To the uninitiated, it may seem that warehouse design is not exactly rocket science. However, the devil is in the detail and a recurring excessive cost can easily be caused by a flaw that is experienced perhaps hundreds of times a day when operational, each one costing a minute or two. Poor design may be difficult to detect because the operation runs smoothly, possibly better than previously, and the weak points about the design are simply not immediately obvious. Detailed planning is the key to success.
Detail is key to successful warehouse design. One of the difficulties is establishing metrics for volume and flow because an enterprise simply may not have the required data available. Estimating can be tricky and that is one reason why it is highly recommended to engage with as many people as possible. Justification of design features may depend on this data and therefore it must be exposed to all stakeholders for critique and challenge and to obtain consensus insofar as possible.
5 Core Principles
There are many important facets to consider and include in design planning. These top level headings encompass many sub-items but, by keeping these foremost in your mind, you will avoid the more common errors and avoid forgetting anything really important.
1) Know Your Requirements
It may sound obvious but the requirements must be analysed and specified before any design work begins. This starts with clarifying the primary objective of the warehouse as regards the business function is it intended to fill. A factory warehouse will have different requirements to one that must operate as a distribution centre for, say, e-Commerce, and from one that will be a materials storage facility for a chain of home improvement stores. Detailed requirements will include the main processes to be catered for, volumes and capacities, and equipment.
2) Flow Is King
Congestion causes delay and potentially severe loss of productivity. Time and again, warehouse staff are tempted to prioritise capacity by cramming in storage capacity at the cost of accessibility. This is an expensive false economy. A blockage that costs even one minute several times a day adds up to a financial hit when multiplied thousands of times over the course of 1 year, 10 years, and 15 years. Straight line access for forklifts from the goods inward bays to storage racks and one way flow for picking are two of the potential priority considerations.
3) Close To Zero Touches
The objective of any materials handling operation is to minimise the number of touches required during the warehouse life of a product. Zero would be impossible? One possibly Nirvana but most likely two or three is an achievable goal.
4) Maximise Vertical Space
As the physical floor space footprint is usually fixed and constrained, innovative use of vertical space (the bube) delivers an improved ROI. Depending on the purpose of the warehouse, this may include robotic equipment to access the upper reaches or it could involve the construction of a mezzanine floor, amongst possible design considerations.
5) Ask For Input
Invite input from a wide range of stakeholders, including external, parties such as suppliers who regularly use your existing warehouses. Everybody who has contact with your distribution system is a potential source of a new perspective that could maximise productivity.
Engaging a professional and experienced designer should pay dividends for the next 5 to possibly 20 years by way of smooth and trouble free and flexible operation. Pprofessional designerswill also be familiar with current technology and materials handling equipment options. This is a service that we at LPC provide on request.
Download Our FREE Warehouse Productivity Guide
Find out more of the thinking behind great warehouse layout design techniques in our free download The Warehouse Productivity Guide. This covers aspects such as Designing Your Warehouse For Growth & Productivity and Five Important KPIs for Warehouse Management, and much more besides.