When designing a warehouse and laying out your floor plan, there are lots of things to consider, from warehouse racking to allowing for ample space for forklifts, foot traffic, and other equipment, while also optimizing space utilization. In other words, it’s a delicate balancing act that requires you to carefully consider various needs and find the ideal solution that offers the most benefits across the board – from your warehouse associates to equipment operators, and, of course, the bottom line.
To help you make smart design and layout decisions, we reached out to a panel of warehouse professionals and asked them to answer this question:
Read on to learn what our pros had to say about the most important aspects to consider when designing and laying out a warehouse.
Mark Aselstine started an online wine club called Uncorked Ventures, almost a decade ago, well before subscription businesses were so popular. Since wine is so heavily regulated, they’ve chosen to self-fulfill from the beginning.
“When we designed our first warehouse space, we had our temperature-controlled area in the back….”
Made perfect sense at the time.
As we got busier though, our wine was delivered in greater and greater quantities, meaning that instead of a few cases, we were getting quarter pallets, which are significantly larger. Our issue became that to get to the temperature-controlled section, the wine had to be carried in in 1-2 case increments. Then the same when it came out to be packed.
Tom Wilkerson is the CEO of ForkliftCertification.com, a national leader in online, OSHA-compliant forklift certification. Tom and his employees have helped thousands of companies discover the easy way to self-certify their forklift operators in-house.
“One of the most important aspects to consider when designing and laying out a warehouse is…”
Aisle width, because it impacts how people and machines will maneuver throughout the space. The best way to make the aisle width decision is based on the type of forklifts and lift trucks that you have on hand. It’s not practical to change the width of your warehouse aisles if your equipment won’t fit. If you are purchasing new equipment or have a variety of equipment options, you have more versatility to how you arrange your warehouse and the width of the aisles you select.
Doug Orlove is the Vice President of Operations at Amify. As VPO, he oversees operations and logistics and manages our in-office warehouse. He has almost 20 years of experience focusing on Warehouse Management and Operations at Pepsico and Dole, and now at Amify.
“One of the most important initial decisions is location…”
Network analysis can be used to determine the optimal geographic location based on balancing inventory investment with inbound and outbound transportation costs. The size and layout of a warehouse should be tailored to the anticipated receiving, storage, and shipping volumes, inventory turns, work processes, and item characteristics. For example, some items may require special storage conditions such as temperature control. Items should be arranged in the warehouse to facilitate the work processes. Dividing fast, medium, and low-velocity items into separate zones can help increase order fulfillment efficiency.
Robert K. Mericle serves as the President and CEO of Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, Inc., specializing in commercial and industrial brokerage properties. He has over 30 years of experience in commercial real estate services and is a licensed general contractor with an extensive background in commercial real estate development, construction, brokerage, and finance. Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services is one of the largest commercial/ industrial developers in Pennsylvania and operates one of the largest and most competitive commercial brokerage firms in the region.
“In addition to selecting a site that…”
Offers quick access to the interstate system in close proximity to population centers, developers of warehouse space in 2018 need to provide ceiling clear heights of at least 35 feet, reinforced concrete floors of at least 7”, 50’ x 50’ column spacing with 60’ at the loading bays, energy-efficient LED lighting, ESFR fire protection, provisions for up to 4,000 amps of power, and abundant on-site parking for trailers and employee vehicles.
Mickey Luongo is the VP of Total Home Supply. Mickey has been involved in the HVAC industry for 14 years and has helped many companies design heating and cooling solutions for a variety of applications.
“One of the most important things to consider when laying out a warehouse is…”
The heating and cooling of the space. Employee comfort is important for productivity and depending on what is being stored, it can also be important for the product. Every warehouse should be heated. There are a variety of ways to do this such as gas unit heaters, electric heaters, and radiant heaters. These heaters should be placed in such a way that they focus on the occupied sections of the warehouse to keep people warm. In loading areas, air curtains can be used to keep the cold air out and allow the heaters to work more efficiently. In the summer, most people choose not to cool a warehouse, but fans can be used to help keep air flowing. HVLS (high velocity, low speed) fans are commonly used to move large amounts of air with a single fan. These fans create a perceived cooling effect, allowing people to stay cool while keep costs down. Air curtains can also be used in the summer to help keep the heat out. The perfect HVAC setup can lead to an overall more efficient warehouse with more productivity and happier employees.
Kriti Agarwal is a Content Writer at Orderhive.
