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Efficiency, Safety, Storage

Whether your warehouse has to pack up pallets to ship out to their final destination, or you assemble your own pallets for easier storage of smaller/irregularly shaped items, building a pallet is a common task for many different warehouse workers.

While the steps to building a pallet will vary depending on the items being stored and organized, the goal is always the same: a safe, durable pallet where the items are unbroken and not in danger of falling off and hurting anyone. There are always a few guidelines you can keep in mind to help your pallets look and work the way they should, and knowing them will both help make the process easier as well as keep everything safe and sound on their way to the pallet rack. Here’s a few of our favourite tips for better pallet packing:

Start with heavy goods

It may sound obvious, but it bears repeating when arranging goods on a pallet, make sure the heaviest products go on the bottom. This will stop anything below them from getting crushed by accident and create a good center of gravity that will help the pallet get moved around the warehouse.

Never load over the edge

Make sure everything is loaded onto the pallet parallel to the edge and as close to the edge as possible without going over. This will make strapping the goods down easier, as well as preventing safety hazards with overhanging items that could fall and injure someone or impede the flow of traffic on lower shelves.

Avoid pyramid shapes

A lot of pallet shippers make the mistake of trying to build their pallet up into a full-sized pyramid, but this can cause problems down the road. Pyramid-style stacking can compromise the overall integrity of your stack by placing more weight on the center. If you’re faced with a lot of different box sizes, try to work smaller boxes into the stack itself to keep a more cubic shape with better-distributed weight.

Strap up

It’s crucial to remember to leave enough room for straps in your pallets to safely wrap over and contain everything, before the shrink wrap is applied. The straps will do much of the work as far as keeping the items level on the pallet itself, as well as providing for a better distribution of weight before the shrink wrap collapses and contains everything. Factor in the space you need to safely strap everything up before it gets shrink wrapped and you’ll have an easier time buckling everything down.

Leave room for safety

Finally, you’ll want to make sure your pallets are as stacked as neatly along the edge as possible to accommodate for safety guards. Many pallet racks these days are built with pallet rack safety guards along the edges of their decking to prevent injury or damage, and as such they have to enforce pretty strict edge overhang to make sure everything fits. If your racks include safety guards like these, make sure everything lines up accordingly.

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Safety, Storage

From retail to food, warehouse storage can take a variety of forms these days.

One of the more important, yet occasionally understated roles a warehouse can perform is the storage of liquids. Whether they’re needed chemicals for manufacturing purposes, automotive fluids for retail or distribution to repair shops, or any other type of commercially available fluid, warehouses can often serve as a home to a vast array of liquids that need to be handled correctly.

Much like with the storage of hazardous materials, liquid storage can carry with it a long list of rules, requirements, and regulations from various governmental bodies. Knowing these requirements will go a long way towards helping you maintain safe storage of each of your liquid products, but there’s a few tips that can apply to nearly any liquid or chemical that needs to be stored:

Segregate and store by hazard class

Even liquids that aren’t considered immediately dangerous need to be stored carefully according to industry or manufacturer guidelines, as liquids like motor oil or cooking oil shouldn’t come into contact with one another even if they don’t post as immediate a health risk. Whatever sort of warehouse storage you use, make sure to carefully sort and arrange each liquid by their designated hazard class, and further separate them to avoid cross-contamination.

Keep flammable materials far away

Whether among other flammable materials or on their own, certain combustible chemicals and liquids need to be stored as far away from other materials as is safely possible. In a lot of cases, you can use designated warehouse storage cabinets to store flammable materials away from anything that they can’t come into contact with, such as other chemicals or heat sources.

Never store anything on the floor

No matter how safe your liquid products may be, liquid canisters should be kept as safe from damage as possible, and that means keeping them up off the floor. Even the bottom shelf of your pallet racking is a better option than anywhere where they may restrict traffic and run the risk of getting bumped into.

Provide ventilation

All liquids, from the most benign to the most hazardous, need to be stored in an area where air can flow freely around them and can provide ventilation in the event of a leak or other damage. Avoid using chemical fume hoods as they can reduce the available workspace and may block proper air flow from the containers – instead, make sure to give enough space for each container to ‘breathe’ and provide ample ventilation around each area.

Inspect frequently for mess or damage

Finally, even above and beyond the other installations in your warehouse, make sure the area around these liquid goods is as clean as possible. Remove all clutter from the floors, make sure the nearby exists and aisleways are unblocked and easy to access in the event of a spill or any other issue, and make sure you have proper industrial lighting around every relevant area to increase safety and make it more easily visible in the event of a spill.

