• Louis Fourie

Supply chain efficiency is important to keep the country moving forward. So much so that 60% of respondents in global studies suggest that supply chain efficiency and effectiveness must be improved to avert disruptions and remain relevant.

As the central point and heartbeat of the supply chain, efficiency in the warehouse environment plays a critical role in ensuring the entire supply chain process is seamless so that customers receive their inventory in time, thereby safeguarding both the warehouse and the customer’s costs.

How to improve warehouse efficiency

According to Louis Fourie, National Product Specialist Manager for warehousing equipment at Toyota Industrial Equipment, uptime is the operative word. “When we as a business approach a topic such as how to improve warehouse efficiency, we do so through the lens of Toyota Production Systems – a global benchmark approach that embraces lean principles and involves eliminating as much waste in the supply chain process as possible.”

“In the warehousing industry, time is money and profitability king. However, the only way to increase profitability is to decrease costs, and to do so is to become more efficient by reducing waste,” he explains. “This can be achieved by utilising equipment that offers performance, reliability, durability, and value for money – all of which can be realised by working with a partner that places customer-centricity first.”

Fourie adds that there are several measures warehouse operators can take to be more efficient in their operations, including the adoption of lean practices and harnessing the potential of modern-day technology.

Adopting lean practices allows business to avoid overstocking, reduce bottlenecks in certain stages of the warehouse process, minimise employee movement when inventory is moved around the warehouse, and most importantly, maximise and optimise all available warehouse space.

“Warehouse space is expensive, and the best way to ensure value for money is to maximise the space available by optimising pallet positioning and throughput. This can be achieved by utilising warehouse management software, extending racking height or reducing aisle width, to mention a few,” he adds. “This is particularly important as many warehouses simply cannot be expanded, whether this is due to space or financial constraints.”

A significant trend that has been observed in the industry in recent times is the influx of technology, and in particular, the influence of industry 4.0 – otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution. Here, operations and equipment are integrated and connected through the power of IoT (internet of things) where pieces of equipment are equipped with processing ability, sensors and other technologies to exchange data with other systems in the operation. A major benefit of a connected warehouse operation is the prediction of equipment maintenance to ensure optimal uptime.

Adding to this, is the introduction of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) from several prominent manufacturers. Apart from improving productivity, these self-driving trucks increase safety and reduce equipment and facility damage, thanks to their installed sensors and software that allows them to navigate their environment and detect obstacles.

Locally, the introduction of lithium-ion battery technology has spurred interest amongst customers and has proven its worth in improving operational efficiency. Not only do lithium-ion batteries weigh and take up less space than their conventional lead-acid counterparts, but they are maintenance-free, last two to four times longer, charge faster, and are more efficient when charging – all contributing to a significant saving in both time and money.

“Efficiency in the supply chain is crucial to increase productivity, which in turn, decreases running costs. This is a major contributor to the pricing of consumer goods by retailers and has a direct financial impact on the man in the street.”

“The more efficient we can make our warehouse operations, the more we can assist industries to meet impending green legislation requirements and lend a helping hand to the South African public, particularly in a time when much of the population is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic,” concludes Fourie.