Like the rest of your business, your warehouse should be a malleable object, constantly adapting to the situation around it. While the strictures of floor planning and choosing the best form of storage are better left to the experts, there’s still plenty you can do to lay the groundwork and get a sense of the areas that need improving. Here are five steps you should go through when planning a new warehouse build or an upgrade – and the things you should weigh up when deciding whether it’s worth the investment.
Before you plan anything else, you need to have a good idea not just of what your current product line is, but also what you’re likely to be storing in the future.
It’s important to have a handle on the precise attributes of your products: how big are they? What’s the weight of each unit? Are they awkward or bulky, and can they be stored on standard pallets? Are they temperature sensitive, and do they need to be refrigerated? Are they perishable, or can they be stored in a last in, last out (LILO) format? All of this will have an impact on the format of the racking you choose.
Different products may require different densities, with some products requiring a wider aisle to load and unload, for instance, or unable to be transported on shuttles. Other, smaller items may benefit from gravity flow racking, or another system which makes picking more efficient. You may also find that a high-density option allows you to store more products than you will need, freeing up space for other work areas. Nail down your products, and you’ll get a clearer picture of what your new warehouse will look like.
The dynamics of your space will determine a number of factors and should be high on your planning agenda. On a basic level, the dimensions of the room will affect how much racking you can fit in the space and may impact on how wide or narrow the aisles can be. You should also consider the amount of headspace you have above the racking, and whether you will opt to extend your racking upwards.
If you have ample headspace but don’t feel it necessary to build multi-tier racking, you might instead consider a mezzanine floor. By building a freestanding floor above your racking, you can create additional, usable space for all sorts of purposes, from additional storage to sorting areas to office space. This will maximise your use of available space, make your heating bills more economical, and could potentially put off an expensive expansion or relocation.
Some of this will depend on other physical characteristics of your space, too. Columns, boxes, windows, power supplies and access points may determine the shape and size of your racking; this is not to mention local laws, which can inhibit construction, even indoors. Of course, by looking at your floor plan without your current racking in it, you may also spot ways to free up more space and gain a better sense of how that space is being used.
While the way your products are stored is obviously crucial to good warehouse design, so is the way they arrive and leave. Without giving due attention to the process of storing and retrieving goods, you risk creating bottlenecks and other efficiencies, as people struggle to navigate in a timely fashion. Fail to consider these factors, and your shiny new racking could become not just functionally useless, but actively dangerous.
Take some time to think about the processes that go into your logistics. How is it that products arrive and are stored and are there any impediments which slow this process down (e.g., the distance between loading areas and racking, traffic etc). If you take and dispatch orders, how is this process undertaken, are you using dispatch software for small business, and is there any way you can make it more economical?
Looking at your inventory management will let you determine how often certain goods are refreshed or rotated, and therefore how close they should be to your loading area. You should also consider how the flow of products impacts on safety, specifically the flow and density of traffic around your warehouse. Coming up with an optimal design and processes can ensure that gridlock is minimised, and injuries or accidents are eliminated.
Even the best laid plans can be scuppered if they aren’t delivered properly. While much of this comes down to the installation, it’s also important to make sure that your staff understand the design of your warehouse and can take advantage of its efficiencies. As well as knowing where to go, where to look and what to do, a modern warehouse design may include robots, a complex warehouse management system, the use of mobile devices and other technology.
Used correctly, this technology will speed up their jobs and keep the warehouse running; used improperly, and it will be even slower and less efficient than it would be without them. Proper training is vital, but you also need to get a sense of how staff are operating, and the demands that your new racking and layout may place on them. You may find you need more staff for more racking; or conversely, that your new design is more efficient, and requires fewer people.
About the author
This post was written by James Beale, Operations Manager of Invicta Pallet Racking. Having worked with the company since 2008, he continues to deliver strategic planning for the development of the Invicta Group across Europe, North America and the Middle East.