Improved warehouse workforce efficiency through ergonomics

Traditionally, a well-designed logistics operation has focused on process efficiency, often at the cost of employee safety and comfort. Unhappy or unhealthy workers are unproductive workers and are more likely to take time off or quit, increasing turnover and raising your recruitment costs. So how do you help your employees perform their best, reduce costs, and increase your warehouse workforce efficiency?

The first step is to keep your employees productive, effective, and healthy. Resolving ergonomic challenges in your operations can have a positive impact on workforce efficiency, employee attendance, interaction and retention.

The challenge of increasing warehouse efficiency AND workforce productivity

What’s the difference between a challenge and an opportunity? A wise man once said that the most challenging things in life are very easy to describe – just very hard to achieve.

For a warehouse production or logistics manager this is especially true. The challenge is indeed simple to describe – to increase warehouse efficiency and make your facility as productive as possible. Odds are that you’re already familiar with those areas where your operations could be improved, but just not sure how. Many methods have been proposed, but there has been no single, agreed-upon way to boost warehouse productivity and efficiency. Until now.

Warehouse workforce efficiency and planning

Traditionally, a well-designed logistics operation has focused on process efficiency, often at the cost of employee safety and comfort. Heavy and repetitive lifting in uncomfortable temperatures, the necessity of poor posture and lifting techniques, the presence of dust and other harmful particles, and general physical stress give rise to high levels of workplace accidents and injuries and result in increased employee churn and absence. And while the largest part of a warehouse’s operating expense is typically the cost of labour – the above factors make it often the most difficult cost to control. Achieving the best balance of employee satisfaction, effective resource allotment, and effective procedures has never been an easy task. For many years, in fact, conventional wisdom has maintained that it was near impossible to reduce injuries without decreasing productivity.

You’re working harder, but are you working smarter?

The logistics and warehousing sector face many challenges. The rise of mail-order and Internet commerce demands faster deliveries and ever-smaller order sizes require efficient cost-saving production and storage management. Just-in-Time production techniques also put increased stress on component and part handling.

TAWI vacuum solutions for material handling can help you face these challenges. Using smart lifting equipment will reduce the negative impact associated with improper lifting and picking in warehouses and distribution centres, while increasing workforce efficiency, boosting worker morale, and strengthening your bottom line.

TAWI solutions help you address some of the most common logistics and warehouse challenges:

  • Recruiting, hiring and retaining qualified workers
  • Increasing workforce productivity
  • Managing and reducing labour costs

TAWI does not claim to have an answer for every individual warehouse or logistics challenge, but we do offer solutions that have been consistently proven to improve productivity and  efficiency while maintaining – or even improving – the safety and health of your employees.

Improved ergonomics to increase warehouse workforce efficiency

While essential to logistics operations, lifting operations such as Order Picking are labour, cost, and time intensive. Order Picking is estimated to account for between 55-63% of total warehouse operating expense. Realizing that the smallest change in an order picking routine can have a major impact on operational costs, researchers have developed various planning models that help to increase the efficiency of such systems, such as optimising storage assignments or specifying routes for the order pickers that minimise travel distance in the warehouse. Most of these models have not taken into account the most central part of the OP process, however. Humans.

Warehouse workforce in action, efficiently picking orders

While other operations in your warehouse can be automated, order picking and lifting remains mostly manual. Technology can help your employees, but it can’t replace them. Unhappy or unhealthy workers are unproductive workers and are more likely to take time off or quit, increasing turnover and raising your recruitment costs. Your employees determine both effectiveness and efficiency, but improving employee related factors has widely been ignored.

Ergonomics = Economics

There are many ways that improper lifting procedures can impact your bottom line.

  1. Increasing warehouse efficiency raises customer retention. When efficiency falls, customer retention will as well. And when customers leave, your bottom line will reflect their departure.
  2. Inefficient lifting operations leads to wasted labour. One study showed that wasted motion in a warehouse added up to almost seven lost weeks per year. Ask yourself – how much more productive would your operations be if you had an extra seven weeks of labour at your disposal?
  3. Warehouse workforce tasked with lifting and picking duties are at greater risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s). MSDs are often responsible for a third of all work-related injuries, with warehouse workers the second highest occupational group for this type of injury.
  4. At the end of the day, even the most physically fit employee will be tired – occasionally, a few will be injured. A vacuum lifter never gets tired – or injured – it just keeps working.
  5. Warehouse workforce absences due to illness or injury represent a large chunk of operating expenses and decrease productivity.

