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12 Jan 2023 | 15:00

How to improve warehouse packing with ergonomics and packing automation

warehouse worker scanning boxes

Did you know that in 2019/20, the UK lost 8.9 million working days due to musculoskeletal injuries? In warehouses, packers are at risk from musculoskeletal complaints due to the bending, twisting and standing their work involves. This is not just a problem for them, but also for employers, for whom order fulfilment can make the difference between keeping a loyal customer base and losing it. In this post, we’ll consider how a more ergonomic packing station, along with some packing automation, can protect your staff from injury while improving outcomes.

Although you’ve probably heard about automation in warehouse picking, as things stand the packing element is still a largely manual task. In fact, in smaller warehouses, one person may do all of the picking and packing on their own.

That’s a lot of responsibility, because pickers and packers determine the turnaround time and accuracy of your deliveries – and those deliveries make a huge difference to your brand value, company reputation and customer satisfaction. For example, studies show that customers are very likely to choose an alternative provider if your company delivers slowly, or does not fulfil the order correctly.

In markets that have rapidly moved online, companies (of all types) that want to maintain and grow their customer base simply have to pack every order correctly and deliver it quickly. But now, more than ever, there are barriers to that, and huge pressure on packers to maximise their productivity.

What are the challenges in warehouse packing?

In 2022, the key challenges for warehouse managers lie in recruiting sufficient staff with the skills required, and finding enough warehouse space to meet growing demand. In fact, the shortage of space is so acute, many businesses are simply having to do much more with less space, because they simply can’t find good warehouse space to lease.

These factors combined mean that managers must wring every last drop of productivity out of their increasingly squeezed resources, and this puts massive pressure on picking and packing staff. Too often, pressure leads to shortcuts or things being done with more speed than accuracy – but neither of those should be an option in your warehouse.

For a start, UK employers have a duty of care to their staff that is written into law, including the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and other regulations according to the sector and processes involved (the Manual Handling Operations Regulations and Workplace [Health, Safety and Welfare] Regulations apply in many warehouses). Failure to comply with these can be financially and reputationally catastrophic.

The packing station and processes contain many hazards, and as we have seen, in the current climate any injury to packing staff can leave the warehouse short-handed with limited recruitment options. That’s why making the packing station as ergonomic as possible, while also designing it to provide maximum throughput, is a win/win situation for packing staff and their managers.

What is an ergonomic packing station?

Packing is still a physical job that may involve lifting and moving objects, twisting and bending to reach packing materials or items and long periods of sitting or standing. Packing jobs can also cause psychological stress. These risks are highest when the packing station is designed around the job or the space it’s in, rather than being designed to make it as straightforward as possible for the human doing the work to complete it.

An ergonomic packing station is intentionally designed, laid out and equipped in a way that caters to the human being operating it, and helps them to do their job according to their own characteristics. That means having the table at the appropriate height, items required (such as screens) in the right place and items positioned for easy access according to the workflow.

Ergonomics isn’t just a matter of safety: it can increase productivity, too. According to the HSE, an ergonomic working environment can ‘reduce the potential for accidents; reduce the potential for injury and ill health; improve performance and productivity.’

Packing automation for better ergonomics

Adding an element of packing automation to your ergonomic packing station can improve things even further. For example, the Datalogic Matrix 320™ packing solution has been designed to feed into an ergonomic packing process, but is also intended as a productivity tool (it can provide gains in throughput between 30% and 50%, and adds traceability and order review elements). Perhaps most importantly, you need only a standard power supply and USB cable to connect it to your wider company systems and get even better value from your data analytics.

By adding your packing information to company data in this way, you not only create a better working environment for your workforce, but also add to the ROI of your wider business systems and increase the accuracy of your process, workflow and business process overviews. It also helps to equip your warehouse for integration into digital supply chains.

If you would like more information on how to improve warehouse packing, why not download our new guide, Five reasons to optimise your warehouse packing now – and tips on how to do it? As the title suggests, it contains lots of handy information and practical tips.


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