5 Ways to Optimize Your Warehouse (Just Like Amazon!)

Guest blog from MHI Member Company Smith Corona

You could say operating 1,137 facilities makes Amazon a bit of an expert in warehouse optimization.

With most of these buildings averaging at least 600,000 square feet, Amazon had to create their own functioning warehouse networks to operate at peak performance.

But the world’s ecommerce leader doesn’t have to be the only one optimizing their warehouses like this.

And it doesn’t require an Amazon-sized budget to do so.

There are plenty of options you can implement to efficiently streamline your facility without breaking the bank, whether your warehouse:

  • ● Isn’t running at full optimization
  • ● Needs a more efficient inbound/outbound system
  • ● Is having trouble meeting shipping deadlines due to growing demands

Ready to get started?

Here’s 5 actionable ways you can optimize your warehouse as efficiently as Amazon’s:

1. Invest in the Right Technology

Amazon is the king of utilizing technology throughout their warehouse and fulfillment centers.

Even the simplest scan of a barcode helps optimize their main processes, like stowing.

At Amazon Fulfillment Centers, barcode scanners scan an item before it’s stocked onto a shelf. The barcode of that shelf location is then scanned, correlating a digital and physical match in Amazon’s system.

Mobile barcode scanners can ease the strain of management and operations into a more efficient system without breaking the bank.

This means warehouse employees can scan barcodes anywhere at any time to enter data into your computer system.

Barcode scanners are extremely beneficial for high volume work in larger facilities where workers cover extensive ground throughout the day or pick-and-pack on the go.

By allowing you to keep track of an item’s movement, employees know its exact location at any given time. This decreases time spent wandering the warehouse, improving productivity and efficiency.

2. Utilize a Barcode Management/Inventory System

Because Amazon warehouses store huge collections of unique items, you’d think errors would occur constantly.

But that’s not the case.

Amazon leans into the chaos and mixes items together in shelf slots. Through their management system, pickers are guided to the correct items, which are then verified by scanning the barcode.

This not only makes these tasks easy, but accurate.

From the moment an item arrives at your warehouse, you’ll want to scan and track every move it makes while under your roof. Keeping tabs on products as they move throughout your facility lets you know:

  • ● Exact location
  • ● Correct amount
  • ● Current status

Utilizing barcodes in your warehouse also means reducing human error.

Employees misplacing items or messing up orders can end up impacting your profits and create dissatisfaction with long-standing customers.

Analyze and research barcode and inventory softwares that suit your warehouse needs.

Inventory softwares will assist with the type of functionality you’ll need (i.e. tracking inventory).

A barcode generator will create readable barcodes to be printed and applied for these functions while barcode software will balance out the necessary information you’ll be implementing.

3. Use Pre-Printed Labels

Amazon created a way to optimize their entire outbound fulfillment order process through the use of their own label – the sp00.

It carries large amounts of order information to the shipping station, where a shipping label is then printed and applied to the package.

Basically, Amazon internally named an LPN (license plate number).

LPNs can be customized for your warehouse or distribution center to help structure both inbound and outbound processes. This can be in receiving, shipping, picking or storing.

Using LPNs increases your:

  • ● Operations
  • ● Accuracy
  • ● Traceability
  • ● Inventory Management
  • ● Productivity

When it comes to deciding how to print your LPN labels, using pre-printed LPN labels is a quicker and more accurate method than printing your own. This can be achieved by sourcing through a trusted label provider.

Some benefits of purchasing pre-printed LPNs include:

  • ● Reduced costs and errors
  • ● Increased speed and efficiency
  • ● Less time designing and printing your own labels
  • ● No additional equipment needed (printers, ribbons, blank labels)
  • ● No duplicate numbers

Having stock of pre-printed labels means they can be applied on demand to any product entering, moving, or leaving your facility.

4. Apply Color Coded Labels To Avoid Confusion

Colored labels coordinate item location on different levels in Amazon FC’s.

Because they house such a wide variety of goods, using color labels customizes a specific location, making it easier for employees to find an item faster during the picking process.

This amounts to fewer errors picking the wrong item and less confusion when trying to locate each order.

Using different color labels in your warehouse saves time and aids productivity when locating specific items. They can be utilized on individual orders or make case and pallet identification easier.

They can also be used to increase safety standards.

Bright label colors, like fluorescent orange or red, bring attention to important or hazardous products. This ensures special care during transport and handling.

5. Consider Print & Apply Automation

Amazon utilizes print and apply automation with their auto-SLAM process.

As packages move along conveyor belts, a printer applicator creates, prints, and applies a shipping label, efficiently transporting orders to the final leg of the shipping process.

Print and apply machines are programmed to integrate into your warehouse system and can be used to streamline any part of the warehouse supply chain. This includes labeling everything from individual items to cases and pallets.

If your warehouse engages in high-volume production, print and apply automation ensures proper label placement in a quick and efficient manner.

A more reliable method than hand-applying labels, it reduces:

  • ● Labor requirements
  • ● Human errors
  • ● Downtime

Companies that supply these machines offer different varieties of resources, like equipment service, support, and setup. You’ll want to check to see which one is the best fit for your warehouse.

Equipping your print and apply machines with the right label material can also be a game changer.

Labels need to be released as clean and fast as possible. Consider investing in options like a premium film liner over paper for minimal breaks and label jams.

If print and apply automation isn’t an option, you can still invest in a good thermal printer.

Your printer will need to work through continuous, daily uses and high-volume tasks. Industrial printers are built to last in these types of demanding environments.

Remember, automation is meant to help your business, so the last thing you’ll want to deal with is a broken printer halting production.

All of these options link to one key functionality you’ll need when maximizing your warehouse optimization: track everything.

Knowing an item’s information, location, movement, and status at all times in your warehouse will help you run more effective operations.

An efficiently run warehouse is one of the best ways to increase the overall productivity of your business.

Bonus Optimization Options

While these additional options don’t involve tracking items, they’re still beneficial to creating an efficient management system in your warehouse.

And yes, Amazon utilizes them to their full advantage.

Optimize Picking Routes

With warehouse sizes ranging between 600,000 to 1 million square feet, Amazon made creating a workable floor space an integral part of how their pickers find items so quickly.

They manage this through strategic picking routes.

When an order comes in, a computer determines the location of each item. It then finds the fastest picking route and relays it to the employee.

Optimizing picking routes allow employees to logically locate each item in one pass rather than losing time trying to find multiple items in different locations.

The benefits of these routes also means multiple orders can be picked at once for faster output, which increases productivity.

Setting up custom “levels”, “sections”, or “zones” where items are kept will communicate an easier location for pickers, allowing them to quickly search for orders.

By combining picking routes with a barcode or management system, you can streamline your warehouse to function more efficiently.

Scheduling Pickups

Customers expect fast delivery with their Amazon orders.

To ship over 1.6 million packages a day, Amazon has to guarantee trucks are present to load packages and ship on time to meet scheduled deliveries.

Ensure shipments are prepared and able to leave your facility on time by scheduling pickups. Knowing when trucks will arrive helps determine:

  • ● Upcoming workloads
  • ● Amount of products shipping
  • ● Types of products shipping
  • ● Number of trucks
  • ● Amount of available labor required

Scheduling pickups means you’re taking a proactive approach, gaining visibility of your outbound processes, and efficiently moving product through and out of your warehouse to arrive on time.