If you ask any warehouse manager what he/she needs most to maximize productivity, the answer would probably be a bigger warehouse. Incidently, the need for more warehouse space increases in geometric progression while available space increases in arithmetic progression.
In terms of floor space, warehouses are typically many times bigger than a football stadium. You need some kind of transportation to move around their entire length and breadth quickly, yet in the warehouse, more space does not always equal efficient order fulfillment.
To make things harder, a CBRE report found that in 2018, the demand for warehouse space exceeded the supply by a yearly total of 29 million square feet. In the coming years, there will be a further decline in available industrial real estate as e-commerce order volumes climb steadily north.
When order volumes are high and shipping channels are scattered, good warehouse design is the only way to achieve maximum order fulfillment. Good design has a solution for almost every problem that warehouse management or even humanity faces at large. From the humble safety pin to the duct tape used in space stations, design thinking has advanced several industrial processes – and it can help warehouse managers solve their everyday problems as well.
Here are some ideas to help guide your warehouse design thinking:
All warehouses are built and used for storage. How long the warehouse will be used as a place of storage makes a difference. Broadly, there would be two types of requirements, One, the warehouse is meant to be a place where the produced goods can be stored until it is the right season for them to be shipped. This means it would be used as a storage space for the short-term. The storage space may not be required after the season ends. Two, it is used on a daily basis to pick, pack and ship goods to customers, like for an e-commerce store. It would be used on a regular basis and will last as long as the business continues to exist.
Warehouse design should revolve around the purpose for which it will be used. The purpose will also help arrive at a ballpark estimate of the space required. For example, FMCG goods may not require vast floor space, but will definitely need more shipping docks. Slow moving and large-sized industrial components that are few in number may not require a vast floor space or several shipping outlets. They need buffer spaces for moving around easily.
Design the overall floor plan of the warehouse to meet either of the two scenarios. Identifying the purpose of the warehouse should be your first step before anything else.
Once you have decided the purpose of the warehouse and how the overall design would look, it is time to map each storage location to the packing and distribution unit. Proper planning of the SKU’s journey from bin location to the packing or distribution can help in speeding up order fulfillment.
If the warehouse is a highly mechanized one with conveyor belts and carousels, it is necessary to integrate their path into the warehouse design. Otherwise, you will end wasting time to pick the goods from the conveyor belts or carousels to the shipping location. Prior planning can help connect the equipment to the exact pickup or shipping dock.
Flow refers to the path of the warehouse equipment. It could be straight, clockwise, anti-clockwise, up or down. The flow mechanism can make a world of a difference to the warehouse design. All the picking spots and shipping locations can be aligned alongside the flow mechanism to reduce the manual effort.
Fixing a proper flow mechanism will help in reducing the manual handling of packages to a bare minimum. A hard truth about warehouse management is that “more touches, more cost”. Also, higher the risk of breakage or misplacement.
So it is essential that a flow mechanism is figured out that minimizes the number of touches and increases the easy access to goods. This will help optimize the cost of operations as well.
How will the product enter and how will they exit? The warehouse design has to be closely aligned with the desired entry and exit points. Ideally, the entry and exit points should be closer to the shipping spots so that the products can be quickly loaded onto trucks without much traveling.
For instance, if you are going to have a dedicated cold storage section which is going to be accessed frequently, it is better to have dual entry and exit points. This will allow labor to quickly move in and out, without running into each other.
You might also want to keep in mind the required size for each shipping dock, the average size of each container or even goods. For instance, large industrial equipment will be larger in size and would require wide spaces to enter and exit. Planning for such scenarios early while designing the warehouse space will save a lot of trouble.
Your long-term order fulfillment capability depends on the warehouse design. A well-designed warehouse can accelerate the pace at which at goods are picked, packed and shipped. But, unlike designing a user interface of a mobile app, designing a warehouse is an entirely different ballgame. There are too many risks involved.
Here are five questions that will help you design a better warehouse layout without incurring too many risks.
Find answers to these questions and you will be on the right path to creating an efficient warehouse design.
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