Whether your company is currently experiencing a growth spurt in orders, or you've been handling a high volume for quite some time, it's likely time to reevaluate your shipping strategies for more efficient and effective solutions. Here are a few to consider to maximize warehouse optimization.
Automation and Consolidation
Rather than manually inputting shipping information into your system, opt for tools that can automate this process for you. Automation offers three significant advantages, and while it may be an upfront cost to install and configure an option like this, the benefits and long-term cost savings will overwhelmingly offset these.
First, automating data transfer from your "host" (order entry, WMS or ERP) system to your shipping system speeds up processing time tremendously. Each order can easily take 30 seconds or more to key in, versus an almost instantaneous data pull from a host system. This may not sound like a lot of time, however, when you consider you are saving 30 seconds per package times hundreds or thousands of packages per day, this can result in substantial labor savings.
For example, if you ship 1000 packages a day, creating an interface to your host would save you roughly 8.3 labor hours per day. This also doesn’t factor in the increase in data accuracy that will occur when removing the data entry task from shippers and automating it.
Another advantage of automation is what we like to call a loss of "tribal knowledge."
Let’s say Jen, your “shipping guru” has been with your company for 15 years, and knows EVERYTHING about your customers, including how they like their orders to be shipped. Customer A only wants their packages to be shipped via UPS, while Customer B wants their packages immediately, so it better be FedEx Overnight, or it's getting returned.
Now, let's say that Jen gets into a car accident and will be out for the next three months recovering. What happens? Jen is the only one who knows "this stuff."
Implementing automation tools into your shipping system would allow you to take information and preferences for each customer, set them up one time, and if something were to happen to Jen, Terry could simply step up, and the customers are never the wiser.
Oversight is something else to consider. By putting the shipping solely into the hands of the users down out on the warehouse floor, costs could be affected dramatically. As an example, not everyone knows that carriers will generally "commit" to delivering a package within about 150 miles, next day. If you're based in Baltimore and are shipping to a customer in Washington D.C., this is only a distance of roughly 40 miles. If the customer wants their items tomorrow, shipping via a Ground service from UPS, FedEx, etc., will get it there in time.
The problem is that your shipping clerk Mike doesn't know this, all he knows is that it must be there tomorrow, so he picks an overnight service, costing you or the customer five to six more times than UPS Ground, for the same delivery time. By configuring logic that can take these types of situations into account, each package can have the optimal service chosen, based on the customer-chosen delivery time, as well as cost, a great example of warehouse optimization.
Batching is the process of shipping a set of shipments in bulk, all at once. One option is to process a set of orders containing the same items.
For example, let's say you're a golf company that has a new glove on the market, and you have 100 orders that are going out today. These orders can be imported/transmitted to your shipping system, processed, and 100 shipping labels are produced. Now 100 sets of gloves can be brought to an area, packed, the labels applied to the sealed packages, and these packages are ready to be handed to the carrier(s). This removes the need for each of these to be picked, packed and shipped separately.
A second method is to process a group of orders, regardless of the items, and have the items for each order printed onto the label. These labels can then be used as pick tickets for your pickers to go out onto the floor, gather the items, and either group them with the items, to be packed, or if they are pre-packaged, the labels can simply be applied to the box, and they are ready to be handed over.
In-motion systems are another method for warehouse optimization. By leveraging conveyor belts and scan/print equipment, the need for actual shipping workstations are eliminated. A package is placed onto the conveyor, and as it makes its way down the belt, it receives an initial scan of its unique barcode and continues down the line.
As it does, the shipping process is occurring in the background, and when it reaches the printer, the label is printed and applied to directly to the package.
Whether your goal is to reach higher levels of customer satisfaction or reduce labor and freight costs, speeding up your shipping process can improve efficiency so you can meet your business goals. This can be done in through warehouse optimization, including via automation, batching and/or implementing in-motion systems.
However, the reality is that there is no "one size fits all" solution for companies, when it comes to how to achieve faster and more efficient shipping processes. So, start by assessing how you are handling your shipping now. That, along with the needs and goals of your business, will ultimately determine the best option for you.