A well-designed central warehouse should be able to perform the following functions:
- Reception of all products included in the industrial activity of the company that owns the warehouse.
- Performing immediate quality control.
- Stock control and inventory.
- Prior organization of the storage of goods.
- Preparation of orders for regional warehouses and / or customers.
- Fast shipping of orders.
Do you know what each of them is?
Receipt of products
In order to properly receive the goods from the industrial activity of the company installing a central warehouse, a set of preliminary tasks are necessary in order to determine the mechanical, human and IT resources required.
It starts with the exhaustive analysis of the products received in the centre. This analysis should take into account the dimensions and weight of the load units, the strength of the packaging or wrappings (if applicable), the frequency of arrival of the material and the quantity of goods received per shipment.
The weight and dimensions of the products received
The analysis of these two factors conditions the needs to cover the goods received. Thus, the characteristics of the goods received, the storage systems and the type and load capacities of the machines must be taken into account. Handling equipment must be perfectly suited to handling the goods at the time of receipt and, if possible, for shipment.
Goods received may have different shapes, sizes and weights. Moreover, these variables apply in the majority of cases, and the more the sources of supply are varied, the more this situation is frequent.
Generally, two scenarios arise: either the units have the appropriate dimensions and weight to be stored directly, or some of them do not have these characteristics and must be modified before storage.
In these two situations, the central warehouse must be prepared to receive, prepare and store any type of goods, and, for this, one or more docks must be set up as well as a reception area and, if necessary a shipping area, but also by providing handling equipment to unload the trucks.
Mechanical means used for loading and unloading
The machines or mechanical means generally to facilitate the loading and unloading of the goods are pallet trucks, stackers and counterbalanced forklifts.
Quality control carried out in a central warehouse is limited to verification: ensuring that the content of the load received corresponds to that agreed with the supplier.
To facilitate this operation, the load units must be accompanied by a delivery note indicating the characteristics of the product received, its trade name where applicable, and the quantity of units contained in each packaging or packaging (for example, in each pallet, container or crate).
Provided with this slip, the personnel who receive the goods must carry out selective sampling, open a package, if necessary, and check its content. This control is carried out to ensure the quantity and quality of the goods received.
Quality control also makes it possible to verify whether the packaging is strong enough to withstand the duration and the storage conditions planned. If necessary, the packaging is then modified to adapt it to the characteristics of the warehouse; this operation is mainly carried out in central warehouses receiving goods from various suppliers or origins.
Control and inventory of stored products
Immediately after the quality control, a count of the products is carried out. Then the data is integrated into the central computer. The department in charge of receptions must have one or more terminals in order to immediately present a complaint to the manufacturing center or to the corresponding supplier in the event of detection of a discrepancy between the goods and the slip. Note that data integration must always be done after counting, never before.
Once the load units are entered, the system communicates the exact location assigned to each unit, according to the pre-established storage schedule.
During the procedure for shipping the goods, the reverse operation is carried out by informing the computer of the exit of the corresponding units; thus, the management system can have the free space and assign it a new load unit.
The exit of the goods must not be recorded until the precise moment when the operation is carried out because, if the computer generates a slip, during the time that elapses between the issuance of this document and the actual withdrawal of the unit, its location should be shown as occupied.
Otherwise, the system could consider the location free and assign it a new load unit. If the previous commodity has not yet been picked, the operator would find the cell occupied, which can occur if the entry and exit of goods is at a different rate. To avoid this, the computer does not consider the location to be empty until the operator has removed the unit and reported the operation to the system. Using the appropriate warehouse management software (WMS) ensures that all steps involved in this operation work properly, and prevents errors in location management.
The prior organization of the storage of goods
Central warehouses must have sufficient and necessary mechanical means for the storage of goods. If they are received on pallets, it is necessary to have the means or handling equipment available to handle them correctly and in complete safety, and to move them to the storage area.
If the merchandise is received in bulk, it is not only necessary to have the means required for its handling, but also, sometimes, the tools or machines necessary for its packaging. To do this, we can use a hopper, for example, any other appropriate mechanical element, if the volume and the characteristics of the goods so require.
In general, it is impossible to carry out a correct storage, or to hope to obtain a profitable and efficient installation, without providing it with the necessary physical, human and material resources.
Preparing orders for regional warehouses
As already mentioned, one of the main missions of a central warehouse is to serve as a reserve for regional or local sites, so the essential function it must fulfil is the preparation of orders placed by them. This operation can be carried out on a daily, weekly, monthly or bimonthly (or even more spaced) frequency depending on the frequency required, the products handled and their size.
The following section analyses the different systems and methods used to prepare orders. All are designed for concrete cases, and their choice depends on the specific needs of each company.
Also, it should be noted that for a central warehouse to be able to properly prepare orders, it is essential to create spaces for this purpose on the shelves or on the floor, and to do this, storage must be perfectly organized.
In principle, order picking in a central warehouse is carried out on the ground or by means of automatic or semi-automatic systems. This increases storage capacity, and makes operations faster and easier.
These advantages are obtained thanks to two main factors:
The possibility of completely filling the free spaces of the shelves, which of course increases the storage capacity compared to the preparation on shelves in which the location (s) intended for this operation are most of the time half empty
Second, the floor is the ideal level for order picking, as it increases throughput while making operations easier and faster, while reducing the risk of errors.
On the other hand, the preparation of orders by means of automatic or semi-automatic systems reduces the time devoted to these operations. But to achieve the best possible performance, the controls must be properly programmed, and therefore it is very important that they are carried out, as far as possible, in full load units. Another factor influencing speed and efficiency is the ability of the central warehouse to constantly know the needs of secondary sites in the chain and to anticipate their demands.
How to establish these forecasts? The only effective means is the transmission of information; the faster it is, the more precise the information and the better the results. Therefore, the establishment of real-time communication between all links in the chain is required, from the farthest point of final consumption (for example, the store where the items are sold at retail) to at the central computer of the production or removal site.
Below is a link model between the different points generating information: communication between the regulator warehouse and the control screen is carried out by the operator via RF terminals which transmit the information via radio waves. Finally, the connection between the regulator warehouse and the order screen is made from computer to computer via a router.
The system offers several options and there are other possibilities. Companies specializing in information technology are best suited to provide the solutions and design the necessary communications. In addition, to achieve full control, a good warehouse management software (WMS) is essential
Fast shipping of orders
Order dispatch time is essential to avoid delays and stockouts in distribution chains. This is why one of the functions of a central warehouse is to do this quickly.
The speed of execution of shipments results from the good organization of all the operations explained in the previous sections. If executed perfectly, shipping orders will be quick and easy.
On the other hand, if one of the steps is not perfectly executed, a bottleneck may form and the dispatch of orders may become complicated and delayed. The major responsibility of a warehouse manager is therefore to ensure the perfect coordination of operations within the installation.