Warehouses are constantly striving to improve efficiency, and the facility’s layout plays a big part in productivity. Storing fast-moving products closer to shipping docks, ensuring that there’s enough space for easily moving larger items from place to place while also minimizing wasted space, and organizing your layout to minimize traffic jams and congested areas are just a few things to consider when designing a warehouse layout.
Whether you’re designing a layout for a new warehouse or considering reconfiguring your existing warehouse layout in order to improve traffic flow and overall efficiency, there are a multitude of considerations that can lend to more streamlined operations. As such, it’s easy to overlook some important considerations in the design process, and doing so may hinder operations in both the short and long term future. To help you avoid common mistakes in designing your warehouse layout, we reached out to a panel of warehouse leaders and logistics experts and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single biggest mistake made when designing a warehouse layout (and how can you avoid it?)”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Leaders:
Nate Masterson is the Marketing Manager for Maple Holistics.
“One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen people make…”
When organizing or planning a warehouse space is failing to designate what’s known as a ‘forward space.’ These are areas that are assigned to hold a selection of the more popular items in the warehouse and make them easier to reach in a hurry. This is a great way to save on time and money when you need to get things shipped quickly and can also give you a good idea of your sales trends in a practical and logical manner.
Dayna Hairston is the Owner and Operator of Dayziner LLC, a boutique design agency offering design consultation and virtual interior design services. She is an NCIDQ Certified Interior Designer and LEED Accredited Professional with specialization in Interior Design and Construction providing both commercial and residential interior design services across the United States.
“The single biggest mistake when designing a warehouse layout is…”
To not zone the space effectively. Consideration needs to be given to what will be stored in the space and its weight, size, and capacity needs. Proper zoning ensures that larger scaled items are placed in areas with wider aisles for clearance, maneuverability, and ease of access. Heavier items may need to stored on extra duty shelving which are costlier than standard shelving. Zoning heavy items separate from other items helps to mitigate accidents in the workplace and damaged inventory, while providing a dedicated amount of specialized storage solutions, saving on upfront product costs.
Certain items may need to have refrigeration or specific heating or cooling needs. Understanding your product inventory will help with site selection when purchasing a pre-exisitng warehouse facility to ensure the building functions properly to maintain the integrity of the product while keeping operation costs low. Thinking about your existing inventory, its storage needs, logistics of access, either by employees or specialized equipment, and identifying key placement zones in the space will produce a safe, efficient, and productive warehouse environment and avoid costly mishaps.
Pablo Solomon is an internationally recognized artist and designer known primarily for his drawings and sculptures of dancers as well as visionary environmental design.
“There are several mistakes many companies make in designing a warehouse layout…”
- Location is everything. No good warehouse design can make up for putting that warehouse in a location that is difficult to access, presents security problems, and/or is prone to flooding.
- Proper site orientation can save energy and can make access easier.
- Not having a long range business plan that includes expansion. For example, a close friend of mine started a business cutting stone for architectural details. His workshop/warehouse has expanded over the past 30 years from small to gigantic. Luckily, he had enough acreage to expand. On the other side of the coin, another friend started an electrical contracting/supply company. He has had to move in order to expand twice over the same 30 years.
- Not locating and designing the building to be an advertising asset. Having your warehouse visible from a high traffic roadway can result in a lot of free advertising.
- Most warehouses benefit from having an open design that allows for easy layout changes.
- A common mistake is not having a strong enough foundation/concrete slab. The floor that might work for a toilet paper warehouse might not work for steel beams or heaving machinery.
- Another common mistake is not having at least basic backup electricity. For a couple of thousand dollars more, you can build in an emergency generator.
- Not designing in security is a common error. This includes both physical design and electronic surveillance.
- Not designing climate control that is efficient is also a common design error for warehousing.
Hamna Amjad is the Outreach Manager for ALRUG.
“The biggest warehouse layout mistake is…”
Not dedicating a proper space for each task. This can be a big hindrance to the functioning of the warehouse. Therefore, it’s extremely important to design the warehouse with predefined areas for each task for an efficient workflow and better productivity.
Paige NeJame has been the owner of South Shore CertaPro Painters near Boston for 15 years.
