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How COVID changed warehouse management

No one could have predicted the extent of the changes that the coronavirus would bring about or imagined that would affect virtually every aspect of our world. At the same time that the pandemic led to the closure of schools and the shutdown of the entire entertainment industry, it was upending the way warehouses were designed, managed and operated. Understanding exactly what occurred can shed some light on what the future looks like for companies heavily involved in manufacturing and distributing a wide variety of products that consumers use every day.

MODIFICATIONS IN WAREHOUSE DESIGN

Concerns about contracting COVID-19 are radically changing the way fulfillment centers and other warehouses are laid out. In the near future, entrances may become touchless, with automatic doors and prominent signage stating the company’s policies regarding PPE such as face shields and masks. Thermographic measures to take body temperatures could be instituted, and floor markings may be drawn to promote social distancing. Furniture may also be designed and placed with safety and distance in mind.

In the workplace itself, many planners are foregoing the formerly popular open design and are returning to enclosed individual offices. Plexiglass barriers may also be installed to separate workers from each other. There may also be designated outdoor spaces set up for “mask breaks.”

CHANGES IN OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES

In addition to design modifications, many warehouse owners are now opting to upgrade the way work is done. For instance, assembly lines and sorting systems are increasingly becoming automated, which minimizes the transmission of germs and reduces the number of human workers required to stand in close proximity to each other to get the job done. In addition, a number of organizations are relying more heavily on logistics management software to analyze stock quantities, maximize productivity and map out the most efficient transportation routes to get items where they need to go in the fastest and most affordable way.

REDUCTION IN CENTRALIZATION

In the past, companies such as Amazon opened giant regional fulfillment centers that met the needs of customers living in large swaths of the country. Recently, the trend is changing, evolving toward regional facilities that can more quickly meet the needs of their local consumer base. As new centers are constructed, emphasis is certain to be placed on wider aisles and better circulation systems to minimize the spread of contaminants. Many warehouse designers may also begin to install air UV systems, which have proven to be effective in removing airborne droplets contaminated with viruses and germs. Taking this step is affordable, especially considering the benefits of worker safety and productivity that come along with them.

At some point, COVID-19 will recede and become just another paragraph in the history books. Even so, it is almost certain that even after it is long gone, the world will never be the same. That includes the way companies manufacture and distribute products. The longevity of many businesses will hinge on their flexibility and nimbleness in adapting to these health and safety-centered alterations.

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