If you are a manufacturing, distribution, or retail company, warehouses are a critical part of your supply chain. In extension, warehouse maintenance is an activity that must not be overlooked.
Poor maintenance practices can cause a drop in productivity and lead to an increase in workplace injuries, product damages, and customer complaints. All these can impact the reputation of your company, as well as your bottom line.
Join us as we discuss how to establish and follow warehouse maintenance best practices that will keep your equipment in optimal condition, products free of damages, and the work environment safe and reliable.
The dangers of neglecting warehouse maintenance
Every warehouse needs a layout that facilitates a smooth flow of products – from their arrival and storage to picking and loading for distribution. For basically the same purpose, most warehouses are equipped with:
- Shelving and racking systems
- Climate control system
- Inventory control systems
- Various types of equipment such as forklifts, service carts, pallet jacks, cranes, and monorails, which help maneuver products or heavy boxes inside the warehouse.
This is where routine maintenance comes into play. If your warehouse is poorly maintained, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a dangerous environment to work in.
In 2020, there were 21 fatal workplace injuries in warehouses across the U.S., while the rate of injury and illness cases was 4.8 per 100 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The OSHA states that injuries happen when products fall on workers, a forklift turns over, workers get caught in pinch points, and various other hazards.
It is not unheard of for operators to bump their forklift trucks into the beams of the pallet rack while handling random loading tasks. If the rack does not get repaired or replaced due to a lack of preventive maintenance guidelines, it can suddenly collapse and injure unfortunate workers that happen to be nearby.
Operational issues can be just as bad as safety issues. Just imagine what happens when one of the belts in your conveyor system decides to take a break. The entire operation can be brought to a halt. This leads to commotion, shipping delays, order cancellations and, ultimately, to financial loss.
Proper, timely maintenance can convince conveyor belts not to take those breaks (or at least to take them less frequently), eliminating or reducing your downtime.
Proactive warehouse maintenance is the way to go
By adopting a preventative approach to warehouse maintenance, you can prevent most equipment-related incidents. For instance, to prevent a forklift turnover mentioned above, OSHA recommends regular maintenance of haulage equipment, including tires.
Regular warehouse maintenance does not just improve safety and productivity, it is also essential in ensuring that your products do not suffer accidental damages.
The perfect example is the maintenance of the climate control system inside the warehouse. When working properly, it ensures you maintain product quality and adhere to temperature requirements for USDA commodities. For reference, USDA recommends the storage of dry foods at 50°F for maximum shelf life, while refrigerated storage spaces have to be maintained at 32-40°F.
Long story short, it cannot be stressed enough that proactive maintenance is an indispensable part of a successful warehouse operation.
Common warehouse maintenance challenges
There are some things that can get in your way when you try to establish preventive maintenance procedures at your warehouse. Let’s briefly touch on those so you have an idea of what to expect and avoid.
Poor warehouse layout design and organization
Poorly designed and organized warehouses can quickly become clutter zones. Performing maintenance in such an environment will, at best, slow down the maintenance and repair process, and at worst, cause safety concerns and serious operational delays.
You cannot change the layout of your warehouse in a day – meaning the path from the loading dock to storage to shipping dock – but you can organize it to some extent by using labels, signage, maps, and classifying and compartmentalizing inventory.
This can make the maintenance technician’s job easier, as they will not have to wade through piles of things to find the broken equipment and tools they need to perform their work. Using inventory management and asset tracking solutions can help you get rid of these organizational inefficiencies.
Finding the right time for maintenance
Warehouses are swarming with workers and buzzing with activity 24/7, especially at distribution centers. It can be difficult to carry out maintenance work if the place cannot shut down even for a few hours.
Scheduling the right date and time for proper maintenance requires you to plan ahead. One way to solve this problem is by dividing the warehouse into different blocks. Each block is “under maintenance” on a different day, hopefully when it’s set to experience the least amount of traffic.
It goes without saying that all affected workers should be informed about when and where the maintenance work will be/is happening.
Short window of time for repairs
Different types of warehouses have different purposes and different tolerance for delays.
If a public warehouse that works at half capacity experiences an unexpected equipment failure that causes a two-hour operational delay, it is not the end of the world. In contrast, if the same happens at a semi-automated Amazon warehouse, hundreds of e-commerce customers might be left frustrated by the lack of same-day delivery service they paid for.
In the latter scenario, the warehouse needs to have clear emergency maintenance procedures in place, as well as a well-trained team that can respond as soon as possible. Having a mobile, cloud-based CMMS helps by providing a quick and easy way to report equipment problems and coordinate people and resources needed to perform the repair.
Common warehouse maintenance jobs and positions
The exact list of warehouse maintenance workers will depend on the size of your facility and the type and number of equipment that needs to be maintained.
