The efficient operation of the warehouse or distribution centre remains fundamental to the successful implementation of any company's supply chain strategy, writes John Maguire, FCILT.
It is perhaps surprising then that within some businesses - from SMEs to global corporations - the importance of optimizing the warehouse function can sometimes be overlooked.
I have lost count of the number of companies I have been to that, over a period of years, have happily ploughed money in to in all parts of the business except the warehouse and its IT systems and are then surprised when, one day, they realise that the facility is unable to operate efficiently or deliver the throughput speeds required to meet their customers' needs.
The truth is that, during the last 20 years or so, warehousing's role in the supply chain has become ever more crucial. Over this time the warehouse has evolved from a place for the long-term storage of materials and products to a part of the business that supports economies of purchasing, production, and transportation.
Savvy companies have long been aware of this and are reaping significant rewards as a result.
A new word has even crept in to the lexicon in recognition of the warehouse's elevated status in smart supply chain thinking. 'Warehousing' – which, for many, conjures up images of hard work and men wearing brown cloth store-man's coats while staring at clipboards – is 'out.' It's been replaced with the thoroughly modern sounding 'Intralogistics'.
The academic definition of intralogistics is 'the art of optimizing, integrating, automating, and managing the logistical flow of information and material goods within the walls of a warehouse.'
In other words, if logistics describes how we move things from point A to point B across the supply chain, Intralogistics is the same concept, but relates to how we get products most efficiently from the goods-in bay to the shipping dock within the warehouse or distribution centre.
It is increasingly accepted that if optimum intralogistics efficiency is to be achieved a broad range of core competencies must be embraced: It is no longer sufficient for a warehouse operator to turn to a supplier that provides, say, forklift trucks or some other form of conventional materials handling equipment alone when the time comes to upgrade intralogistics processes.
This is why Narrow Aisle Ltd launched its Flexi Warehouse Systems Division.
Introduced to offer a range of warehouse planning and design and implementation services to the logistics industry, Flexi Warehouse Systems provides impartial advice in new warehouse projects and specialises in updating and transforming existing facilities to significantly improve intralogistics efficiency and reduce operating costs.
There are a huge number of existing warehouse buildings across the country constructed and equipped over the last 25-30 years. Due to the enormous changes in the retail market and the economy in general, many of these sites are no longer fit for purpose.
Often the original usage has changed completely and therefore the storage and material handling equipment installed is no longer efficient to say the least. This can present an opportunity to re-design and re-configure, using new intralogistics technology and handling techniques, to create a much more cost effective operation often with a very attractive pay back period.
By having the ability to ability to offer a complete service from design through to supply and installation of all storage equipment, racks, fire protection, labeling, the latest warehouse management systems, battery changing systems (with full project management and training included), Flexi Warehouse Systems offers a unique opportunity for existing warehouse operators to update their intralogistics solutions and make real operation costs saving in double quick time.
John Maguire is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and between 2011 and 2014 he served as Chairman of the UKWA. He is commercial director of Narrow Aisle Ltd.