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Warehouse layout is an important part of optimizing your warehouse processes. Without the proper dimensions and expectations of how much space you'll need for each warehouse item and the requirements for fulfillment, poor warehouse efficiency is likely. No matter the size of your warehouse, an efficient layout can streamline fulfillment processes, cut down on delays, and help you save money over time.
In this post, we'll highlight the most important elements of an efficient warehouse layout and explain how to implement each based on the size of your operations.
Racking is all about the kind of racks (storage shelving) you buy, the inventory they’ll hold, and the ideal amount of space between them.
When you set up racking in your warehouse, remember that one size does not fit all. The racking method you use for your small warehouse may not be efficient in your medium warehouse.
Whatever the size of your warehouse may be, consider the inventory your warehouse holds. Are the items large or small? Will they need to be picked with machinery or by hand? This will help you determine the kind of racks you need, and how much space you’ll need between them.
The type of racks you choose will depend on your warehouse's size. For example, if you're in an office space, you would get heavy-duty "Ikea style" wire shelves, whereas if you're in a larger warehouse you would get larger "home Depot" style racking.
Once you pick out your racks, create a flow that will streamline picking traffic through the aisles of your warehouse. Think about who will be doing the picking and what machinery they'll be using to pick.
For example, if the type of inventory you store always needs to move in pallets and you’re consistently using a forklift for order fulfillment, it may be wise to create two lanes between your racks, each large enough for two forklifts to comfortably pass by each other.
In a small warehouse, (less than 50,000 sqft.) keep your racks close together, and fast-moving inventory at the forefront. Place the SKUs ordered the most near the shipping and receiving area, so pickers don’t even have to travel to the storage area. To reduce your warehouse costs, minimize travel time from aisle to aisle by keeping overall distances to a minimum.
In a medium warehouse (50,000-100,000 sqft.), racks may be smaller and closer together. No matter what method your pickers use, this will be more efficient than setting up your racks the same way you did in a small warehouse. Consider the number of orders needed to be picked and the kind of machinery used to estimate the need for one or two lanes between your racks. Another thing to consider is how tall your racks can safely go. While usually a non-issue in a small warehouse, inventory storage may extend to higher locations in a medium warehouse.
In a large warehouse (more than 100,000 sqft.), aisles and warehouse racks will likely need to be further apart to account for cross-traffic pickers operating machinery. To minimize bottlenecks, keep your racks at least two lanes apart.
Warehouses are often used to store large amounts of inventory before it's purchased. Because you might have hundreds of unique SKUs or thousands of a single SKU, it's paramount to understand your inventory through data. For example, you should be aware of what items sell the most and place these in a forward location for easy and quick access. An essential part of the perfect warehouse layout is determining what inventory is sold the most, and placing it in the front of your warehouse.
This method is called forward picking. It allows workers to minimize the steps they take while they pick orders faster. By placing storage and slow-moving items in the back of your warehouse and out of the way, you can create more efficient pick paths.
Another variable to keep in mind is the placement of your packing and shipping area. Keeping your packing and shipping areas close to the racks with the fastest sold inventory will minimize the steps of your workers.
For example, if you have a larger space, you might want to have a packing station and a shipping station separate (and multiples of each), where if you’re in a smaller office space, you'd want that all at one station.
No matter your warehouse size, it can be difficult to manually gauge fast-moving inventory, efficient pick paths, and proper racking. As your warehouse scales, implement automated processes through a warehouse management system (WMS) to help continually keep tabs on your processes, layout, and inventory data so you can make changes as needed to optimize efficiency.
To learn more about bringing together warehouse layout and efficiency, read our blog, 4 Ways to Improve Warehouse Efficiency.
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