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Safety

Whether it’s a huge pallet of individual items or one big bulky part that takes up space and strains your back, pallet racks can find themselves serving as the home for a lot of larger items.

And even if the pallet racks themselves are doing all the ‘heavy lifting’ (pardon to pun) when it comes to storing and retaining these items, they don’t do it all on their own, and someone must be there to stock and pick these items as needed.

When it comes to heavy items, extra safety measures should be taken to ensure nobody gets injured and nothing gets damaged while the items are in transit. Here’s a few ways we’ve found to make moving and transporting your heaviest items onto pallet racks safer than before:

Save heaviest items for the floor

In a lot of cases, you can safely store the bulkiest goods on the floor below the lowest pallet rack deck to save space and make transport easier. If you have enough space between the lower deck and the floor to fit heavier items (or additional surplus items that don’t need to be stored any higher) this is a good way to save a little space and time when you load up your pallet racks. This does, however, require a few more safety precautions than other items—you need to make sure you provide pallet jacks or pallet dollies to help reduce back strain for your workers.

Install safety guards

Pallet rack safety panels are an absolute must when dealing with the heavier items in your shop. Particularly in cases where the heavier items don’t need to get picked as often (for parts that aren’t frequently used, for example, or bulk storage of a lot of smaller goods) these safety panels can help prevent overhang and reduce the risk of injury by bumping into a rack or knocking a heavy item off a shelf – which can be a nightmare for any warehouse manager.

Check (and double-check) blocking materials

Most heavy items aren’t going to be shipped pre-palletized, which means most of your larger goods must be shrink-wrapped and palletised when they get there. In cases like this, you need to make sure that the blocking materials you use aren’t splintered or dry rotted, and when placing the blocking material down you need to make sure that the loads are not released before everyone’s hands have been safely moved.

Add handles

In a lot of cases, the containers your heavy items come in (especially if they’re still boxed up on arrival) will not have safe handles or grips on the side, but this is easily rectified. Make sure to keep additional handles on hand whether they be plastic handles that need to be drilled in or rope cords that you can wrap around the entire pallet, these handles can go a long way towards easier movement and better posture for your workers.

Practice and enforce safe handling procedures

Finally, making sure your workers know the safest and most ergonomic lifting strategies for any given item is crucial for improving safety and reducing the risk of accident. Take the time to train your staff on proper lifting posture for any number of items you stock and follow all OSH guidelines for lifting and moving. Make sure you also follow, enforce, and post all weight and balance guidelines provided by the manufacturer for whatever shelves you use.

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Safety

It’s almost funny—for all the talk there is about safe storage in the warehouse, sometimes the only option for certain items is simply to stack them all up.

Obviously, this needs to be done with a degree of care and safety, but for a lot of pallets and bulkier items the only real option is to stack them on top of each other until they need to be retrieved down the road.

As you can imagine, this needs to be done as carefully as possible. Items that get stacked need to be treated with safety and care to ensure nobody gets hurt and nothing gets damaged while in storage, but this can be a trickier proposition than you may think. If this is something you’ve encountered lately, here are five quick tips to help you stack everything safer and straighter:

Always stack heavier goods on the bottom: It’s common sense but it bears repeating. By keeping your lightest items on top, you can stop them from getting accidentally crushed and stop the stacks from tipping over due to imbalanced loads.

Observe all height limits: Whether you’re putting your stacks directly on the ground or keeping them on pallet racks, make sure all posted height limits are being carefully obeyed. Many pallets will have a limit to how tall they can be stacked (or how many items can be kept on them) that needs to be followed at every step of the way to prevent damage to the items or the pallet shelves you keep them on.

Identify and use the right stacking method for each item: Stacking pallets is a more nuanced process than you may have initially expected. While the approaches and techniques can vary based on need, there’s generally four methods that are used:

  • Block stacking: items stacked up in a block, strapped down with wire or plastic shrink wrap (this may be the most common method seen in most warehouses)
  • Brick stacking: after being wrapped and sealed down, each stack level is then rotated 90 degrees to help maintain stability in the event something is accidentally bumped
  • Pinwheel stacking: similar to brick stacking, but entire quadrants of items (not just each individual level) are rotated 90 degrees to better lock them into place
  • Plywood stacking: generally used for irregularly shaped items for additional stability, sheets of plywood are added between each individual layer of goods to ensure everything sits flat

Stack every item according to type and material: Most items will have their own extra steps that need to be taken after stacking. For example, any stored lumber needs to be double-checked for things like nails and tacks to prevent possible injury and damage if they collide with something. Longer items like pipes or poles need to be stored upright due to their length or kept on cantilever racks that can help the entire item lay down safely.

