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How Much Time Do Warehouse Workers Waste on Non-Essential Activities?



Warehouses, fulfillment centers, distribution centers, whatever you call them, they’ve been quick to automate processes as the demand for efficiency—and lower costs—reaches fever pitch. That’s why robotics have been popular; bots are faster than humans and absorb all of those repetitive tasks without many of the downsides that human workers accrue.

But robotics come with a considerable price tag, which has led some companies to explore cost-friendly methods of rooting out some of the time sucks in a warehouse worker’s day. Over time, the “little things” like walking to a computer in order to access spreadsheets and data, or retrieving a label from a printer can add up, resulting in time lost that would otherwise be spent on mission-critical, revenue-boosting activities. On their own, those 15 seconds might not seem like a cause for concern. But multiply those by three times a day, 365 days a year, X number of workers, for example, and the bigger picture emerges.

In fact, the average warehouse worker wastes an estimated 6.9 weeks a year on those unnecessary motions, according to Newcastle Systems, and wasted time costs $4.3 billion and 265 million labor hours. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,016,500 warehouse employees in the country as of Jan. 2018.

That’s why Newcastle, a provider of mobile solutions for retail and operations companies, built the MotionMeter app for Android and iOS devices to help curb that problem. In this case, waste is any task in a process that’s not required in order to complete a process successfully. That’s why eliminating waste keeps in place only the tasks necessary to successfully deliver a product or service to the end customer.

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[Read more on warehouses: E-Commerce Explosion Raises Profile of Distro Centers and Warehouses]

Managers can use the MotionMeter app to perform “time studies” that identify opportunities to reduce labor waste, capturing data on specific steps, tasks and processes to shed light on areas for improvement. For example, staff can hone in a specific process—from picking, packing, receiving, and inventory control to shipping and returns management—and name the steps involved in that process, such as “verify items on pallet,” “look up [purchase order] information,” “print labels,” “scan barcode” and “walk to printer.”

Users can then assign a value to each step—“necessary,” “waste,” or “unsure”—and then turn to the built-in timer to clock each task and record the result. After repeating the process for each step, adding in steps customized for the user when appropriate, the app displays the Annual Savings Analysis and enables users to multiply that number by worker headcount and number of facilities.

When the labor values and dollar totals are too high to ignore, more companies may look to justify mobility solutions in the warehouse.