“When optimizing your warehouse design, don’t forget to…”
Paint the cement floors. By applying an epoxy coating to your warehouse floors, you will simultaneously make them look like a showroom while eliminating the tracking of cement dust into your office space. This means if you ever have a customer walking through your warehouse, the pristine look of epoxy coated floors will stand out as just another reason you stand out as more professional than your competitors. It also cuts down on cleaning costs because the floor isn’t releasing cement dust each time you step on it. Epoxy floor paint can also maximize the flow of your warehouse when you use different colors to indicate different sections of the space or the intended flow of the space.
Rachel Hardcastle is the Managing Director of Universal Pallets®, a company supplying pallet services UK-wide. This year she celebrates 10 years at the head of this family business, and she is always happy to advise UK-based businesses on logistical and H&S matters.
“Skimping on health and safety can seriously hold you back and increase your costs…”
A safe warehouse will run smoothly and everyone will benefit from the high standards. For example, don’t try and save money by installing cheap and rickety racking beams, especially when combined with poor quality/under-spec pallets; no one wants to walk under a ton of goods badly loaded onto a poor quality/under-spec pallet stored on unsafe beams. If you install the best your company can afford and make sure your pallet supplier understands your company, the two combined will make for a much safer environment.
Pallets are an excellent product (whether new or reconditioned) and crucial for every warehouse. However you must use the right one – there are a huge number of specifications and grades and, as part of your H&S Risk Assessment program, you should ensure you get your pallet supplier to visit and properly understand your systems and product.
Brian C. Neuwirth
Brian C. Neuwirth is VP of Sales & Marketing at UNEX Manufacturing, the trusted industry leader in order picking solutions that maximize space usage, increase pick rates and improve ergonomics.
“When designing a warehouse layout it is important to…”
Slot your SKUs correctly. Slotting supports the movement of SKUs, whether fast or slow moving and improves throughput so that customer orders can be delivered on time. Effective slotting can also reduce product damage, improve worker productivity, and speed fulfillment. Slotting is the process of allocating products (SKUs) to locations in a warehouse according to business rules and product characteristics.
Effective slotting requires an understanding of a company’s business and goals, taking into account the physical size and aspects of the warehouse, current and future material handling equipment, SKU makeup, seasonal capacity changes, worker skill, and customer service levels. Without intelligent SKU slotting, labor costs and throughput suffer due to workers spending more time traveling and searching than picking. This can have a major negative impact on employee morale, which further hampers your productivity. Not slotting is the single biggest mistake because an intelligently slotted warehouse sets the foundation for faster, more efficient order fulfillment operations.
Margaret is an engineering consultant who helps small businesses pinpoint their problems and achieve their revenue goals. After a decade at Boeing, she co-founded a light electric vehicle startup in Seattle and now coaches startups for the City of Tacoma.
“Have a focal point…”
A warehouse is so open that there’s no socially programmed traffic flow for people to follow, so you have to create one. If your customers (or guests) wander around, looking uncomfortable, then you don’t have a focal point and they don’t know where to go. Walk in and out of your front door with fresh eyes and try different counter/table/stool placements until something feels right!
Katie Martinelli is a Learning and Development Analyst at High Speed Training, one of the UK’s leading Health & Safety e-Learning providers.
“One of the biggest errors you can make when designing the layout of your warehouse is…”
Not ensuring you leave enough space between aisles for safe machinery use. The width of your aisles must allow all machinery used on the warehouse floor to move and turn without the risk of colliding with racking or stacks. Collisions can be dangerous to your workers and costly if you have to repair or replace damaged storage facilities or products.
You must also consider the movement of pedestrians and machinery around your warehouse floor. Always aim to separate vehicle and pedestrian routes, but if that’s not possible, ensure you have adequate control measures in place. You should:
- Enforce a one-way traffic system. This will prevent workers from reversing, reducing the number of accidental collisions.
- Avoid designing sharp bends. Sharp bends reduce visibility and increase the risk of collisions between warehouse machinery and storage facilities.
- Ensure the warehouse floor is clear, level and well maintained. This will help to reduce damage to machinery, pallets and loads and will reduce the risk of dislodging goods.
- Equip all machinery with warning lights and audible alarms.
- Ensure all pedestrians working in the area always wear high visibility clothing.
