Though summer may just be winding down, and school has only been in session for a few weeks, suppliers and distributors are already looking ahead to that “most wonderful” time of year. Christmas, and any holiday that involves gifts clumped together in November and December, mean more presents than ever will circulate the globe at higher and higher expected rates of speed.
On top of this, online shopping is anticipated to continue dominating the holiday season again, especially given the extraordinary numbers of last year’s sales. Shopping “holidays” that have shifted to accommodate the Internet shopping trends, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, give an increasing number of shoppers incentives to skip brick-and-mortar stores and find more gift ideas through online ads.
All these factors, combined with the global supply chain issues that have wreaked havoc in fulfillment centers for years, mean your warehouse needs to start prepping for the holidays now. Today, we look at different strategies your fulfillment company can instigate to keep Christmas Day jolly.
Build a Dream Team
If you’ve worked in a warehouse environment long enough, it will be no surprise to find that the people in it are your most effective tool. Machines are undoubtedly necessary to function correctly, but you can’t undervalue a group of well-trained professionals comfortable in their particular workspaces. They can be a priceless resource, especially during peak season. If there are any gaps in your labor force right now, or you anticipate needing extra hands or eyes on a project over the next few months, start the recruitment and hiring process now.
Training takes time. Even the most experienced manufacturing expert will need a few weeks to truly get into the swing of things in your fulfillment services. Look over your training and orientation materials to ensure they are up-to-date, concise, and easy to find. Take a moment to check in on the “old hats” on your floor; they may also appreciate a refresher course. The more comfortable your employees feel in their roles, the faster your warehouse can ship orders with maximum efficiency and provide top-notch customer service.
Check the Forecast
Before any big rushes hit, now is a great time to check on your sales and traffic volume projections for the upcoming quarter. And if you have not yet crunched the numbers to make any projections, now is also the optimal moment to do so.
Make sure you have the necessary materials and equipment to meet your expected demand. Contact any suppliers or outsourced fulfillment partners to ensure they are equally prepared. With order fulfillment centers increasingly expected to be part of the inevitable return process, take time to assess if you will still be ready to handle a high volume of traffic well into the new year.
Artificial Intelligence in Warehouse Management
Simulation of human intelligence processes by computer systems is known as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Natural language processing is a common example of artificial intelligence. Within Gmail, Google uses natural language processing — an AI in Gmail applies an auto-fill function to complete sentences or offer email reply suggestions. Machines can use this same AI technology because devices powered by AI are capable of processing new information and adapting to changes.
AI is a powerful data processing tool that will help improve warehouse operations. Many companies are already using AI in their warehouse operations and distribution centers. Intelligent software powered by AI is applied to dynamic slotting and workforce planning. AI is also applied to performance management, in-warehouse travel optimization, and automation through orchestrating robotics and employees. Software solutions using intelligent technology do not always require extensive training or expertise. User-friendly AI software solutions can be implemented fairly quickly. Applying AI technology in warehouse management can increase productivity by reducing manual engineering time and effort.
Maintain the Metal
Another big player in your warehouse operations is the hardware that assists your human workers. Your machines can do repetitive labor at reliable speeds that may be cumbersome or downright dangerous for a living, breathing workforce. Thus, your machines, especially your older models, may show signs of wear.
Additionally, the software commanding those robots is more sophisticated than ever. Programmers are now spending time studying the expanse of knowledge that is AI, rather than spelling out specific commands to plug into each machine.
It follows that keeping your robot’s maintenance up-to-date should be a top priority in the planning stages of the holiday season. Make sure that every cog and wheel runs smoothly so you won’t be interrupted by repairs that can throw a wrench in your operations at a critical moment.
Find Your Scale
Once you’ve assessed how much product will be passing through your warehouse, and how your equipment is doing now, you can make more accurate predictions about what changes you’ll want to complete in your operations between now and Christmas.
You may discover that you risk falling behind your anticipated pace.
Consider programs that offer robots-as-as-a-service (RaaS) for assistance in creating a floor-wide workflow that will meet the needs of your business during the holiday season. RaaS vendors can rent robots to warehouses on a contract basis so that you can have more complex equipment during your busy times of the year.
RaaS programs offer numerous benefits to small and mid-level warehouse businesses. Primarily, they remove the burden of purchasing robots outright. This process can be exorbitantly costly and so lengthy as to make the initial purchase moot by the time it’s fully operational. In addition, the vendors retain the responsibility to maintain and upgrade the robots as necessary, removing a significant barrier to entry and opening up access to robotic automation technology.
Clever software controls the movement and activities of the robots on the warehouse floor to deliver much more than a machine that follows a human around. The leading Software-as-a-service (SaaS) programs that are able to process data from across the business to control multiple robots, on multiple floors and deliver live information to the warehouse team.
Add It All Up
Christmas traditions in this country are as varied as the people participating in them but gift-giving is certainly one of the most popular. Your warehouse needs to be ready to accommodate a high influx of products in a consumer economy that increasingly relies on online shopping and fast shipping for those unique presents. Support your team, prepare for the future, and take care of your equipment to fill customer orders quickly and correctly.
Take time to consider if RaaS or SaaS might fit into your warehouse. With a strong vendor in your corner, supporting your operational needs, you can spend Christmas resting easy with the knowledge that you are building your business up to something great.