Shortest path warehousing strategy: what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Warehouse management

The shortest path strategy is very similar to the random position strategy, or controlled chaos, where warehouse workers consciously store goods in arbitrary positions. In this case, however, warehouse workers do not place goods arbitrarily, but always on the nearest free shelf from the receiving zone. As with controlled chaos, it can happen that, for example, headphones and a sweatshirt lie next to each other. This strategy significantly speeds up the receipt of goods, but requires a warehouse management system.

Advantages of shortest path strategy

The key advantage of this strategy is saving time when stocking goods. The warehouse worker walks with the goods to the nearest free position, so they cover the shortest possible distance. In this way, they handle receiving and storage faster than if they were to distribute the goods throughout the warehouse. Time is also saved by the fact that the warehouse worker does not have to think about where to store the goods - a reader controlled by the WMS system guides him to the right place.

The shortest path strategy contributes to higher warehouse occupancy. As warehouse workers store newly loaded goods in the first available position, they naturally make the most of the storage potential. Positions are constantly filled without being unnecessarily blocked for other goods that will, for example, arrive in a few weeks.

Another important advantage concerns the recruitment of employees. New warehouse workers don't need to know the assortment in detail and don't need to learn in which shelf lie keyboards and in which one drills - so they work just as efficiently as their seasoned colleagues from day one. At the same time, the error rate during picking decreases because a reader with an intelligent warehouse system such as WMS guides them to the goods.

From these advantages, it follows that the shortest path strategy is particularly suitable for a fast-turnover assortment with a large number of items. But never go into the shortest path strategy blindly and prepare (or have it prepared) a detailed process analysis of the expedition strategy. You need to know whether you will be removing the goods using the FIFO, FEFO or, for example, LIFO method.

Disadvantages of shortest path strategy

In order to use the shortest path strategy, you need to deploy an information system for warehouse management, such as a WMS (warehouse management system). It assigns the closest possible position to each item to be stored and shows the warehouse workers where the item is currently located when picking orders. Without such a system, the shortest path strategy would not work, as warehouse workers would wander blindly looking for goods from orders.

For smaller warehouses, such a system can be expensive to deploy and manage. On the other hand, cheap cloud variants are also commonly available today, costing in the order of tens of thousands of crowns. The need for a warehouse management system also results in another disadvantage of this strategy, namely the sensitivity to connection failures due to readers. For example, if there is an internet outage, the entire warehouse may come to a standstill and it is not possible to continue working. Therefore, it is necessary to have a plan B in reserve, such as connecting readers to 5G/LTE networks.

At the same time, this strategy does not optimize the distance that warehouse workers have to cover when unloading goods. It may happen that the most frequently sold goods will be located in a remote and difficult to reach position in relation to the picking zone, so the warehouse workers will process the receipt quickly, but they will walk a lot during picking.

This strategy also loses effectiveness in warehouses that are very full most of the time - if positions in the front racks are not regularly vacated, filling the nearest positions starts to lose its meaning. In general, we recommend combining the shortest path strategy with other strategies, for example for heavy goods, goods with expiration or other types of goods that require specific storage methods.

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