Time is money for most businesses, but in the case of some warehouse operators, it’s more imperative than others. Businesses that store and sell goods with short shelf lives – food and drink, medicine, flowers, etc. – need to ensure that their goods remain in the warehouse for as little time as possible. The entire logistics process needs to be streamlined, to the point that customers receive their goods fresh, and with plenty of time to spare.
Achieving this means making optimizations throughout the supply chain, but certain aspects of this are out of your control. What you can control is the way your warehouse operates, and how it facilitates a faster turnover of goods and better goods storage. Here are some ideas as to how you can store and process products with a short shelf life more effectively, reducing spoilage and better serving your customers.
The problem with short shelf lives
Goods with short shelf lives pose a range of problems, particularly in the current climate. We’re all aware of the stories around perishable goods being held up at the border due to red tape, and the ongoing issues with UK-EU imports and exports. While the problems may yet be ironed out, it seems that additional delays as a result of Brexit are here to stay, posing a serious problem for goods with short shelf lives.
Even with goods produced in the UK, however, there are a number of challenges to contend with. With the rise in online shopping, warehouse space is at a premium. Next and same-day deliveries have increased the demand for rapid logistics and more centralized warehouse locations, while an increase in food deliveries has created fresh demand for refrigerated warehouse space. Add to this an energy and fuel crisis – hitting running costs for warehouses and vehicles – and the business is more challenging than ever.
Beyond the current economic and political climate, goods with short shelf lives pose the same problems as ever. Careful inventory management is required to avoid spoilage, and warehouse design needs to support warehouse operatives in storing and picking goods more quickly. New technologies are also required to integrate with the rest of the supply chain and coordinate with first or third-party logistics to reduce delays and pileups of goods.
Also read: 9 Technology to Make Smart Warehouse
4 ways to improve storage for short-shelf life products
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to improve the performance of your existing warehouse space. Whether it’s making the storage and retrieval of goods easier, streamlining aspects of your logistics, or cutting warehouse costs, there are changes you can make that will have an outsized impact on your business’ efficiency. These include:
1. Gravity flow racking
If you’re looking for a quick fix and don’t mind the capital outlay, gravity flow racking (also called live pallet racking) is a great solution. Gravity flow racking is a first in, first out (FIFO) system that uses inclined shelving and smooth rollers to deposit pallets at the picking face. The first items are the first items to be presented to pickers, ensuring that perishables don’t get stuck at the back of the racking, and have to be discarded.
The automatic replenishment of pallets at the picking face reduces handling time, while a range of safety features ensure that pallets don’t slide forward too quickly, damaging cargo or injuring warehouse operatives. Gravity flow racking is also low maintenance and operates well at a variety of temperatures, making it perfect for refrigerated warehouse spaces. It’s the most popular form of FIFO racking, and not without reason – particularly for perishables.
2. Pallet shuttle racking
If you’re looking for a way to improve the efficiency of palletized goods storage in a refrigerated warehouse, pallet shuttle racking may be the answer. Pallet shuttle racking uses thin, powered shuttles that roll in and out of the racking, allowing you to quickly store and access pallets in a high-density system. Importantly, pallet shuttle racking also has a wide range of operating temperatures, making it perfectly suited to a refrigerated warehouse.
While pallet shuttle racking is a last in, first out (LIFO) system – requiring very rapid turnover and careful inventory management – it is ideal for high-turnover warehouses. The speed and accessibility make it extremely easy to store and withdraw pallets and combine them well with pallets that can be handled by smaller vehicles or tools, such as pallet trucks, warehouse robots, or autonomous vehicles.
3. Robotics & automation
One way to deal with labor shortages and increase productivity at the same time is to explore automation. While robots and automated vehicles aren’t at the point where they require zero supervision, they can significantly lessen the burden on warehouse operatives, and increase the speed at which pallets are moved. By integrating with a WMS, warehouse robots and other vehicles can automatically move to meet incoming deliveries, collect empty pallets, and even pick up goods and deposit them at packing stations.
Advanced sensors and wireless communication allow robots to avoid collisions with warehouse workers and racking, and navigate both dynamically and with an internal map of the facility. If robots sound like an expensive investment, robots as a service (RaaS) companies are increasingly providing robots and autonomous vehicles on loan, allowing you to test them out in your warehouse environment, and giving you the scope to upgrade or downgrade according to your needs.
4. Warehouse management system (WMS)
Most modern warehouses benefit from a warehouse management system, or WMS. A WMS is a centralized computer system that regulates and coordinates aspects of warehouse management, complementing the work of warehouse operatives. Depending on how advanced the WMS is, this can extend to almost everything that takes place in, around, and even outside the warehouse, bringing every aspect of storage and logistics into sync.
A modern WMS can automate numerous tasks, including inventory management, fulfillment, and even managing warehouse automation. A WMS can help operatives to find stock by synchronizing with their personal devices; direct robots or AS/RS systems to retrieve and deposit stock; ensure personnel and vehicles and ready to greet arriving delivery vehicles; and intelligently manage lighting and heating based on sensor readings. If you have the requisite sensors and devices, the sky’s the limit when it comes to a WMS.
The current climate isn’t ideal for the storage industry, but there are ways to mitigate the damage. For businesses unable to expand or relocate – or simply looking to cut costs at a time of high pressure – the tips above should help to save money and make your operation more efficient, letting you invest where it’s needed most.