Task interleaving is an advanced productivity strategy that can be employed in a warehouse – via a warehouse management system (WMS) – to improve operational efficiency.
What is task interleaving?
Task interleaving is the process of combining different tasks – interleaving them – on a single trip within the warehouse. So perhaps a warehouse worker will combine picking and putaway in one trip rather than performing the pick and the putaway in two separate trips. All manner of warehouse tasks can be combined, so apart from putaway and picking, this could include cycle counting, replenishment and stock transfer.
Task interleaving is primarily beneficial for warehouse operations that use pallet storage. But it can also be employed in warehouses where pickers move about on foot.
What are the benefits of task interleaving?
Driving a forklift empty – known as deadheading – is unproductive. Task interleaving solves this though by maximising operative travel time. For example, instead of travelling to pick an order and then returning it to a packing or despatch station, an operative can combine two tasks in one, perhaps delivering a pallet and then at a nearby location, carry out a pallet pick. In this way, only one journey has been made, instead of two. Although the two separate tasks still take their own time to be completed, as only one journey has been made, considerable time savings are possible.
Time savings equate to cost savings, especially since labour costs within a warehouse often represent a large proportion of overall investment. Keeping a task force engaged on tasks maximises productivity.
Using task interleaving, a warehouse can undertake many more cycle counts. This leads to improved stock accuracy and can negate out of stock situations or identify issues at an earlier stage.
There is far less wear and tear on the materials handling equipment when the number of journeys is reduced. Plus, warehouses benefit from a reduction in the amount of energy used to power those vehicles.
Finally, task interleaving can promote customer satisfaction. It speeds up operations, so ultimately, the customer will receive their delivery sooner.
Task interleaving is an advanced strategy in the warehouse. Because of its complexity and the input parameters needed, it requires a warehouse management system (WMS) to automatically calculate and assign tasks. Within the HighJump range of WMS solutions, it is available within Warehouse Advantage, Balloon One’s tier 1 WMS offering.
So how does it work? In planning the combination of tasks, the HighJump Warehouse Advantage system considers the proximity of each location and the priority of the tasks to be carried out. Once a task has been logged within the system as completed, and if the parameters are right, it will assign another nearby task to the warehouse worker.
In larger warehouses, task interleaving according to zones may be more applicable, to ensure that workers are familiar with their own areas and to limit movement of forklifts to just their own, smaller, sections of the warehouse.
Who can benefit from task interleaving?
Task interleaving can add real value to most warehouse operations. It can take some time to set it up with specific customisations as it’s a strategy that needs a degree of consideration with regard to assumptions and constraints. However, once a system is established and the company is running smoothly with it, the task interleaving functionality can be used to optimise operations even further.
Some operations have very good reasons to separate task types and they will have operatives that are dedicated to just picking and others that only look after putaway. Or they may concentrate on putaway and replenishment at night, and picking and shipping during the day. In these circumstances, task interleaving isn’t appropriate.
Typically though, for warehouses with more than around 50 operatives, keeping the labour force highly productive by optimising movement within the warehouse can drive additional cost savings. Some suggest that warehouse productivity improvements of up to 30% can be realised with task interleaving.
If you would like to explore how much task interleaving could help your operation, call us on 020 8819 9071 or get in touch.