Creating and maintaining efficiency is one of the crucial overarching objectives of warehouse management today. In many warehouse scenarios, management will find themselves looking at how best to improve the performance of their warehouse processes without reinventing the wheel. This is where warehouse layout optimisation shows its worth.
Developing clear and efficient paths around a warehouse can eliminate redundant processes, waste, and time lost through travelling and traffic. There is even the chance of fewer accidents or collisions due to clearly delineated pathways visible to all.
Now, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to warehouse layout optimisation, but our seven best practices will aid your redesign efforts.
- Mapping your warehouse.
- Choose your storage areas.
- Designate storage space for specific products.
- Optimise designs based on your loading and shipping areas.
- Prevent bottlenecks in your loading and unloading areas.
- Designate reception areas.
- Designate areas for picking.
1. Mapping your warehouse.
The first step is to create a blueprint of your warehouse. Software such as AutoCAD will give you an accurate blueprint from which to begin redesigning. This step involves:
- Taking the most accurate measurements.
- Labelling each area and the relative direction of the workflow.
- Include common walkways, doors, staircases alongside the flow of materials.
- Include space measurements such as length, width and height.
It also includes calculating your warehouse size in cubic feet. For example, if you have a warehouse that contains 25,000 square feet of space and 30 feet of height, that warehouse contains 750,000 cubic feet, as those two numbers are multiplied together.
You can work with external design experts to aid you in this process. Once mapping your warehouse is complete, you can begin redesigning to optimise.
2. Choose your storage areas.
At this point, calculate the size of your storage areas. This entails multiplying the square footage of your racking by the height of the highest potential load within the storage area. This number is your possible storage area size. You can use it to calculate the percentage of your warehouse dedicated to storage by dividing this number by the total warehouse size and then multiplying by 100.
For example, a warehouse may have 20ft high storage that takes up 6,000 square feet, 120,000 cubic feet. If we use the total cubic feet of the warehouse example above, that will make a sum that looks like this:
(120,000/750,000) x 100 = 16%
A storage area at 16% of your total space is relatively small. An optimised plan should have a storage area totalling around 25-27% of the total space. You can do this by increasing the amount of racking or storage aisle width. The size of your storage area will be influenced by how much you produce and the relative demand experienced by your business. There are several ways of grouping your storage:
- You can group storage by product type.
- Or you can set up storage in aisles.
When choosing aisles, storage will naturally reside at the end of the workflow and production will sit at the front. Remember to return to the vertical measurements you have in your plan, as vertical storage will give you the most efficient use of space.
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3. Designate storage space for specific products.
Storage racks house a variety of goods and materials. Businesses should optimise these spaces to store more goods in the same amount of space.
For example, think of the space between the top of a stored item and the bottom level of the higher rack. How big is this? Many racks will only need six inches of space to allow for forklifts to interact with the racks. However, if you have more than six inches, you could be overusing space.
Consider this question; Do these racks contain the same-sized product or material every time? They may sometimes contain smaller items or larger ones. If they do hold large goods at times, designate a specific area for larger and smaller items. This means the racking can be optimised by being lower to create the potential for additional levels above, while the large objects will be stored in their own specific area.
4. Optimise designs based on your loading and shipping areas.
Warehouse layout optimisation will heavily depend on where the delivery and shipping vehicles are located. For example, here are three potential layouts based on where these lie:
The L-shaped layout.
A warehouse may have the loading/unloading space and the shipping space at the tips of the ‘L’. This means the main bulk of the workflow — production and storage — should be housed at the ‘L’ intersection.
The U-shaped layout.
The U-shaped layout is a standard design. It features production and storage in the bend of the ‘U’, while loading/unloading and shipping take place in the arms.
The I-shaped layout.
I-shaped layouts denote a warehouse design with loading/unloading at one end of the warehouse and shipping at the other. Production and storage are centrally located.
Whichever design you choose, work out where you need to store the high-demand items in relation to your shipping, as these will be the most likely to be bought and shipped. This is known as the dynamic storage area. Less popular items should be stored further away, in the static storage area.
5. Prevent bottlenecks in your loading and unloading areas.
You need to create a lot of space in your loading and unloading areas, so there is little potential for bottlenecks to occur. Space should be optimised for equipment such as forklifts or shuttles, as products moved by hand are an inefficient use of time.
Sometimes, these areas can be separate from the main warehouse, which means that either:
- An automated conveyor system can transport the goods.
- Automated trucks, such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), can transport goods.
6. Designate reception areas.
The reception area is where deliveries are received and where product sorting begins. Again, this needs a good amount of space, as too little will create a blockage right at the beginning of your warehouse’s workflow.
As accuracy is a must in this area, as goods and materials need to be allocated the appropriate uses or destinations, space is crucial. Make sure there is enough space for employees and trucks to enter and exit safely.
7. Designate areas for picking.
If your warehouse has a specific function for shipping, it is likely it has a picking area.
We recommend designating a specific area for picking that resides either next to or inside storage areas, reducing the time it takes to search for items. Using machinery in these areas, such as conveyors and sorters, can dramatically increase the performance of a picking area, with one study finding conveyors improved pick rate from 60 picks an hour to 300 picks.
Machinery is something we have not yet discussed, but it can be a vital part of warehouse layout optimisation, ensuring the workflow of your warehouse is optimised and improved alongside the layout. In fact, these things can be achieved in tandem, where you design a new layout based on the machinery you are onboarding.
Automated warehouse logistics, such as AGVs, benefit many businesses and their distribution centres, warehouses and manufacturing facilities. However, you should always determine whether you need them before beginning your research in earnest.
In our checklist, we have developed the quickest way to discover if automation is right for you.
The next steps for optimisation.
Do you have problems with excess labour or not enough? Is your organisation experiencing issues with efficiency in shipping? Have you experienced on-site accidents with operated trucks in the past?
Our warehouse automation checklist will urge you to ask all the right questions to see if automation will have a significant enough impact versus its investment. Click the link below for your copy and get access to these insights today.