Always look for loose materials and damaged pallets: Finally, even after the items are stacked, the job isn’t quite done. Keep an eye on your pallets, both old and new, to prevent damage and splinters, and make sure that everything you store is secured tightly and stays in place despite shifting goods and movement around the warehouse.

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Safety

As the new year rolls around, you probably haven’t gotten many chances to reflect on what worked for your warehouse and staff this year and what didn’t.

Now that the dust has settled from the holiday rush and your returns have (hopefully) stopped piling up, this could be a good time to figure out a plan for the next year. Every warehouse, no matter how effectively it runs or what kind of sales volume it can get, can always be refined and tweaked to keep up with changing customer demands and the shifting world of business.

While most cases will need to play it by ear, there’s always a few things every warehouse can do to get themselves ready for the coming year and try to make things a little smoother on your staff and your processes. Here’s a few trends to look out for and improvements to consider over the next business year:

Better implementation of Goods-to-Person

The current ecommerce reality we live in means that the majority of orders are smaller orders containing multiple SKUs, which can lead to logistical headaches throughout the warehouse with regards to order picking and item placement. By emphasising Goods-to-Person tracking, you can get a better understanding of what items are moving, what orders they’re typically included in, and what you can do to move them faster. An understanding of your Goods-to-Person count (typically involving the number of SKUs in a given order) can help you make better use of warehouse shelving to better store everything, gravity conveyors to help move products, and a better idea of what items move most often.

Increase and improve tracked metrics

You can’t improve on something you’re not measuring and keeping an eye on. Every warehouse has the usual litany of metrics—sales figures, orders shipped, and the like—but tracking more specific KPIs can help you gain a much better understanding of what needs to be worked on, and when. Do you know your averaged shipped order cost? What about your average price of packing materials (even before shipping costs are factored in)? Speed of handled returns? Take time to set new tracking metrics in whatever your system of choice is, and you can find yourself with a much bigger understanding of the way your warehouse works and provide better feedback as needed.

Keep working, no matter what

If you’ve been involved with warehousing in recent years, you’ve likely been inundated with new technology, fancy new methods of tracking orders and goods, and so on.

While these are all well and good (and are helpful in many cases), they can get a little distracting. In too many cases, warehouse operations are negatively impacted by too much technology implemented at once, or frozen while upper management tries to figure out what to do next. Our best advice to you in this case is just to keep working. Not every new WMS or picking method must be rolled out all at once, and by maintaining an even keel and keeping your staff focused on the tasks at hand you can make sure everyone stays on task even during new process roll-outs. Don’t get too excited about updates to your systems and keep everyone working like normal until the time comes to do major training and implementation.

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Safety

The new year always provides a good opportunity to take stock of what’s been working for you and what hasn’t been, and that’s just as true in the warehouse as it is in your personal life.

Specifically, many warehouses these days face a lot of operational inefficiency. No matter how often you review your processes or how much work you do to streamline operations, there’s always something else causing overhead and leading to issues down the road.

With the start of the new year, this could be the perfect time to review some potential areas of inefficiency in your warehouse and help get things working more smoothly before business starts to pick back up through the year. Here’s a few areas of inefficiency that need review in many warehouses:

Increased Order Errors

Mistakes are bound to happen in any warehouse, but if the mistakes are constant (or big in monetary value) then it may be a sign of a greater problem with your processes. Take some time to talk to your staff and see where they encounter the biggest problems with packing orders to help identify the culprit. Are certain items too hard to find, or located somewhere out of reach on your pallet racks? Is your order tracking system frequently reporting the wrong quantity of items to send? While it might take a little detective work, making sure you understand where your order errors are coming from will go a long way towards helping your orders show up correctly and on time. Your staff will get things done more easily and your customers will be happy to go back.

Incorrect Staffing Levels

Even after your temporary hires have either been added permanently or moved on to new opportunities after the holidays, the idea of keeping all shifts (and individual areas) properly staffed is crucial to helping everything work as smoothly as possible. A quick way to understand where your staffing levels should be is to review sales figures and shipment-related KPIs (like items picked per hour). If sales figures tend to go up during certain times of day and you don’t have enough workers on those shifts to keep up, you should consider moving workers to those shifts. Conversely, if one shift seems overcrowded, it may lead to difficulties moving around and locating items as needed, and those workers could be better served on a different shift.