“The warehouse is one of the biggest assets for any business…”
It is usually neglected in terms of investment and its importance in the supply chain. The warehouse stands in the center of the entire supply chain process, receiving and distributing products to keep the business going. Therefore, designing the layout of the warehouse is crucial for the smooth sailing of supply chain operations.
Some of the factors to consider when designing a warehouse:
Flow is the easy rotation and circulation of goods within the warehouse space. It entails all the movements the products go through, including dispatch, receiving, and order preparation. It is also connected with the knowledge of where the material is located and handling equipment and medium.
It allows warehouse operators quick and easy access to each pallet within the warehouse. The space in the warehouse must be organized in such a way so as to offer convenience in obtaining and identifying items.
The dimensions and allotment of space for items play a vital role in deciding the layout of the warehouse. This impacts the designing of the shelves, calculating the capacity of the installations, and distribution of goods within the warehouse.
To calculate the throughput rate, you need to track the movement of goods through the warehouse for a specific period of time. Divide the number of items moved through the warehouse by the number of labor hours consumed. This is the throughput time per item. By nature, this is the handling characteristics, dimensions, and any other factors that will impact how products move through the flow such as hazard, bulk, fragility, security requirements, and compatibility with other products.
The amount of working personnel in the warehouse is a deciding factor in designing the warehouse layout. The number of people, their level of training, and the shifts they work can help to define the design of the warehouse. If you have automated systems or warehouse management software, you need to make sure the staff knows how to operate it. Safety and health standards and working conditions for the staff can help to decide the layout of the warehouse.
6. Location and budget
The site where the warehouse needs to be set up is an important consideration. Whether it’s located near the shipping docks, the supplier’s location, or the stores. The connectivity and ease of distribution for the goods will help in chalking out the layout.
The most important factor in deciding the layout of the warehouse is the budget. The entire functioning of the warehouse and its operations will depend on how much money a business is able to shell out to maintain the warehouse functions. The budget will include the rent, maintenance cost, inventory cost, storage facilities for products, and much more.
Designing a warehouse is a complex task. It is necessary to have accurate information about the location, budget, amount of inventory to be stored, and the number of people required. Since the warehouse is a hefty investment for any business, the layout must be made with utmost clarity.
Jeff Neal is a Project Manager/Estimator for PennCoat, Inc., a commercial painting and epoxy flooring contractor. They’re frequently in warehouses, providing painting and epoxy flooring services.
“One critical feature of a warehouse is…”
Pedestrian walkways, which are excellent ways to direct foot traffic, making it easier for fork lift operators to predict where people might be walking throughout the warehouse. These features can reduce injuries and increase the safety in every warehouse.
John Anton is the Founder of Anton Sport, DesignAShirt.com, and Anton Uniforms. He is a serial entrepreneur, specializing in custom apparel, promotional products, and retail school uniforms.
“First is choosing the correct architect and civil engineer and…”
Making sure that they don’t spec out things that are going to put you way over budget. You’re building a warehouse, not a mansion. It is simple things like allowing the fire extinguishers to be hung on the wall as opposed to being encased in a box with a glass door. The difference per location can be $350.
Layout and flow are the next thing to consider. With the warehouse we are just finishing up, we made a scale chart that where one square equals one foot. We then measured the equipment, shelving, tables, forklifts, etc. and did cut outs for each size so that they accurately represented the space that they would take up. By putting these on a sheet of cardboard, we were able to play with the layout of the building to see how different items in different spaces would affect work flow, traffic flow, lighting, and even air flow from the cooling system.
Access to the warehouse was something that we spent a significant amount of time on. How will trucks deliver, and once a delivery is made, how we want the products to flow through our space.
I know it may sound crazy, but one of our best learning experiences to make our warehouse better was to go visit an Amazon fulfillment center and see how they did their layout, flow, and access. Fortunately, because we are less than 30 miles from one, it wasn’t a difficult trip once we were able to secure tickets. There were 10 of us that went and afterwards we went to lunch and made notes of all that we had seen and learned, what we liked and didn’t like.
Bottom line: the biggest and best thing one can do when designing a warehouse is to spend hours on the front-end planning, thinking, and tinkering with the layout. Those hours spent on the front end will save thousands in not having change orders, work-arounds, and high levels of frustration.
Jesse Karban has years of experience working within the security industry in sales and marketing. He has been with Safe and Sound Security since 2017 and grown into the marketing manager role.
