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Protecting the workforce: Essential guidance to ensure a safe environment for warehouse workers and maintain productivity

May 21, 2020

In the current world we live in, not only are retailers and food distributors determined to maintain operations amid the crisis, but they also provide a vital service to millions of homebound people. While many sites are making policy changes to enforce social distancing rules and get workers to use personal protective equipment (PPE), organizations can improve safety and ensure safe social distancing measures are met by having the right warehouse management system.

Warehouse planners must establish a safer environment for their workforce while ensuring a smooth productive operation with minimal disruption.

In this blog, we'll discuss practical insights on how SAP EWM can help warehouse planners establish a safer environment for their workforce, while keeping activities running and ensuring operational efficiency.

Mobile warehouse management apps

One of the significant risks of contamination is the use of shared equipment: as shifts alternate, users continue to handle the same devices. One solution that might help reduce the chance of cross contamination is to adopt the use of personal devices. Recently, mobile devices can be used to run warehouse activities using SAP Fiori Apps. For that purpose, delaware has built a set of custom SAP EWM Fiori apps for its customers, illustrated below, that can simplify the execution of key warehouse process steps.

Protecting the workforce

Source: example of a custom SAP EWM Fiori app

Reducing face-to-face interaction

In a traditional warehouse landscape, warehouse users often continually interact with different business departments, such as quality and production. In addition to this, they are intensively using and updating paperwork for their daily activities. Such activity requires responsible management to ensure effective social distancing measures are enforced. For a number of customers, we are using SAP EWM with Advanced Production Integration and Quality Management processes to reduce, or in some cases, eliminate the required verbal communication between the warehousing team and other different departments.

On one hand, quality department members can easily access the location of the stock, make decisions and trigger follow-up actions while knowing the exact location of products within the warehouse. On the other hand, production line workers can create warehouse tasks for staging, amend planning and clear the front of line location after the end of a current job.

In both examples, warehouse team members will see tasks created and ready for confirmation. Hence, we have a complete paperless scenario with no interaction and any risk of cross contamination, and no interruption to operations. This scenario is a vital one as we adapt to a new way of working.

Improving safety in picking processes

Digital Tracking Towers and simulation tools can be quickly used, by an appropriate data, to make sure warehouse resources maintain a physical separation of six feet or not. The simulation tools can use several delivery items, bins and work-centers to mimic the path of operators within the warehouse. Thus, we can calculate the maximum number of warehouse users a site can have without compromising operational efficiency and safety guidelines.

Because of longer transit times and labor shortage, due to social distancing, stock accuracy is now more critical than ever. Rather than having teams sweeping racks and shelves to take a stock count, firms might explore an approach of combining physical inventory counting with either picking or put away activities. Subsequently, we will reduce the number of people having access to products and bins.

SAP EWM offers a picking process that can be highly recommended for pickers working with the threat posed by the virus, the “Pick, Pack and Pass Process”.

For example, by breaking the picking process into multiple activity areas, we can assign a resource to each aisle. As soon as a picker has selected a warehouse order, he passes on the goods, using a conveyor belt. Thereby, we will be able to achieve efficient picking with proper social distancing within the warehouse.

Protecting the workforce

Source: example of the ‘pick, pack and pass process’ – SAP EWM

Warehouse planners are facing multiple challenges that will require them to rethink safety measures, including the requirement to close for regular cleaning and rearrange break rooms. By combining machine learning and location data, new algorithms can be developed to avoid congestion and predict any possible contamination spots.

Regardless of the current situation, organizations should rethink their warehousing and logistics operational processes so making them safer and more resilient beyond the immediate challenges of COVID-19, future-proofing against future risk.

Have you ensured that the necessary safety measures are in place to protect your warehouse workers as they return to work, and adhere to social distancing regulations?

We are helping our customers respond to these challenges by implementing essential safety measures in warehouses. We can provide guidance and assessments to determine how to make your warehousing and logistics operational processes safer, creating a resilient, safer standard that withstands future risk.

Request an assessmentLearn more: FAST EWMWebinar: Driving Warehouse Automation