Defence supply chain: Top tips for keeping your warehouse in order

The supply chain for defence markets is a critical one. A single point of failure can have repercussions far beyond a simple missed delivery.

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Warehouses and the defence supply chain 

The warehouse has become mission-critical for defence and engineering. Whether it supports the front line or suppliers of high spec engineering equipment, a single point of failure can have repercussions far beyond a missed delivery.

Effective and efficient warehousing plays a vital role in the defence supply chain. The items being stored are unlike almost any other commodity and, as such, create a set of specific demands: security, secrecy, unpredictable demand, the need for specialist packaging.

Yet, by applying the right tools, technologies and strategies, a high functioning warehouse can form the bedrock of an effective and efficient defence supply ecosystem.

Key tips for warehouse efficiency 

So, what is that defence and engineering organisations want from their warehousing network? First and foremost, it needs to be effective; having sufficient inventory to deliver the right item to the right place at the right time. It needs to be efficient in doing so and responsive to (often unpredictable) changes in demand.

The operation in the warehouse needs to be working at an optimum level, with minimal waste and maximum value, all whilst prioritising security and health and safety, in this high risk and often high pressured environment.

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Design options

The key to achieving these goals starts with the design, where there is a balance to be had between the use of valuable resources to maximise storage density and maintaining operational efficiency from the building as a whole.

What’s more, the scale and range of inventory is likely to change over time and come from a host of different and changing suppliers; not to mention the ad hoc need to store ‘ugly’ items (those which are not suitable for standard racking). So, the flexibility to be able to redesign the warehouse – either incrementally or wholesale - is crucial.

This can be achieved through regularly reviewing and relaying the space to maintain, and optimise storage. The use of specialist packaging is another tactic that can be employed to store items with a large footprint.

Reducing costs

Staffing levels and automation all play a significant role as cost drivers. Employee productivity and flexibility helps ensure an optimal number of staff are employed and labour costs are controlled. Similarly, the equipment used in warehouses and the size of the warehouse contribute significantly to the overall cost profile of the work. So, intelligent selection of warehousing media and use of technology be it through complex integrated automated systems, or smaller interventions such as the use of carousels, can increase cubic efficiency and reduce overall warehouse size.

Whether a defence business is working with a large network of warehouses or a central National Distribution Centre linking to smaller on-site storage, there is inevitably a need to take on more space to manage peaks in demand.

To avoid investment in additional fixed assets, those working with a third-party providers (3PLs) like Wincanton, can take advantage of access to their wide, compliant warehouse network, and the complementary services they provide. This route also allows them to share space alongside other non-competing parties in a single warehouse environment, to exploit economies of scale under shared leadership. 

Warehouse management system 

Central to the success of a high functioning defence warehouse is a Warehouse Management System; technology which aids the organisation and optimisation of a warehouse operation. Through digitisation, the technology speeds up the flow of goods and information, forming a basis for decisions around the execution of stock, labour and space, all the while supporting companies in compliance with industry regulations and standards. 

More often than not, this system will interface (or integrate) with other business functions; transport, procurement, or HR. Call it a Control Tower; a position from which the customer can observe trends, make predictions around demand and supply and pre-empt issues before they happen. It is this visibility of the operation which, above all else, enables surety of supply in the most critical of situations.

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A high functioning warehouse is business critical in a defence and high spec engineering environment. The extent to which this can be achieved relies on close collaboration with and a deep understanding of all aspects of the operation it is supporting. Only close involvement with the teams responsible for production, through life support, compliance and IT can allow a supply chain expert to design the right warehouse space for the job

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