“Many warehouse owners and managers are now turning to…”
Security systems to prevent theft, accidents, and to be able to dispute liability claims. Often times there are many potential threats in warehouses due to heavy machinery moving around people, high shelving, potential dangers from above, and of course any time you are housing valuable items there is a chance for theft.
The first thing to consider when thinking about security for your warehouse is the amount of space in the building and what material the building itself is made out of. Most warehouses cannot support wireless systems that rely on radio, Wi-Fi, and cellular signals to communicate with each other. This means that the systems that will work reliably in a warehouse are hard wired systems.
The first and most obvious solution is security cameras. When thinking about the layout of the warehouse security cameras and wire placement should be considered to maximize the field of view and make sure that every area is covered in case of theft or incident. Often times warehouse owners or managers opt to use pan tilt zoom (PTZ) cameras to be able to move the field of view or zoom in on things happening in real time. There will be a wire, often a CaT 5 cable, running from the camera back to the NVR (the recording device). When considering the layout of the warehouse, it should be noted that the wire runs should be thought of as well as the area where the NVR is housed.
When laying out doors within a warehouse, people often opt to allow or restrict access to important doors with access control systems. These access control systems have a reader for a credential (like a pin code, or a card swipe) that runs back to the main access control panel. When planning the layout, the locations of readers and the location of the main panel should be considered.
Finally, when thinking about alarm systems for warehouses, placement of sensors should be taken into consideration. There are many different types of sensors including motion detection, glass break detectors, and door break sensors. Just like the other two systems, all of these sensors will need to be wired back to a main panel and the wire runs should be thought about in detail prior to installation.
Planning security system during the layout stage of moving into a new warehouse or constructing a new warehouse will save companies tens of thousands of dollars when installing a comprehensive security system.
Arthur Smith is the lead editor of LEDwatcher.com, a blog that focuses on solar and LED lighting. With years of experience working in both solar and lighting industries, Arthur knows the ins and outs of them and has now turned to blogging to help others learn more about them as well.
“When it comes to the design and layout of a warehouse…”
Lighting, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects to consider. But sadly, not many warehouse owners think about lighting since often storage solutions and warehouse management systems are the main things they are concerned with.
There are a couple of reasons why you should invest in proper warehouse lighting, the first being that good lighting will simply make your employees more productive. Because without good, bright lighting your staff will not only have a hard time seeing what they are doing, but it can also increase the risk of accidents. And who wants injured, unproductive workers if instead, you can get a healthy, hard-working staff that get things done quickly and efficiently?
The second reason for investing in good warehouse lighting is that this way you can actually save a lot of money on energy. The older your lighting is, the more watts it chews up and the more you have to pay for electricity each month. So consider installing newer, more energy-efficient lamps in your warehouse and you will see your energy bill decreasing.
Kelly Bedrich is the Co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com and President of Cypress Capital Ventures. He is an IT entrepreneur focused on acquiring, marketing, and improving e-commerce sites. His current emphasis is on taking ideas from startup to maturity with sustainable business benefits.
“One frequently overlooked aspect of warehouse layout and design is…”
Energy efficiency. Lack of insulation, poor airflow, outdated lighting, or inadequate heating/cooling can lead to higher-than-expected energy bills which can cut into your company’s margin. By simply designing a warehouse layout to promote better airflow and using ultra-efficient HVAC systems, a company can significantly reduce their long-term energy expenses and increase comfort by avoiding hot spots in the warehouse.
Tim Trampedach is the president of Torqued, the premier retailer of motorsports and auto racing parts. They believe in 100% accurate stock, fast shipping from an efficient warehouse, great customer service and a no BS return policy.
“We recently went through an extensive warehouse layout and design process, which taught us a few lessons…”
But thankfully, not through mistakes.
Laws and regulations: Make sure to check with local code, state law and fire code before you begin. A good rack installer should also be able to help with most of these. Our experience was that we wanted to maximize our 20’ ceilings, but thankfully the reputable installer we went with told us there’s as 15’ limit in California. There’s also a mandatory 5’ spacing between racks.
Fire code and sprinklers: We were considering using our 20’ ceilings to create two levels of racks. Most systems would require additional sprinklers with two levels, which significantly upped the cost.
Drawing for a landlord (and yourself!): At the time it felt like excess paperwork, but we drew a layout of where racks are being installed, documented the method in which they’re fixed together, and stated the licensed vendor we used to do it. Not only is this important for potential liability, but also once we vacate the property, it’s clear where the anchors in the concrete and walls are.
