With the continued growth and domination of e-commerce in the retail market, the demands on warehouses and distribution centers across the globe are also rising. From higher customer expectations — such as an increase of available product SKUs, overnight delivery and free returns — to e-commerce brands offering both online and brick-and-mortar shopping and pickup options, the future indicates a need for more warehouse square footage that is managed efficiently to meet these demands. Growing warehouse businesses like this, your operations might be at risk of outgrowing your available warehouse space, if it hasn’t already.
If you’re struggling to keep up using the space you have, investing in new locations to gain square footage is one obvious option. But, if adding a whole new warehouse to your business is not on the table, the next best option would be to consider a redesign with a focus on the optimization of your warehouse storage and racking.
So how do you start? Here are seven questions to help guide you down the right path when considering a warehouse redesign:
The opening heights in your racks should get bigger or smaller depending on the load its holding, and your storage systems should reflect that. Generally, openings should be 6” taller than the load they hold in order to facilitate easy removal with a forklift, but they can vary in height based on your needs.
A great example of how adjusting opening heights can increase efficiency comes from Manfredi Cold Storage. When the company needed to re-design its racking systems to accommodate its growth, one priority was the ability to accommodate pallets of all different heights and sizes. The solution was Steel King SK3000 structural rack that had openings between 12-16” larger than the standard rack, allowing the company to efficiently accommodate all of its products and customize the layout of its warehouse storage system for its very specific needs.
Another way to think about your opening heights is by the popularity of each product or SKU they are holding. Consider putting slower-moving product pallets in shorter racking locations. Since your team won’t be pulling them from the rack as often, less space is needed to quickly and repeatedly move the pallet off the rack.
Did you know that wooden pallets take about 10% of the space needed to store product? Armed with this fact, consider if a warehouse storage solution for your operation could include using non-palleted products or removing product from their pallets before storing.
This option is great for warehouses high in e-commerce stock, as most e-commerce products are not palletized. Removing wooden pallets is also a great option to consider if your warehouses have product that allow for case picking, meaning that the product is picked as a full case or carton (like beer, for example).
It goes without saying that the more beams you have on your racking system, the closer together they will be, causing your entire rack to be more stable and able to hold more weight. But the closer the beams are to one another, the less the vertical space between each one will be. Consider the size and weight of the inventory being shipped to your warehouse and ensure that the racking systems you have in place are optimized for that capacity.
Understanding the capabilities of your existing storage systems is imperative for optimizing their use, so if you do not know the beam or upright capacity specifics of your pallet racks, your warehouse storage vendors should be able to provide you with this information.
Vertical cube includes all space above loads, total building clearance, space above cross aisles, space above work and pick areas and space above docks. It makes up a large percentage of your total warehouse square footage and is often a missed opportunity for warehouse storage efficiency.
A mezzanine system is a great way to increase the utilization of available vertical space in your growing warehouse. Not only can they be used for storing product, but they can also be used as office space for your workers or as a platform to house equipment that might otherwise take up precious floor space better used for forklift-accessible inventory storage.
Your vertical cube also includes space you may not have thought of as useful to your operation. For example, the space above your loading docks can be used to store packing supplies or empty pallets with over dock storage racks, customized to the size and shape of your loading dock area.
Another example of optimizing your vertical cube is incorporating over-aisle storage. This is especially useful for warehouse storage optimization if the narrowing of your aisles is not an option.
Narrowing your warehouse’s aisles is an easy way to get more out of your warehouse layout, but be sure you have the right storage racking systems and vehicle fleet to accommodate tighter spaces. There are many narrow and very narrow aisle forklifts on the market that can easily maneuver these tight aisle spaces, ensuring a larger return on investment when adjusting aisle size for warehouse space optimization.
You also will need to consider ventilation, lighting, and sprinkler systems to ensure that the moving of your storage systems does not cover or hinder these in a way that makes your growing warehouse dangerous or inconvenient for your employees and product.
Although aisles are important, the more space aisles use, the less storage space you have for product. But different types of racking systems can help reduce the number of aisles you need without sacrificing maneuverability and efficiency.
Channel storage systems are one way to eliminate many aisles all at once, but it’s worth noting here that they tend to work best for small ranges of products that move in and out of the warehouse quickly (such as food and beverage products). Dynamic warehouse racking, like flow racking and push back racking, can aid in reducing the number of aisles required to reach your product.
These racking systems use gravitational or mechanical means to push pallets forward and towards the aisles where they will be picked up by forklifts. By being able to store multiple pallets of product on the same shelf without having to drive into the racking system to fill the shelves to capacity, you open up your ability to reduce the aisle size it requires to remove those pallets and can open up opportunities to optimize the opening heights and the widths of your racks to best suit the products they’re storing.
The right Warehouse Management System (WMS) should allow you to see what products are coming and going, how fast or slow they’re going and recognize available or under-utilized space in your growing warehouse. A WMS properly synchronized with your warehouse can also alert you of inventory counts and flag any obsolete product that may need attention. Using your WMS to help you order the right product in the right cadence will also ensure that your warehouse is stocked efficiently, steering you and your team towards storing the best products in the best location based on the product popularity, warehouse layout and the way in which the product must be stored.