If you ensure your warehouse is designed safely, maintained correctly, and all your employees are adequately trained, you will help to reduce the number of accidents and emergencies in your
Lisa Chu is the founder of online children’s formal wear brand Black N Bianco.
“The single biggest mistake when designing a warehouse layout is…”
Failure to properly plan for future growth. Expansion and re-structuring a warehouse layout is not only time consuming, but it costs a lot of extra capital. By planning ahead you you are able to to accommodate future growth without any hiccups and make simple tweaks to use the warehouse at its full capability. Also, map out an air space to set up temporary storage, work stations, and potential overstock storage. Space and storage issues will hurt your profits with extra unnecessary labor costs. Try to plan ahead three to five years out to avoid bottlenecking your warehouse.
Inefficiency and inaccuracy of warehouse space is one of the most common errors. Designing a layout for future expansion will help lower your overhead cost and execute the most profitable path for your business.
Aaron Rubin is the CEO and founder of ShipHero, an app designed to help small businesses track inventory, manage warehouse productivity, and utilize the cheapest shipping option for every package shipped.
“I’ve observed that the biggest mistake made when designing a warehouse is…”
Not leaving enough staging area (empty space). This means that, when large shipments come in, they don’t have anywhere to go and end up spilling over into the aisles, which results in chaos.
With over 30 years of experience in economic development, Jim Cummings, Vice President of Marketing, leads the development and implementation of marketing initiatives for Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, the largest private developer of commercial real estate on Pennsylvania’s I-81 Corridor.
“With land prices rising dramatically in northeast U.S. industrial markets…”
Warehouse developers often try to maximize their return on investment by constructing the most square feet allowed by zoning. However, as the demand for on-site trailer storage and/or employee parking by warehousers continues to rise, in part because of the tremendous growth in e-commerce, these maxed-out buildings often lack the elbow room to accommodate the parking requirements of prospective tenants. Developers need to factor in these heavy parking requirements to ensure a quick lease up of their warehouse spaces.
Eric Allais, President & CEO of Washington-based PathGuide Technologies, has over 30 years of experience in marketing, product management and sector analysis in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution.
“The first thing that comes to mind is material handling equipment…”
If poorly conceived, efficiency gains in stock movement and retrieval won’t be realized. It can also rob the warehouse of valuable real estate due to its footprint. For example, a carousel that has not been slotted correctly with inventory (or replenished systematically) may cause the operator to waste time idling while waiting for the carousel to spin to the correct pick face, only to discover insufficient stock to pick that will complete the line. In many cases, depending on the type of stock needing to be picked, static shelving is simply faster and more convenient.
The use of conveyors is another area that can hold a warehouse operation hostage if its control system has been poorly synchronized with a warehouse management system. When this happens, bottlenecks occur and other inefficiencies can be created. The location and layout of a conveyor can also greatly impede the free movement of warehouse workers needing access to pallet racks and floor stacks, so these need to be carefully considered.
Patrick Randolph is the Fulfillment Director for Logistics Plus Inc., a leading worldwide provider of transportation, logistics, warehousing, fulfillment, and supply chain solutions.
“Building an efficient and effective warehouse layout starts with understanding your inventory…”
In particular, the throughput required to meet client demands is often overlooked. If inventory arrives that has already been sold, then there is not a need to put it onto racks or shelves. On the other hand, if your inventory turns slowly, then it is essential to rack and/or shelve inventory in order to use the space in the most efficient manner. I’ve been in facilities that invest heavily in racking and shelving, but only use the bottom eight feet. I’ve also been in facilities that do not use racking, but have inventory turns that are low and ceilings that are thirty feet or higher.
Adam Watson is the director of Hollywood Mirrors.
“The biggest warehouse layout mistake is…”
Making your pickers’ journey longer and more difficult than it should be.
Place items that sell well together regularly next to each other so they are quick to pick. Also place your bestsellers near the packing bay as this also saves time.
Tim Stevens is the Operations & Logistics Manager for Find Me a Gift.
“One of the most common mistakes when designing a warehouse layout is…”
The route to pick. Too little time is spent on this area of warehouse design and affects the whole warehouse operation, impacting on pick rates, supply chain cycle times, and leading to increased labor costs.
