Blog # 6 in a series…
How proactive labor management and reporting tools complement voice systems to increase productivity at the individual associate level.

When you visit as many warehouses and talk to as many savvy warehouse professionals as I do, you can’t help but notice the substantial productivity gains that today’s voice and multi-modal picking systems make possible. But you also can’t help but realize that those gains don’t happen all by themselves. Technology is, after all, only as good as the people who make use of it.

That’s why it’s no surprise that productivity gains made possible by voice picking technology can be significantly increased with complementary solutions that aren’t necessarily voice-driven. From what I’ve seen, this is especially true with regard to operational improvements that can be found in the symbiotic relationship between voice- and multi-modal-oriented solutions and today’s powerful labor management and reporting tools.

Individual Accountability
Individual associates are at the heart of every successful warehouse operation.  While voice and multi-modal solutions offer the promise of more effective picking, put-away, receiving and other warehouse processes, it’s up to the people who use them to make them work at maximum efficiency. That’s why in a growing number of warehouses, proactive labor management is working hand-in-hand with voice solutions to optimize warehouse productivity.

It all comes down to individual accountability. Forward-looking warehouse managers want to make sure their workers are getting their jobs done as efficiently as their multi-modal technology allows. That’s why many warehouse operators are becoming more proactively involved in managing their work forces using powerful and flexible custom and/or off-the-shelf tracking and reporting solutions. 

Three Major Objectives
There are three main objectives for the increased emphasis on labor management. In the best case scenario, managers want to recognize and reward individuals who are doing a great job. In today’s fast-paced warehouses, associates who are extraordinarily productive are worth their weight in gold. At the same time, managers want to be able to motivate those who are doing an adequate job, but probably could do better. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, they want to filter out those who just aren’t cutting it.  Crucial to meeting each of these goals are powerful and flexible worker tracking and reporting capabilities.

Individual Visibility
There’s no substitute for first-hand knowledge and documentation of the level of efficiency you’re getting not just from your combined workforce, but also from each worker. Today’s most successful warehouse operators want the ability to mix and match today’s powerful off-the-shelf and customizable reports to provide the visibility they need into the performance and effectiveness of each individual associate. It’s much like the visibility and control your WMS gives you over your inventory, but translated to your workforce. 

Continuous Improvement
It’s instructive to watch a smoothly functioning warehouse in action. Voice and multi-modal solutions optimize both workflow and process, allowing the technology and worker to be as effective as possible. These solutions also tend to interact more frequently with the user, thereby collecting much more granular information about the process than was previously possible. Reporting tools can access this data and provide insights to the current process, identifying ways to streamline and improve it. This helps provide an additional boost in productivity and efficiency gains, which in turn, become significant factors in support of their strategic continuous improvement programs.

Today’s reporting tools can answer questions that previously might have required a time-and-motion study and hours of engineering support. Some examples are:

•  How much time is spent traveling between locations vs. dwell time spent at the location?
•  How does dwell time vary with pick task characteristics (quantity, product type)?
•  What effect do slotting changes have on travel and dwell times?
•  How often are exception conditions (out-of-stock, damaged goods, replenishment needed) encountered? How long do they take to resolve?
•  What software features are actually being used? How often?

Reporting tools can access this data and provide insights to the current process, identifying ways to streamline and improve it. This helps provide an additional boost in productivity and efficiency gains, which in turn, become significant factors in support of their strategic continuous improvement programs, providing the visibility needed to maximize workflow and worker productivity.

 

Mark Wheeler is the Director of Supply Chain Solutions - North America for Motorola Solutions
Read other blogs by supply chain expert Mark Wheeler.
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