Difficulty Locating Items

As the number of products that warehouses are expected to carry increases, an age-old struggle rears its ugly head: where the heck is all this stuff supposed to go? One of the single biggest contributing factors to inefficiency in locating items and processing orders is not having a logical place to keep everything. No matter how much warehouse racking you have, you need to sort everything in a manner that makes sense to your staff—keep popular items in an easy-to-get-to area, store heavy goods as safely as possible, and if something isn’t selling as fast as you’d like, it might be time to get it moved out of the way so it doesn’t interfere with items with better sell-through rates.

Bad Workflows

Finally, even if your items are exactly where they should be and labelled correctly, the very act of everyone getting to them can be a challenge in and of itself. Material handling can easily fall out of sequence with the workflow if there’s a lot of redundancies in the process, and if something gets held up somewhere it can create a domino effect where suddenly nobody knows where they are or what they’re doing. Review your current processes and workflows to minimize the number of ‘touches’ an item needs on its way from the racks to the shipping area, and make sure everyone has something to do even in the event of a logjam.

With these tips in mind, your warehouse could find itself working smoother than ever before in 2019. You’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.

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Safety
The holidays are coming up, and we all know what that means—especially when it comes to warehouse management. Orders will start flooding in, inventory will start piling up, and sometimes it seems like no matter how hard you try, it can all be a little…overwhelming. While we don’t need to tell you the effect stress can have on your staff (lost productivity, decreased morale, an increase in sick days), we do think it’s important to take some preventative measures to stop it from affecting your staff like you’re afraid it will. Luckily, the answers might be a little easier than you’re expecting them to be. Here are five things you can do to start making the holidays less stressful for your entire warehouse, and how they might even be able to help going forward:   Start early Luckily, ‘the holidays’ have a pretty rigid schedule, so you have time to figure out what you’re dealing with. As the holidays approach, take the time to start with your usual holiday-shopping-based chores sooner than in years past. This includes small things like cleaning off pallet racks and reorganizing your shipping and receiving area, all the way up to things like forklift maintenance and new hire training. The earlier you can start on these tasks, the smoother the next few months are going to be.   Train well and train early Speaking of new hire training, hopefully you’ve already started with bringing in temporary holiday staff. While you might feel like you have too much on your plate to give them the attention they deserve, in all reality you should consider beginning their training early and making sure it’s comprehensive. Start determining where your holiday hires will be working and what they need to learn to better understand their roles, ideally by pairing them off with workers in their related departments as able. The sooner you’re able to get everyone moving in their new roles and accustomed to your most important procedures, the smoother things will be going over the next few months.   Equip your workers to the best of your ability Whether they’ll be temporary holiday staff or new full-time workers, your crew is going to need the best tools they can get while they work through the next few months. Focus on providing tools that offer a simple interface and a “zero training” mentality; easy-to-learn devices like phone-based barcode scanners for tracking inventory, touchscreen interfaces for tablets to fill out spreadsheets and learn needed software, and durable tools like keyboards and mice that are built to stand up to the rough usage they’re bound to go through. The faster your staff can get used to using their new tools, the less likely they’ll be to fall behind on work due to outdated equipment and/or inaccurate training.   Review order deadlines as needed Even when done correctly, the constant flow of orders in and out of your warehouse can start to feel like one big choreographed dance routine. A reliable (and easy) way to make sure your warehouse stays a little more on top of things is to reschedule all your order deadlines earlier. This won’t require a ton of careful scheduling on your part—a good rule of thumb is simply to move everything a day or two earlier than they were previously to help set more realistic fulfillment expectations with your customers and provide a little leeway in the event of a delay.   Remember to take breaks and relax After a few years in warehousing or retail, the holidays can start to seem like a much more unpleasant time of year. After following these steps to get ready for the busy season, make sure to not make it harder on yourself by overthinking or worrying too much. You’ve got a good team behind you and you don’t need to panic yourself into a bad decision (or worse) by letting everything get to you. Remember to take breaks, check in with other departments to see how they’re doing, and maybe take your staff out for dinner or drinks at some point to thank them for their hard work.
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Safety
A pallet rack upright that is leaning (out-of-plumb) or bowed (out-of-straight) beyond a certain point will have a significantly reduced capacity, making it unsafe and at risk of collapse. Nolwazi (in accordance with the SEMA erection tolerance for static racking) defines the severity of these two conditions as follows:
  • Out-of-Plumb Ratio– Maximum out-of-plumb upright perpendicular to the plane of the upright and maximum out-of-plumb upright in the plane of the upright frame.