Ensuring a pick route is optimized to the nearest to packing / dispatch will deliver a more efficient operation, improving pick rates and ultimately reducing labor costs. It’s not always easy to create optimal picking routes, but it’s worth taking the time to ensure they are as efficient as possible.
Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel, a manufacturer of pre-engineered metal building and steel building components. Whirlwind Steel metal buildings are manufactured and designed to meet the highest quality standards.
“One of the biggest mistakes that is often made when designing a new warehouse is…”
Not planning for future growth. You can avoid outgrowing your new facility by factoring empty spaces into your warehouse design. Although your warehouse may not be at full capacity at first, it is better to have the option to expand your facility if and when your business grows.
Mark Aselstine is the founder and proprietor of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine club based just outside San Francisco.
“One piece of advice: give yourself some extra space…”
We had designed part of our warehouse to have the same distance as a regular door. This seemed fine, as the widest thing we bring is a 2-bottle box of wine, 2 wide, on a pallet.
Then, we started needing to bring in 3-bottle boxes, 2 wide on a pallet. They didn’t fit on the pallet. The result? We had to break each and every pallet down and hand carry in each and every 25-pack of boxes.
It’s a general mess right now to be honest. I wish we had given ourselves an extra 6 inches when we planned.
Issa Asad is president and CEO of Q Link Wireless, the third largest provider in the country of voice and data service through the Lifeline Assistance Program. The company has nearly two million customers and operates in 28 states.
“Warehouse staff needs to be able to…”
Monitor progress of the fulfillment department, and designing a warehouse without large-screen monitors is a big mistake. These screens are essential to monitor performance, including daily, weekly, and monthly goals, as well as to reward leading employees. By positioning these screens in the fulfillment department, we keep the entire department working effectively, increase quality control, and motivate everyone to produce more.
Toby Baran is the General Manager of Action Wholesale Products.
“The biggest mistake we see over and over is…”
Wrong measurements. When you start with bad measurements, even if they are off by just a foot or two, it can throw off your entire installation. Also, drawings often lack other things like roll-up doors, entry doors, ladders to the roof, fire hoses, and fire risers. Without these items noted on the drawings any layout will be incorrect. The last thing you want to worry about when moving your company, which is already a monumental task, is your shelving and rack not fitting or dead space that could have been used.
Joe Oliaro is the Managing Director for Newmark Grubb Zimmer.
“I don’t think there is one single mistake that everyone is making, but the biggest mistake that stands out to me occurs when…”
The property is designed only for the user and future use/marketability is not adequately taken into consideration. For example, if you design the building 25′ clear today since the user is storing floor stack pallets at 15′, you are putting the owner at a disadvantage 10 years down the road when the property is trying to lease space against other buildings with 32-36′ clear height.
Tom Wilkerson is the CEO of CertifyMe.net. They are the national leader in online forklift certification and invented online certification for forklift operations. Tom and his employees have helped thousands of companies discover the easy way to self-certify their forklift operators in-house.
“The biggest mistake when designing a warehouse layout is…”
Overlooking safety precautions. Warehouses are busy spaces with a lot of people and large pieces of equipment all around. To avoid accidents, injuries, or damages to a warehouse, it’s important to install column protectors on structural columns that can get in the way of traffic flow. It also helps to use high visibility paint and mirrors so that workers can see columns, beams, exits, and so on, even when these items are not in their direct line of vision.
Alan Griffin is a Warehouse Design Consultant at Paul Trudgian Ltd, a supply chain and logistics consultancy based in the UK. Alan has 25 years of experience in the design and delivery of warehousing solutions and has worked with a diverse range of clients including Bombardier and the UK Ministry of Defence.
“We all too often see…”
Highly specified and expensive storage and racking systems that, within a very short space of time, no longer fit with the operational requirements of the business. A typical example of this could be the deployment of high-storage density systems that have been commissioned to accommodate bulk pallet storage. While these types of systems are excellent for maximizing pallet storage, they can be very slow for retrieval if the number of products stored and required pick velocity increases. This is now a common issue as many supply chains, with a focus on reducing inventory, move to higher frequency, lower volume demand profiles.
Companies can avoid this issue, and others like it, by making sensible predictions on not just their future volumes, but also how many new products they plan to introduce and how they expect the market demand profile to change. It’s critical to make any warehouse layout future-proof.
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