Part 2 – How can you change your warehouse layout to maximise warehouse design and space?

Having the optimal warehouse layout for your operation is key to maximising productivity. You need your products to be located in the best positions. Maximise warehouse design so that the general flow through the warehouse is unproblematic. Business intelligence is vital for discovering which products are selling well. Fast-moving stock needs to be quickly accessible so that operatives aren’t spending too much time traversing the warehouse.

A warehouse must react to changes in sales velocity. If products become more popular, of if they are seasonal, then a flexible strategy needs to be adopted so that products can be moved in and out of the prime picking positions as needed. There are many strategies that can be employed. Continuing on from last week, we continue to share our top tips for how to maximise warehouse design, warehouse storage, and warehouse layout to achieve peak performance at your facility. Missed last weeks? You can find the 1st  5 top tips here.

TIP 6: Rely on Warehouse Management System (WMS) Data to Organise Your Warehouse Layout

If you have visited or seen videos of industry-leading distribution centres, such as those from Amazon, you may have become mesmerised by the seemingly random pathways taken by robots fulfilling orders and restocking inventory. It’s an uncomfortable shift for those who grew up on the logic of ABC warehouse layouts, yet we have solid evidence that WMS can sequence orders and organise highly efficient workflow (often using floating locations in the space available) if you only let it.

Having insight from the WMS is also particularly useful when you experience a surge of incoming inventory, such as during seasonal sales activities.

And if you are new to this level of automation, don’t forget that implementing a robust WMS now will help you communicate supply information directly to your suppliers and customers in the future.

TIP 7: Focus Your Warehouse Layout Design Decisions on the Dock Operations

The dock area can be the most congested and potentially most dangerous area within your warehouse layout.

When designing new warehouse facilities, consider taking advantage of the newest trends, including just-in-time cross-docking. Cross-docking is a technique where fresh inventory is unloaded directly from the inbound vehicle(s) then immediately re-loaded onto outbound vehicles — all without having to store the inventory in the warehouse. You’ll need to allocate additional space and multiple docks to perform these operations without creating choke points that impede flow.

For inventory unloaded at the dock, don’t allow put-away areas to build up inventory. Make sure they are cleared out daily to avoid congestion and avoid product damage.

TIP 8: Organise SKUs in Bins and Re-slot Pick Positions Often to Reduce Pick Times

Do you know where your most valuable, high-volume products are being stored? The answer should be “as close as possible to the shipping area” to reduce picking steps.

Perform an ABC categorisation (using WMS data) to identify these most valuable, high-turnover products and get them closer to the shipping area.

But forget about keeping products from the same manufacturer together. That’s old school. Instead, keep each SKU in its own bin. (Don’t put more than one SKU in a bin as that slows down the picker and leads to increased errors.)

With everything in bins, it’s easy to re-slot as needed. It’s not a once a year activity anymore — take the opportunity to re-slot your highest profit/volume products every day to maximise efficiency.

TIP 9: Think Twice Before Expanding Your Warehouse Design and Storage

Are you really running out of warehouse space? Or are you not using the space you have efficiently enough?

If you think you’re running out of space, revisit Tip Two from last week and perform a thorough 5S program to clear your aisles and clean out inventory that’s not where it should be.

Then, take advantage of vertical space and maximise warehouse design. Pallet racking is safer and more secure than stacking pallets directly on top of one another.

TIP 10: Ensuring the Health and Safety of Workers, Your Most Important Asset

Choices made in warehouse layout and enforcement of operational safety standards can help prevent worker accidents and save lives. Docks are particularly dangerous: make sure everything is secured, keep aisles clean, avoid forklifts approaching dock edges, enforce safety protective equipment rules, and have all operators certified to operate heavy equipment.

Make it clear that safety is your top priority. Involve employees in creating a safety committee that is responsible for creating emergency response plans for accidents, including hazardous spills and fire.

Avoid workplace injuries, such as falls and back injuries by providing appropriate material handling procedures (including mechanical lifts for heavy items).

Use ergonomic furniture designs with height-adjustable surfaces for your workers (such as packers) that can adjust on the fly to fit different employee heights.

TIP 11: Don’t Overlook Solutions Once Considered Outside of Traditional Warehouse Operations

Warehouse operations are no longer an island. As warehouse operators wring the last bit of efficiency out of their internal operations, many find that outside factors can have a major positive impact on making things more efficient.

Improved communication with your suppliers and your customers is key. If you have advance notice of sales promotions, new product introductions, unexpected demand spikes or supply shortages, you can make smarter decisions when setting the minimum holding stocks necessary to cover lead times.

As we alluded to earlier, the largest and most advanced companies (such as Amazon) take this a step further with complete visibility into their supply chains.

It also goes without saying that buying better products from more reliable suppliers can make your warehouse operations more efficient.

Don’t be a hostage to open delivery hours. Request advanced shipping notifications from your suppliers and establish predictable appointments on the calendar. This will help you plan for major shipments by clearing space in advance and making sure your warehouse is fully staffed during peak hours.

Finally, consider ‘out of the box’ solutions, including third-party (3PL) warehousing and drop shipments from the manufacturer for items that don’t fit into your warehouse profile.

TIP 12: Let ROI Determine Roll-out of Automation Implementations

Automation is coming to your warehouse if it hasn’t already. What level of automation makes sense for you? The answer lies in analysing the data collected by your WMS or process mining systems. This historical data, combined with future volume projections, will help you perform the necessary analysis to determine the Return-on-Investment and argue for or against automation.

At present, automation solutions tend to work best for highly repeatable tasks; however, as robots become more flexible and trainable, they are increasingly taking on more complex, changeable work.

Remember, you don’t need to do a wholesale replace when pursuing an automation strategy — in fact, that’s likely a recipe for disaster. Instead, identify which activities would provide the highest ROI at the lowest risk and start from there.

If you have multiple facilities, it might be useful to perform testing at one facility before making changes across the board. This way you can confirm savings by making an apples-to-apples comparison.

TIP 13: Constant Renewal and Improvement is Not a Once a Year Task

Inventory control audits? They are not just an annual thing anymore. Perform these at least every quarter.

The same goes for product re-slotting, as we mentioned above. That needs to happen as often as every day for your highest-profit, highest-volume products.

The bottom line?

You should take the opportunity to measure, analyse, and renew everything about your operations throughout the year to maximise warehouse design. Review part one of our top tips here.

About us:

Speak to one of our team to understand how Clarus’ WMS system can cost effectively support best practice warehouse management processes, better customer service and highly efficient working for a range of warehouse operations with pay per month options and no IT infrastructure needed.

Our platform can scale from a one user, small depot system to a 100’s of user distribution centre operation. The ClarusWMS platform will cost effectively scale with your business based on demand.

ClarusWMS is a UK based supplier of warehouse management solutions with a wealth of industry experience in third party logistics, wholesale/retail distribution, online fulfillment, and manufacturing warehousing.