Rack height & flexibility: Our products are not at all in uniform shapes, ranging from little bags to boxes for car seats. We took an educated guess at what kinds of rack heights we might need. So far, so good, but the beauty of boltless racks is that it would be easy to change rack heights or add additional shelving. As long as that’s being tracked and updated in the Warehouse Management System, having this flexibility is key.
Think quick access vs storage and ergonomics: We ended up creating fairly low rack heights from waist to slightly above head height for easy access. Above head height is for parts which we don’t plan to access daily and below waist is for larger items.
Buy some carts and a rolling ladder: Don’t carry the stuff around. Get some rolling cars and perhaps a rolling ladder for accessing the storage up high. Protect your health and that of your team.
Don’t build it all in advance: We looked at setting up racks in the entire warehouse vs just the section we need for the next 6 months. At least for us, there was no additional cost in building out capacity as we need. This allowed us to deploy cash towards other opportunities for now and also allowed us to learn a little bit with the racks we do have right now.
Be organized: We’re extremely pedantic about labeling and have a clear row, section, rack + location system. For example, when something is in “A-3-5-1”, it means row A, the third section, fifth shelf from the bottom, first thing on the shelf.
Ed Klimek, AIA, NCARB, Partner at KSS Architects, has 30+ years of experience. Ed’s passion is the Architecture of Commerce. With clients like Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, McKesson as well as nationally-recognized developers like Prologis, Forsgate, and Innovo Property Group, Klimek is a frequent contributor to NAIOP, has lectured at MIT, and has been a consultant to the USGBC.
“A few important considerations in designing and laying out a warehouse are…”
Andrew Rawson is the Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer at Traliant. He came to Traliant with more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, and marketing. Most recently, Andrew served as the Global Head of Compliance Learning (eLearning) at Thomson Reuters, an information, technology, and services company with more than 60,000 employees.
“One of the most important aspects to consider when designing and laying out a warehouse is…”
Logistics. First, you want to consider the flow of work that needs to be done in the warehouse. For instance, you want to make sure the warehouse is laid out in such a way that each sequence in whatever process you are carrying out is conveniently located to one another. Second, you want to make sure your warehouse design and layout is accessible for the product you are moving. Finally, make sure you have enough space in your warehouse design. If you do not have enough space for your product or processes then that particular design or layout will not work for your purposes.
Robert Lomax is a director of RSL Educational, an educational publishing company.
“For smaller businesses which may not have the most advanced warehouse management technology…”
Reorganizing warehouse space can be extremely costly and time-consuming. Therefore, it’s important to form your initial layout with an eye to the longer term. An easy mistake is to prioritize access to goods which are currently in demand, relegating slower-moving stock to inaccessible areas of the building. This can create chaos as your business grows and patterns of demand change. Instead, ensure reasonably easy access to all stock, even if this means that your current best-sellers are a little less convenient to access than they might be. This will reduce the need for major reorganization in the medium- to long-term.
Dan Sabia is the founder and CEO of Built Well Solar Corp., located on Long Island, New York, in the business of capturing the power of the sun since 2001. He has been featured as a true “solar pioneer” in various solar and other publications. With a background in facilities management and home improvement, he holds a B.S. in Architecture/Occupational Education from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). He is also retired Major in the U.S. Army National Guard, called back to serve as a first responder after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
“Aside from laying out inventory in keeping basic common-sense logistics, access, and safety…”
Energy efficiency measures matter most and are often overlooked.
One great choice is LED lighting. This does not give off heat so, in addition to savings in labor and materials in not needing ongoing bulb replacement, it reduces air conditioning costs.
Probably the most cost-savings measure long term is to map out the roof to fit solar panels. This really should be included in any current design, because flat rooftops are just begging for them. The 30% federal tax credit for commercial solar drops to 10% in 2021, so timing right now is everything. Additionally, depreciation often applies.
Depending on the size of the roof area, solar photovoltaic systems can offset a tremendous percentage of a warehouse’s electricity costs using dollars that are tossed out the window to the local utility. The quickest payback ever possible today means free electricity in no time.
Arlinda Copani is the CEO of Copani Advisory Group.
“Your business competitiveness will be affected by its locations…”
It will also have an impact on costs such as transportation and labor. The location of the warehouse is also costly and time consuming to change. That makes the election of location of the warehouse a key decision.
One of the features is the efficiency with which the products will be transported to customers.
Also, handling of the product is the costly part in the warehouse. Do not try to use one warehouse process for all order types whatever size and service requirements they might have. Segmentation and integration of processes are key.
