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10 Common Warehousing Mistakes to Avoid This Year

Greg Conner | 28 December 2017

The start of a new year is the perfect time to fix or improve common warehousing mistakes.

Warehousing and distribution has never been as complex as it is today.  Constraints such as omni-channel distribution and speed to delivery have really put a strain on overall operations.  Given the immense challenges faced today, DC managers and facility engineers should work to avoid the following 10 common warehousing mistakes.

1. Lack of Inventory Accuracy

If something starts wrong, it generally ends wrong.  Nothing is more important than controlling the accuracy of the inventory within the warehouse.  Without the utilization of a Warehouse Management System (WMS) or Warehouse Execution System (WES), inventory tracking is nearly impossible in today’s DC environment.  A significant challenge facing DCs today is the need to pick the same product out of multiple locations.  For example, it might make sense to have the same SKU located in a split case area where individual “pieces” can be picked to fulfill online orders.  At the same time, it may also make sense to have this same SKU positioned in a full case pick area for larger orders.  It is also commonplace to ship full pallets to large customers or stores out of bulk racking.  Managing inventory levels and accuracy between all three of these very different locations can be extremely difficult without proper planning and software tools.

2. Failure to Optimize Picking Paths

A very common mistake we observe in the field is poor optimization of order picking paths within the warehouse.  The cost of labor is the single most variable in a warehouse that can impact profitability.  It’s vital that warehouse associates work as efficiently as possible.  To achieve maximum efficiency, one should carefully study the location of SKUs in relation to their pick velocity.  It’s also important that SKUs that are commonly picked together are grouped in close vicinity to one another within the warehouse as much as possible.  These types of analysis can be very complex.  Fortunately there are software packages (such as Bastian Software Solutions’ Exacta suite) that can assist with this process.

3. Utilization of Paper Processes

PTL operationYou would be surprised how many companies still utilize manual, paper processes.  Not only are these processes slow and mistake prone, but they also commonly result in extra steps that can be eliminated through an automated process.  Paper based picking, for example, is way of the past.  Newer warehouse picking technologies such as pick-to-light (PTL), pick-to-voice (PTV) and augmented reality (AR) greatly improve operator efficiencies, and reduce cost.

4. Failure to Plan for the Future

Companies that don’t plan for the future are planning to fail.  There is no way around it. If your company doesn’t grow and evolve, it will eventually go out of business.  Growth rates will differ from industry to industry and company to company, but significant thought must go into future growth plans.  Questions should be asked, such as – “How will we expand our current processes?”  “What new technologies are coming online that could help us become more efficient?”  “Does our current infrastructure allow for us to grow?”  Using our 65 years of experience, Bastian Solutions works with clients to answer these, as well as many other complex questions, every day. A great way to start future planning is through material handling consulting and simulation services. A good consultant can help you analyze your current data and processes, understand your goals and objectives, and develop a plan of action to get you there.

5. Lack of Appreciation for VAS

Valued Added Services (VAS) is a necessity in many operations.  VAS can help differentiate or brand a company.  These services can also be a significant source of revenue, but only if properly accounted for.  Many companies don’t properly allow for the correct amount of time these processes can take.  Without proper analysis VAS can quickly become your facility’s bottleneck and dramatically impact overall production.  Time studies are one possible tool that can be utilized to help plan for the impact of VAS.  Our team has the capability to also simulate impacts, such as VAS, to your overall production. Material handling simulations allow you to test and visualize changes or additions to your facility before any physical implementation.

6. Lack of Staff Development and Training

One of the biggest challenges facing employers today is turnover.  When an employee leaves a company, there is a significant cost that comes along with that departure.  Employees leave for a variety of reasons, but one common explanation is that they don’t feel they receive the proper amount of training and development opportunities.  Outside of retention, employees that receive little training are prone to mistakes, reducing quality and increasing inefficiency.  Detailed training plans should be created for each position, and every employee within an organization should have a career development plan specific to he or she.

7. Poor Overall Facility Layout

Poor warehouse layoutA poor layout won’t single-handedly ruin your business, but it sure will hold it back.  It’s important that critical areas of the operation have adequate space so that operations can efficiently be performed.  It’s also important that the flows within a warehouse are properly assessed, and waste associated with long travel distances be avoided.  Bastian Solutions has a tremendous amount of experience with warehouse layout and design as well as modifying existing facilities. If you need assistance in designing a new facility or re-organizing your current one, our team would be happy to assist.

8. Lack of Safety Policies and Enforcement

Injured workers are usually slow workers. Cutting corners and looking the other way when it comes to workplace safety can be a very costly mistake. Worker compensation claims and OHSA fines can lead to some big checks. However, these are not the only costs one will incur from a lack of good safety practices. Over time, employees who don’t work in a safe and ergonomic manner will slow down. Sooner or later this slowdown will take a toll on the operation and increase overall costs.

9. Poor Housekeeping

Generally speaking, the dirtiest warehouses are also the most inefficient and poorly run. These facilities are easy to spot. There are broken pallet boards and shrink wrap film littered throughout the warehouse. Light fixtures commonly don’t work and there is a thick film of dirt on most surfaces. Not only does this type of behavior create safety risks, but it also leads to a culture where employees don’t take pride in their place of work. This mistake is relatively easy to fix. A simple suggestion is to plan cleaning time into each shift (usually at the start or the end). Studies continue to show that employees who have pride in their place of work perform at a higher level as well as have stronger retention rates.

10. Lack of Preventative Maintenance

preventative maintenanceWhy is it that things always seem to break at the worst possible time? It’s not simply bad luck. Most likely, the real reason is a lack of preventive maintenance. It never fails to amaze me how a company can spend tens of millions of dollars on fork trucks, material handling, and packaging equipment, but yet can’t justify spending any money maintaining that equipment. The question companies should ask is, “How much does down time cost?” When this cost is considered, the expense of a preventative maintenance program is much easier to justify. Many companies avoid the cost of having full time, dedicated maintenance teams and contract this work out to companies such as ours.

Bastian Solutions can provide a preventative maintenance program tailored specifically for your operations. Avoiding these 10 common warehousing mistakes will certainly help your operation better compete in today’s extremely competitive market. So plan your New Year's resolutions and get ready to have the most profitable year, yet. If you're not sure where to start, please contact us for help. We have an experienced team of engineers to help you design and implement a better materiel handling solution.

Author: Greg Conner

I joined Bastian Solutions in 2005 after graduating from Purdue University. My first role was as a project engineer before transitioning to a field application engineer. After seven years, I became regional director of Indiana, overseeing all local FAEs as well as Bastian Solutions’ e-commerce business. In 2016, I was promoted to Vice President, Eastern U.S. where I oversaw sales and operations for all Eastern U.S. offices. In 2019, I was promoted to Vice President of Global Sales, now overseeing international operations and global marketing.


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