But when warehouses operate inefficiently, customers can quickly take notice of each and every problem throughout the process. Late shipments, defective goods or missing products can suggest that a company lacks the ability to deliver orders accurately and promptly, leaving customers with a poor brand image that can lead to reduced sales and trust.  

Using technology to boost warehouse productivity can combat long-running problems of inaccuracy and inefficiency. The data collected via intelligent warehouse software and devices can help managers identify a warehouse’s stress points – areas requiring significant improvement – and make it possible to create optimized workflows, better utilize floor space and reduce errors across the board. The same intelligent technology solutions can then be utilized to execute more efficient workflows, increase inventory accuracy and improve the output of all functions. The result is a warehouse that’s ready to meet customer needs, adapt to changing circumstances and deliver products that do not disappoint. 

But not all technologies are built for warehouse use, and even those designed for warehouse applications must be strategically configured, implemented and utilized to effectively improve operational visibility and outcomes. As you’re defining your goal to become a paperless operation and modernize your warehouse, take time to outline a strategy that includes:

1.  The integration of modern software and devices with warehouse and enterprise systems.    

Technology has transformed what’s possible in the warehouse, leaving logistics companies that continue to rely on paper-based operational methods well behind the competition. Warehouse management systems (WMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) integrations help optimize warehouse operations to run at maximum efficiency, allowing for better production accuracy and speed.

In concert with barcodes and RFID tags, a comprehensive WMS can gather key data from the edge of the network—transactional data from front-line workers, sensor-based data and real-time data in the physical environment— in a way that helps you refine operations such as slotting for put away, picking by zone, routing equipment such as lift trucks, managing inventory levels and optimizing labor. WMS and ERP integrations can also help reduce process errors to boost long-term operational performance.

Of course, software is only half the solution. Getting key data into the WMS or backend system requires reliable barcode scanners, mobile computers or other data capture hardware such as RFID portals or real time location systems (RTLS). Resist the temptation to purchase low-end devices. Quality hardware combined with compatible software is key to ensuring problem-free functionality.

For example, pairing your industrial printer with the right integrated labeling software empowers warehouse staff to monitor and maintain label quality in real time, which helps to eliminate pre-printing and relabeling. It also enables shipment actions to be integrated with delivery partners’ software to meet track and trace requirements.

A Zebra industrial printer is used to print a label in a warehouse

2.  Streamlined workflows

Warehouse workers can spend tremendous amounts of time traveling across a warehouse between tasks, wasting valuable time in between with no added productivity. Task interleaving helps build in complementary tasks into a single workflow, allowing workers to handle multiple tasks during what once may have been time wasted on unproductive travel time, such as a forklift dropping off a pallet and driving back to the dock with empty forks, when there was a pallet on the way that needed to go to shipping that could’ve been picked up. Task management functionality of a comprehensive WMS can help determine workflows for warehouse staff members to replenish, pick and put away materials simultaneously. By maximizing the productivity of existing warehouse staff, labor costs can be effectively managed by optimizing each worker’s performance. According to the latest Zebra® Warehousing Vision Study, 80% of respondents said they planned to utilize task interleaving within the next five years.

The combination of software plus industry-leading hardware devices and sensor technology makes streamlining warehouse processes possible. Rather than contacting a supervisor for each new task or retrieving printed pick tickets or put-away orders, the WMS or execution systems push tasks to front-line workers’ mobile devices and then captures data from those completed tasks into an ERP system for analysis.

3. Retire paper-based processes and reports once and for all

Manual warehouse processes are prone to error, and inaccurate information gathering can lead organizations to make costly mistakes.

Holding onto paper-based processes means key business metrics are either unavailable or are often inaccurate. This is especially true when it comes to inventory control. Customer satisfaction depends on having the right items available at the right time. This is only possible if  you know how much stock is on the shelf and where each individual item is located every second of the day. Plus, maintaining an accurate view of inventory helps prevent over- or under-ordering, both of which can negatively impact your bottom line.

By logging information into digital systems via automated data capture tools versus two-step pen and paper/manual data entry methods, you’re automatically improving data input accuracy and expanding your team’s operational visibility. You’re also creating a means to distribute actionable intelligence all the way to the edge of the enterprise, and even beyond your four walls, which helps to improve the performance of individual workers, your organization and your supply chain. Since WMS solutions feature detailed, real-time reporting functions, you are able to quickly access and assess the aggregate insights collected via enterprise grade mobile computers, tablets, scanners, wearables and sensors to understand what’s working, what’s not and why. This will enable you to continuously boost your warehouse’s efficiency and effectively measure long-term performance gains derived from certain decisions and actions.

And though there are some initial costs associated with migrating to completely paperless operations, the technology hardware and software you put into place will ultimately reduce the costs and environmental impacts associated with printing paper checklists, manuals, reports and more. Modernizing also doesn’t need to happen all at once, you can take a strategic approach to modernizing by first gaining control of business operations with a foundational mobility strategy, then continue to optimize with touch-optimized and wearable solutions and finally move to targeted use of real-time visibility and eventually have wall-to-wall visibility that is allows for a predictive and adaptive operations.

The Time is Now

Gaining real-time insight to your warehouse operations has never been more important. The right warehouse software, together with the right hardware solutions, will empower you to improve inventory accuracy, reduce waste, and boost labor efficiency. It will also enable you to run at maximum productivity as order volumes increase, stock levels rise and the number of SKUs you must manage continue to multiply. With warehouse and distribution center operators facing more challenges every day, can you afford not to implement an efficient, effective, and paperless warehouse?

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Your Edge Contributor
Zebra will occasionally publish insights from members of our partner community, our customers and other subject matter experts across the global industries we serve on the Your Edge blog. Background information about each individual author can be found at the bottom of their contributed blog post.