Task interleaving ― i.e., combining tasks ― is a logistics strategy applied to warehousing to boost throughput. To implement task interleaving in an efficient, error-free way, it’s vital to digitise operations with a warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS coordinates and organises all processes that take place in the facility.
What is task interleaving?
Task interleaving consists of combining two or more tasks on a single run through the warehouse. Task interleaving makes it possible, for instance, for pickers to retrieve the SKUs they need to put together an order and to then take advantage of the trip back to replenish a product.
This strategy includes all types of logistics activity, from order picking to inventory and goods replenishment operations.
The main aims of task interleaving are to increase warehouse productivity and reduce deadheading (unproductive travel). By combining two or more tasks, operators make the most of their trips, cutting down on unnecessary movements. According to the article Advanced warehouse technologies – perspectives and possibilities, published in the international journal Knowledge, “studies show that task interleaving can boost worker productivity from 10 percent up to 40 percent.” According to the authors, companies adopt this method to raise their warehouse efficiency: “The productivity practice maximises employees’ movements based on their location and equipment usage in the space by assigning them multiple tasks, such as order picking or truck loading.”
Task interleaving is generally used in facilities with manual handling equipment. This logistics strategy isn’t necessary in automated warehouses. In these facilities, the movements of the automated storage and conveyance systems are performed in combined cycles to maximise throughput.
To facilitate task interleaving, it’s essential to implement a WMS: this software coordinates the movements of the operators and equipment to leverage travel and ramp up productivity. For example, imagine a warehouse picker has to retrieve a product from the picking area and take it to the consolidation zone. The software could optimise the route and assign the picker an additional task, such as replenishing a picking location near the SKU they need to collect for the order.
Benefits of task interleaving
Investing in a WMS that enables task interleaving brings a number of advantages, including:
- Maximum travel efficiency: the software coordinates the different warehouse operations to enhance operator performance and avoid unproductive movements, e.g., handling equipment deadheading. Instead of performing a task and returning without a load, the software tells the operator collecting the product to replenish a location on the way to the picking operation.
- More efficient logistics processes: task interleaving reduces the number of trips made by optimising the movements of warehouse equipment and operators. As a result, the time saved when performing tasks helps to bring down costs and improve logistics efficiency in the facility.
- Tighter inventory control: task interleaving makes it possible to organise inventory actions to make the most of operator travel. It also helps to increase the frequency of inventory cycle counting: it matches the stock recorded in the software with the actual stock in the facility, enhancing control over the products stored.
Ultimately, task interleaving boosts logistics performance in the warehouse. Consequently, it promotes better customer service. Limiting unnecessary travel and streamlining movements in the facility improves delivery times as well as customer satisfaction.
Task interleaving and the need for a WMS
Warehouse management software supports task interleaving while maximising the productivity of operators and handling equipment on their runs through the facility. In the more rudimentary management programs, the different tasks are independent of each other. This means that operators are less efficient, as they have to make more trips and take more time to perform the same actions.
Managing task interleaving with a WMS lets you easily assign an operator different types of tasks, e.g., picking a full pallet or replenishing goods in another area of the facility. The software prioritises and coordinates the operations to be carried out in the warehouse, showing operators which tasks to perform via their RF scanners. These actions are assigned automatically according to criteria preset during the implementation of the software, e.g., permissions, priority and proximity.
Easy WMS, the advanced warehouse management software from Mecalux, offers the “automatic mode” in the configuration of the RF scanners. This allows operators to view the tasks to be fulfilled ― receipt, replenishment, picking, etc. ― in order of importance. Easy WMS enables you to divide your facility into multiple zones according to the tasks assigned to each group of operators. This way, each worker can carry out all types of actions in their section, scaling up warehouse efficiency and avoiding deadheading.
Besides incorporating task interleaving, the Mecalux software features the Labor Management System (LMS) functionality. This module measures operator productivity in performing the various operations in the facility. With this program, you can identify improvement opportunities in flow management to boost your warehouse productivity and efficiency.
Task interleaving: digitisation for performance optimisation
When you implement WMS software, operations in your facility can be organised automatically. Sophisticated WMSs incorporate advanced task interleaving to automate task management, eliminate deadheading and, in short, increase warehouse throughput.
Mecalux’s WMS software maximises warehouse performance and minimises the risk of error due to manual organisation of operations. Interested in boosting efficiency in your facility and providing better logistics service? Be sure to contact us. One of our expert consultants will advise you on the best solution for your company.