The warehouse is often the last thing business owners think about. After all, it's just that big building that houses all the products. They're more worried about how the marketing campaign is going or the sales team's conversion rate.
But even if a company is crushing it and orders are flooding in, a poorly maintained warehouse is a constant threat. Nothing interrupts a good day like hydraulic systems that have suddenly broken down or a huge colony of bees that has chosen the walls of the facility as their home. Warehouse maintenance will seem pretty important then, but it'll be too late.
If you’re in the business of inventory management, you can’t neglect warehouse maintenance. All the best warehouse management practices in the world — for better order-picking to eliminating deadstock — won’t help if your equipment grinds to a halt or employees can’t work for whatever reason in the middle of a surge in customer orders.
Here are the basics of warehouse maintenance and some best practices to help you keep your products flowing.
Overview: What is warehouse maintenance?
Warehouse maintenance refers to the system a business owner has in place to keep the facility storing all of the company's products in functioning condition at all times. That means keeping conveyor systems running, making sure cranes work, and repairing any machinery in a timely manner to prevent disruptions to the day-to-day operations of a warehouse.
Warehouse maintenance is essential for business owners because any breakdowns of essential equipment will result in delays in getting products to customers, which results in lower customer satisfaction and lost sales. It also disrupts the overall operations of the business, making the company run less efficiently.
The 3 types of warehouse maintenance
Warehouse maintenance involves a lot of activities, but generally three main types of maintenance impact how well your warehouse runs.
1. Scheduled or preventive maintenance
Scheduled maintenance refers to planned activities to keep equipment running and avoid sudden breakdowns. For example, a piece of equipment may be scheduled for a certain type of maintenance after 10,000 hours of use based on what historic usage indicates is the ideal time to perform it. This lengthens the life of the equipment and makes breakdowns less likely.
Workers are the key to effective maintenance. By training your workers to understand the equipment, know how to maintain it, and identify potential problems before they happen, you improve your overall maintenance practices and reduce the likelihood of a crippling breakdown.
Inspections are key to maintenance because no matter how good your team is, sometimes they will miss some less-obvious problems. By doing a thorough inspection at regular intervals, you can spot emerging issues and recommend emergency maintenance to take care of them before the warehouse is disrupted.
Best practices to improve warehouse maintenance
Warehouse maintenance requires a proactive approach and constant vigilance. Here are seven best practices to help you increase your chances of avoiding a disruption.
1. Create a thorough maintenance manual
The most important aspect of warehouse maintenance is planning. You must devote significant time and effort to a warehouse maintenance plan and a manual for your crew that they must adhere to.
The manual should describe in detail what the daily maintenance practices should be for each worker, any special or scheduled maintenance, what inspections should be done and when, and how certain maintenance issues should be dealt with. By making the manual thorough and easy to access, you make it easier for your crew to do the work necessary to keep the facility running properly.
2. Set up a training program
The manual is the foundation for your maintenance effort, but it is not enough by itself. Create a training program for all of your workers to make sure they fully understand their warehouse maintenance duties. Set aside enough time to thoroughly train your employees, even if it costs you money in lost production for a brief period. You will more than make up for it in more effective maintenance.
Quick tip: Set up a mentorship program so experienced workers can help newer workers understand the equipment and learn how to maintain it.
3. Recruit certified workers
Warehouse managers should recruit the right people — not just take anyone who's cheap and hope that they can pick up the program. For example, forklift operators should be properly licensed and certified — not just because they understand how to do proper maintenance, but because it may be required by laws and regulations.
Quick tip: Consult with an attorney who can review your workforce and make sure everyone is in compliance with regulations.
4. Take safety precautions
Check that your crew has access to safety equipment such as helmets, harnesses, and anything else that is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — or just based on your common sense about the safety hazards they are likely to encounter. Equipment maintenance is often dangerous, so it is a warehouse manager’s duty to protect the workers from safety hazards on the job site.
Quick tip: Post signage reminding employees of safety equipment requirements in certain areas.
5. Deal with pests aggressively
Pests are often an afterthought, but they can cause a serious disruption to your facility. They may contaminate food or even damage equipment. Don't wait until a small pest problem becomes a big one.
Take aggressive steps to do a warehouse cleaning and eliminate pests as soon as you see signs of them. Call in a professional to conduct a thorough examination of your facility to see what the scope of the problem is. Often an occasional rat is indicative of a serious problem you can't see deep inside your warehouse.
Quick tip: Train your employees to be on the lookout for telltale signs of pests such as chew marks, droppings, or odors.
6. Talk to your crew
Your crew are your eyes and ears on the warehouse floor. You don't work with the equipment in the warehouse for hours each day, but they do.
Have regular conversations with them to understand what issues they're encountering such as frequent breakdowns or a maintenance manual that is difficult to follow. They will help you spot small problems before they become big ones, giving you an opportunity to address them proactively.
Quick tip: Provide rewards such as gift cards or bonuses to workers who identify a potential emergency or discover a better way to maintain the equipment.
7. Use data
Thanks to today's software, it's never been easier to gather data about your operations, no matter what industry you're in. Warehouse managers should gather information about equipment usage, inventory turnover ratio, breakdowns, safety incidents, and anything else that is essential for your business to track.
Take deep dives into these data to spot trends and opportunities for improvement. For example, the information may show that your conveyor belts break down 20% faster than they should based on industry standards, indicating that current maintenance practices should be adjusted. This is an insight you might not have if you didn't look at the data.
Quick tip: Set aside time each quarter to review the data. By scheduling a block of time, you help yourself resist the urge to procrastinate on this important task in favor of more pressing matters.
Software will improve inventory management
Inventory management software doesn't just help with gathering and analyzing data — it also will assist you in overhauling your maintenance plan. If you aren't using software and find that operations are getting a bit too complicated for your old methods of management, it's time to explore some software solutions to help with inventory control. Try out a few solutions and settle on one that fits your business best.