Tips on design a warehouse layout, including staging areas

A warehouse is an important component of any business. Not to be considered as just storage space, a well-designed warehouse can improve the efficiency and productivity of your logistic operations.

If you are in the process of building a new warehouse or are thinking about revamping your layout, you need to take into account the needs of your floor managers and supervisors to understand how best to serve their real-time needs. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

#1 Collect and analyse historical actionable data

Study the past workings of the warehouse and determine sore points that can be addressed. If you’re building a new warehouse, look at businesses that are similar in operation to yours and use their past performances to understand how best you can achieve your warehouse goals and objectives.

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#2 Collaborate with cross-functional team to define warehousing objectives and goals

Even within a warehouse, there will be issues with one party that another one isn’t aware of. Remember, the end goal is customer orders. Bring all key stakeholders together and define SLAs for internal communication for better understanding of every function.

#3 Establish parameters to achieve objectives and goals

Pre-decide warehouse operational parameters. It could be acceptable ROI, implementation and operational costs, company image, flexibility of operations, dependence on labour, etc.

Another method several warehouse owners rely upon is the FAST acronym – Flow, Accessibility, Space and Throughput. Study industry best practices and put together a set of metrics that you can use to track and improve your operations.

#4 Focus warehouse design decisions on key locations like receiving, dock operations

Is your dock area one of the most congested? Your warehouse design should take into account receiving and dock areas. Allow for smooth flow of materials, people and vehicles. Leave sufficient room to manoeuvre so there is no jostling and you can avoid potential accidents.

#5 Simplify processes and reduce touches/ limit product handling to once

Your process should encourage minimum product handling; ideal is zero. Do not allow more than 3-5 touches to the goods while in the warehouse. More touches means more time means more cost.

#6 Multiple storage zones for different stock types

Allocate racks for storage to SKUs as per size, shape, weight and the speed of movement. If some goods mover faster, those should be placed in ‘Hot Pick’ zones for fastest pick.

#7 Types and selection of storage systems

Your choice of racks for storage depends entirely on the product stored. Whether it is perishable, inflammable, frozen or pharmaceutical. You can use steel racks for storage of heavier goods that would otherwise occupy aisle space.

#8 Standard pick paths for picking optimisation

Your ideal picking path should be the shortest time it takes for all products to be picked from storage and brought to the packing and dispatch area. It should not end at the other end of the warehouse. Keep the racks for storage of more popular goods together.

#9 Ensure product rotation is efficient

Product rotation is how often the product is renewed, which means its rate of inputs and outputs. Moving means time which means cost. Keep unnecessary product rotation to the minimum. Detect flaws in the system before implementing the design.

#10 Flexible and scalable design to adapt to future plans/changes

Your design should be ready for unplanned changes or fluctuations in its operations. Are you equipped for seasonal sales, or for a sudden demand? You can consider using scalable racks instead of rigid steel racks for storage to accord flexibility to your warehouse design.

#11 Automate where it makes sense with an eye on ROI

Your WMS should give you an idea of whether automation is required, keeping in mind RoI. If your warehouse requires highly repeatable tasks then automation might seem like a good idea. Instead of replacing your entire system you can stagger the automation strategy as and where you need it.

#12 Dedicated locations for value-added services

Does your warehouse offer specific, value-added services? You need to take into account those activities, such as kitting, packing or gift-wrapping, unused pallets, etc., while designing the warehouse.

Warehouse design can be quite challenging. However, if you keep these points in mind, you can design one that works around your operations and not the other way around.