  • Out-of-Straight Ratio– Maximum imperfection of upright with regard to the theoretical longitudinal upright axes x or y.
The higher the ratio, the more likely a rack is to fail. Recognizing this, SEMA: Guide to erection tolerances for static racking limits the ratio for both out-of-plumb and out-of-straight (measured prior to loading) to 1/500 and 1/1000. The limits are intended to prevent excessive bows or dogleg conditions that may exist in a rack upright. For example, an upright could be plumb from top to bottom, but have an excessive bow (out-of-straight) in the middle. Alternately, a 6-meter-tall column that could be out-of-plumb 10mm from top to bottom, which would be acceptable unless the entire out-of-plumb condition is solely between the floor and the top level, referred to as a dogleg (commonly caused by a fork truck impact). Other causes of out-of-plumb and out-of-straight conditions include beam height adjustments or alterations, the type of connection used, bolts that weren’t sufficiently tightened during the installation, or impacts with machinery or pallets as loads are moved to and from the racking. The best practice to ensure a safe installation is to inspect the racking regularly with tools such as a plumb bob, long level or laser line to determine if uprights are leaning or bowed. Remediation of the condition includes first unloading the rack, then loosen the column bolts in order to straighten them, then re-tighten bolts. Beam connectors should also be inspected to ensure that the lean has not caused them to bend or otherwise deform. Want to learn more about how to determine if your racking is straight and plumb? Contact Us
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Safety
Safety is paramount to your warehouse operations. Protecting valuable employees and inventory starts with a well-maintained fleet of equipment, extensive planning, and properly trained employees. Think of it this way, no one ever sets out to get sick – just like no one sets out to have an accident in the warehouse. Much like with illness, prevention is the best way to keep your employees and warehouse operating at optimal levels. When heavy pallet racks and even heavier machinery threaten your core competency of product fulfilment or employee safety, take some time and incorporate these 10 safeguards into your operating procedures. Look: Warehouse safety hinges largely on visibility. Aside from the obvious structures like sufficient overhead lighting, you might also consider adding flashers to the lifts themselves and mirrors on the truck or aisle ends to increase that visibility. Another good accident prevention method we’ve seen is to paint forklifts in bright, bold colours to make them easier to spot. However, this trick is two-fold as it also makes it easier to correlate any trucks that inflict damage and who the drivers were at the time it was sustained. Still, part of being ‘visible’ isn’t just about what you can see, but what you can hear so consider adding back up alarms to lifts. Inspect: Implement a regimented, daily walk-through of your pallet racks to catalogue any new or existing damage. In addition, hire an outside expert to conduct inspections on a regular basis. The same goes for your forklifts themselves. Repair: Take any report of damage seriously and make the proper measures to get the racks or lifts repaired immediately by a qualified rack/lift repair company. It’s the best, if not the only way to avoid costly replacement of your entire pallet rack or purchase of a new forklift. Declutter: Make sure your ‘spring’ cleaning is a yearlong event. Clean, organized aisles are the best way to prevent obstructions that can lead to serious damage. In doing so, you give your lift drivers the best chance to effectively, safely manoeuvre their trucks in the confined space of the warehouse. Widen: Investigate the width of your aisles. Even if you feel like widening them could impact your warehouse’s limited storage space, it’s a lot cheaper than replacing costly pallet racks after a collapse. The industry standard width of aisles is between 3500mm and 4200mm though you should consult your forklifts manufacture recommended guidelines if you have any questions. Report: Even with regular inspection, you may not be able to catch every piece of damage to your pallet racks. An effective way to combat this is to give your warehouse staff the option of submitting anonymous accident reports. It will take the fear of retribution out and help you to better keep the pulse of your racks. Monitor: However, if anonymous accident reports are out of the question, you can always install cameras on the floor to monitor your overall operations. That way, if damage is sustained you can review the footage and address it with the responsible individual. Cameras might also prevent accidents by intrinsically encouraging your staff to be more cautious on the floor. Enclose: It’s common knowledge that fully closed uprights have almost double the resistance power of their partially enclosed counterparts. Though they may cost slightly more, their ability to prevent your racks from sustaining damage is worth the up-front cost. Protect: Cushion row ends against potential impacts with the installation of aisle protectors or bollards. Upright protectors at the frames are an additional safeguard that can slow some of the inevitable wear and tear of your rack. Train: Perhaps the #1 way to prevent accidents and pallet rack damage is to make sure to thoroughly train and re-train your employees. For instance: Do they know the proper way to turn, to prevent damage? When and how to report an accident or suspected damage? Are they aware of the speed limits on the floor? These and other key safety measures are easily and simply addressed with regular, mandatory training sessions throughout the year. In the end, your bottom line depends on how safe and tight your warehouse operations are run. To thwart preventable pallet rack damage, consider adding these safeguards to your current policy. How to Prevent Pallet Rack Damage With 10 Simple Safety Tips
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