Simply put, warehouses and production facilities with marginal lifting and picking performance are doomed to fail. So how do you help your employees perform their best, reduce costs, and increase order lifting and picking efficiency? The first step is to keep your warehouse workforce productive, effective, and healthy.

Not reducing the workforce, just making do with the one you have

In addition, the workforce in the logistics sector has been aging, with fewer young people willing to do manual or lifting jobs. With such tasks suddenly lacking workers, and logistics demand drastically and dramatically rising, many companies have faced major capacity problems. The percentage of older individuals in the warehouse workforce also results in higher insurance and safety related costs.

Resolving ergonomic challenges in your operations can have a positive impact on workforce efficiency, employee attendance, interaction and retention. With a TAWI lifting solution, a single operator can move goods from conveyor to pallets safely, ergonomically and in less time than ever before, reducing the risk of damage to both employees and products. Investing in a TAWI solution is an investment in the future that pays for itself many times over in no time and helps guarantee your facility’s competitiveness for a long while forward.

A TAWI solution is, to a large extent, not about replacing workers; but about the effectivization of work for which workers are scarce. About getting the most out of the people available to you – and keeping them healthy and happy while doing so.

Increase warehouse workforce efficiency with a TAWI system

With a TAWI system, both order picking operations and assembly line management can benefit from greater efficiency and safety, with employees no longer needing to carry out repetitive and physically stressful work, dramatically reducing both damage to products and work-related accidents and injuries.

TAWI lifting solutions are accurate, precise, and ergonomic, and enable heavier and more cumbersome loads to be safely handled by a single person. With a wide range of gripper tools, our solutions can handle everything from lifting simple heavy packages to moving, tilting, and placing unevenly shaped objects, and can be individually customised to suit almost any client need. All part of optimizing your processes, increasing warehouse workforce efficiency, and building a more profitable operation.

TAWI Solutions Help:

TAWI can help optimize logistic processes, raise warehouse efficiency, improve warehouse ergonomics, and build a happier, healthier warehouse workforce, while positioning you to profit from current trends, not suffer from them.

TAWI – Covid ready, before Covid and after

Unique packing challenges raised their head along with the Covid pandemic and restrictions. Loading and unloading of trucks has generally done by hand and larger or heavier parcels often require two people to lift them — in fact, almost any flat-pack lifting has traditionally been done by two people. This way of working has been a huge sticking point in the logistics industry, combining poor posture, low headroom, and heavy or repeated movements, all of which cause back and shoulder injuries and reduce productivity. A substantial challenge even pre-Covid, but nearly impossible when practicing social distancing.

The recent pandemic showed quite clearly the impact that a sudden reduction in the number of staff can have on productivity. Even in “normal” times, people get sick, are injured, or simply move on. You are left with fewer workers, but the same number of tasks that need to be done. With a TAWI solution, a single operator can handle tasks that previously required two or more people.

Social distancing – move from two-person lifting to one-person handling                   

TAWI products have been especially effective in addressing this challenge – both in unusual times and during normal operations. Our mobile vacuum lifters in particular are designed for efficient, single person lifting and order-picking. Featuring an articulated arm and a vacuum lifter on the end, these lifters can be carried on any forklift or pallet-truck and driven, or towed, around the warehouse. A single operator can safely move, tilt, turn, and precisely position a heavy load precisely and effortlessly, where two or more operators, working together at close quarters, were previously needed. These lifts are battery operated, enabling them to go anywhere a transporting vehicle can, moving easily between different workstations and effortlessly managing loads between the stations.

The goal of moving reducing, or eliminating, two man-lifting increases productivity and employee safety – even in virus free times. Covid has simply speeded up an already recognizable trend, bringing change much more quickly than the normal equipment and efficiency improvement cycles. Hopefully, the Covid pandemic is on the wane. Many of the changes it brought, however, may be here to stay. Whatever the case, the need for increased efficiency and productivity gained by replacing manual lifting with vacuum devices will long outlive any pandemic.

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