Find Your Warehouse Maturity Phase
Every day, we hear, read, and talk about warehouse automation. But what would automation look like when applied in our unique businesses, and what steps can we take to achieve it?
Our partner Zebra Technologies designed a five-phase warehouse maturity model to help businesses identify where they fall in the automation race and how to reach the next phase.
If your business is among the thousands looking to streamline its workflows and possibly move into automation, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we cover the five phases at a high level to help you determine where to focus first.
Download our warehouse modernization checklist to follow along, then let us know your phase below. Throughout the article, you will also find helpful resources to help you understand the steps and technologies that will move you through each level.
Download the Warehouse Maturity Model Checklist.
Table of Contents
Phase 1: Increase individual worker productivity
Data capture tools are only helpful if they work and if your team uses them correctly. To begin progressing toward the next phase, you must find and implement processes that boost employee productivity.
Warehouses in phase 1 struggle with information silos, error-prone processes, and cumbersome device deployments. They may use a barcode system, but their scans are often inaccurate. These inefficient processes and technologies mean missed deadlines and KPIs, and a lack of visibility into inventory levels.
If you relate to these challenges, you might be in phase 1. Don’t feel discouraged! This phase lays the foundation for the next four. To advance to the next level, we recommend a proper barcode system that increases accuracy rather than hinders it.
Phase 1 Resources
Download our Need-to-Know Starter Guide for Barcode Systems to explore barcoding technology and how the right system transforms your workflows.
Phase 2: Increase team productivity and workflow efficiency
Once warehouses know exactly what they have in stock, they should focus on increasing volume. Processing more orders requires efficient workflows and a productive team.
Warehouses in phase 2 grapple with mismatched workflow execution, poor communication between coworkers and teams, and antiquated warehouse and device management systems. These challenges lead to inconsistencies, miscommunications, and reduced visibility into assets and workflow processes.
There are several steps to take that will improve productivity and enable you to fulfill more orders. The first is to streamline your multiple communication apps to one unified platform, which can help cut out up to 32 days’ worth of unproductivity.
The next step is determining whether your current hardware hinders or enhances employee productivity. If it is doing the latter, consider investigating technology options that improve communication across teams and increase mobility. Most mobile computers come with productivity-boosting tools already included.
Phase 2 Resources
Learn more about the technologies helping companies advance to the next phase.
Read how three industries are tackling their connectivity challenges.
Discover 5 benefits of wearable technology.
Phase 3: Greater asset visibility and utilization
If you are in phase 3, you are at a turning point. The first two phases focus on improving worker-driven data. Now, it’s time to complement your team’s work with sensor data.
In this phase, you may find that your manual data entry and scan-based processes are not providing sufficient visibility to meet your business needs. This lack of operational insight creates bottlenecks as your product moves throughout various departments.
RFID solutions significantly automate and enhance data capture. For example, handheld readers can read multiple tags at once, often without a line of sight, while fixed readers record data as tagged items move throughout your site. Another helpful solution leverages fixed industrial scanners to track assets and inventory as they move down a conveyor line.
Both open a new level of operational visibility that human-initiated data capture cannot, and it frees your employees to do essential tasks that are worth their time.
Phase 3 Resources
Learn more about RFID and other technologies helping automate labor-intensive tasks.
Download the Need-to-Know Starter Guide for RFID Systems.
Learn more about fixed industrial scanners.
Phase 4: Best-next-move guidance and decision-making
In phase 4, warehouses begin to move into the early stages of intelligent technology to help them prioritize their next moves. To do this, they need a system where they can see their items, people, or equipment’s locations in real time. A real-time locating systems (RTLS) solution will help here.
Companies that are in this phase lack real-time data, preventing them from making informed decisions. And while the data they gather is useful, they need a tool to help them put it to use. Finally, they struggle to use their assets and equipment, such as a lift truck or pallet jacks, to the fullest due to a lack of real-time visibility.
RTLS enables your teams to monitor mission-critical equipment on the floor and manage your IT assets, such as a mobile computer. Warehouses use RTLS in many applications, from yard management to asset, material, and personnel tracking.
Only some warehouses will need RTLS. In fact, many of our customers find that the solutions in phases 1-3 sufficiently meet their needs and solve their visibility challenges. However, if you want to expand and have many sites, RTLS will put you well on your way to gathering the critical data needed to grow while maintaining visibility.
Phase 4 Resources
Read Zebra’s RTLS case studies to learn more about how real-time tracking can transform your workflows.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]
Phase 5: Prescribe and adapt: proactive performance improvement
We focused on how to increase visibility within your warehouse operations throughout the last few phases. Finally, in phase 5, you have the tools and technologies you need to improve performance and proactively tackle operational problems before they happen.
Still, no phase is without its unique challenges. For example, warehouses in phase 5 feel their data interpretation is incomplete and not in real-time. They also seek ways to improve their response time to workflow disruptions within their four walls and their communication with their supply chain partners.
Phase 5’s goal is to unify your collected data into one streamlined platform, enabling you to make better-informed decisions. Warehouses in this phase also lean into automation, freeing your workers from menial tasks and allowing them to focus on other essential tasks, such as identifying ways to improve workflows and automated tasks.
Phase 5 Resources
Watch Zebra’s webinar, “A Practical Approach to Innovating in the Warehouse,” on demand.
Next steps: Did you find your phase?
What do you think: Did you find your phase? Did the answer surprise you? Let us know by filling out the form below. Then, give us a call. Our solutions consultants have worked with thousands of companies to solve their unique warehouse operations challenges, and we’d like to help you too.
DID YOU FIND YOUR PHASE?
LET US KNOW.
Do you want even more Warehouse Maturity Model information?
We recommend diving into Zebra’s Warehouse Maturity Model series, penned by their Director of Supply Chain Solutions Mark Wheeler. You can read the first installment here.