Here is a short list of the most common warehouse maintenance jobs:
- General maintenance workers: They are responsible for keeping the premises clean and performing basic maintenance tasks in and around the building.
- Warehouse maintenance technicians and mechanics: Have technical skills and problem-solving abilities needed to handle more technical maintenance tasks like installation, maintenance, and repair of all machinery, troubleshooting mechanical equipment, performing electrical work, monitoring and assisting outside contractors, etc.
- Warehouse maintenance engineers: Responsible for ensuring that safety regulations and policies are adhered to. They help maintenance managers improve equipment reliability and implement proactive maintenance programs. They often work with Operations to ensure the optimum flow of goods through the warehouse. Depending on the type of equipment at the premises, they might need to perform various risk assessments, fault-finding and diagnosis on a range of PLC controlled warehouse equipment.
- Warehouse maintenance supervisors: Schedule preventive maintenance, coordinate daily work for other maintenance workers, look for ways to improve performance, help develop and execute the maintenance training and onboarding programs, promote safety and proactivity, and similar activities.
- Warehouse maintenance manager: Serves as a connection between maintenance workers and top management. Often responsible for finding and negotiating contracts with maintenance companies and equipment/parts vendors. Works in tandem with supervisors and engineers to establish proactive maintenance programs, improve warehouse safety, increase equipment reliability, as well as allocate resources needed to do all of that.
Keep in mind that you always have the option of outsourcing maintenance tasks to a specialized maintenance company. This can save you from investing time and money into tools and personnel management. However, you will have less control over the quality of performed maintenance work and a slower emergency maintenance response.
More often than not, the optimal approach is to have a small in-house maintenance team and a fleshed-out maintenance contract with vendors that can cover work that requires specialized knowledge or tools.
Warehouse maintenance best practices
Before we wrap things up, here are some additional tips you can use to optimize your warehouse maintenance efforts.
Establish a preventive maintenance plan
In theory, implementing a preventive maintenance program is pretty straightforward:
- Identify equipment and systems that need routine maintenance.
- Gather equipment information you need to develop a realistic maintenance schedule (make, model, serial numbers, warranties, maintenance logs, OEM recommendations, equipment manuals, etc).
- Let experienced technicians and engineers develop a warehouse maintenance plan, with a maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment on your list.
Of course, if it was that simple, everyone would have one. Follow our in-depth guide for creating a preventive maintenance plan and download the checklist below to get step-by-step instructions.
Implement CMMS software
There is no better way to organize, automate, and streamline maintenance operations than by using a modern CMMS system. CMMS stands for computerized maintenance management software, and as its name suggests, it is literally what it is built for.
Consider the following – to have efficient maintenance operations at any warehouse you have to:
- Have a quick and easy way to report asset problems
- Know where your assets are and in what condition they are
- Stay on top of your PPE, tools, and spare parts inventory at all times
- Coordinate work orders and the work of multiple teams and technicians
- Create and optimize maintenance schedules for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of pieces of equipment
- Make sure everyone is staying compliant with safety requirements
- Track costs related to specific vendors, contractors, parts, equipment, and labor
- Do everything mentioned above with a strict maintenance budget
CMMS has one or multiple features that will help you execute and deliver on each of those actions. To learn more about the software, read our What is a CMMS System and How Does it Work guide.
Standardize tasks and procedures
On the operational level, warehouse management includes a lot of repetitive tasks. This means you can reap huge benefits by spending some time developing standard operating procedures (SOPs). It is something you should do for all repetitive operations on the warehouse floor, not just those tasks that are related to maintenance.
For maintenance specifically, on top of SOPs, you should also consider creating maintenance checklists and Lock-Out Tag-Out procedures.
Keep everyone up-to-date
Inform all the department managers and warehouse workers about the scheduled maintenance in advance. It will give them the time to make alternate arrangements so that the overall warehouse operation is not affected.
Additionally, do talk to operators to find out if they are experiencing any issues while using their equipment. They may point to damages that your team may have failed to notice during the inspection.
Focus on continuous improvement
Even with best intentions, sudden, big changes to warehouse operations can do more harm than good. Progress is important, but you will not reach your destination if you do not pace yourself.
Aim for incremental changes. Track how fast the employees are adjusting to new processes, procedures, and technology. Review how the changes impact operational productivity. Adjust your course and pace based on those insights.
The package is in your court
If you want to maintain efficient warehouse operations, keep your employees safe and your customers happy, you need to adopt a proactive warehouse maintenance strategy.
Luckily for you, Limble CMMS has got your back and is ready to support you every step of the way. To see Limble in action, schedule a demo or start a free 30-day trial.