As the President of RTG Solutions Group, Khris K. Bhattan’s passion and success lies in leading teams that solve problems, eliminate waste, reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Khris is the impetus to change as he identifies, develops, trains and implements systems that ensure organizations’ success in a competitive marketplace.
“The most important aspects when developing a layout for a warehouse include…”
The flow of material, inventory, or product into and out of the warehouse. A flow analysis should be developed to understand the most efficient method of moving material, inventory, or product through the various processes and staging areas. In addition, a capacity analysis should be done to ensure proper capacity requirements for inventory, equipment, and industrial requirements for the people who are working in the warehouse environment. Lastly, but certainly not least, is safety. In my experience, safety requirements sometimes fall to the bottom of the design requirements package listing. However, this should be built into the design, rather than added to the design after the warehouse is complete.
Jessica Thompson is the CEO of YOGO.
“There are several important considerations in designing and laying out a warehouse…”
Justin Riordan is the Founder of Portland-based Spade and Archer Design Agency with offices in Portland, Seattle, and Palm Springs.
“When planning our space, our first concern was…”
That the largest, bulkiest items were closest to the door, and from there we worked our way back to the smallest items being furthest from the door.
Our second concern was for appropriate shelving systems being created from scratch in order to hold items in an efficient way. We custom built shelving 12’ apart and 8’ deep to hold our area rugs. Large arms extend out from the wall to hold bed frames. Triangle posts extend from wall to floor at an angel to prop up dining room table tops. Each time we custom build a shelving system, we find our efficiency has grown exponentially.
The last item we take great concern for is organizing our items by colors and neutrals. Neutrals are ordered from darkest to lightest (black, brown, grey, silver, tan, cream, white) and our colors are organized in rainbow order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple). We do this because the items are selected by a team of designers whose work is highly concerned with each color going into each room. This helps them to organize their thoughts and design cohesive and thoughtful spaces.
Emna Everard is the CEO and founder of Kazidomi.
“There are a few important aspects to consider in designing and laying out a warehouse…”
1. Best sellers at hand reach size: You’ll sell them more so make sure there are easy to get.
2. Fragile and heavy stuff at the bottom to avoid breaking them.
3. Always make sure there is nothing that is actually on the floor (to make cleaning very fast and avoid damage in case you have flooding issues).
4. Think about the returns and keep a space for it, because you’ll not be able to manage them in real time and it takes up a massive amount of space quickly.
5. You should optimize both the way you put the products in the boxes (the best path for your pick and pack) and the best path to put the products on the shelves. That depends on whether you have many SKUs, but if you do and you are not following a chaos-type of allocation of your goods, you’ll most likely take quite a bit of time for each supplier unless you order products by supplier.
6. If you ship products once per day, make sure you have enough space to have all your orders ready to ship together and that the accumulation is not going to be an issue.
7. Leave some empty spaces in your shelves to make easy changes in case it’s necessary.
8. Space between shelves: There is a trade-off because you can lose a massive amount of space there, but at the same time it needs to be easy to navigate. Most likely you’ll be using a cart or something similar, so make sure it easily fits in there.
9. Temperature and light, which depends on type of products (e.g., wine, medicals, food, colored goods, etc.), but some rooms may be exposed to it less or more and you should definitely think about that when you start allocating the different positions.
10. Automation: Make sure it’s easy to continuously improve your automation levels and think early on if you want to apply a more men to goods vs. goods to men model (see robots picking or AGVs from Amazon and Alibaba).
Darren Cottingham is director of DT Driver Training, Australasia’s largest provider of online training for forklift operators and drivers of work vehicles.
“Safety-conscious design will minimize the risk of injury or death where pedestrians and vehicles intersect in work areas…”
Separating pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic where possible is essential to minimize the risk of injuries. Pedestrians include workers working in the warehouse, site visitors, clients, contractors, and suppliers. Vehicles include lift trucks (forklifts, order pickers, etc.), elevated work platforms, delivery trucks, cleaning equipment, and more.
Forklift accidents can happen due to inattention by the driver, when the pedestrian is obscured by the load, if a pedestrian is walking where they shouldn’t be, or if they are standing too close to an operating forklift. Solutions for separating pedestrians from forklifts include:
Solutions for improving the interaction between vehicles and pedestrians include:
Anticipate which areas might be busy pedestrian areas, for example:
Safety around forklifts is critical. Provide health and safety training for people who work in the warehouse and develop solid health and safety policies for visitors.
Each forklift should have a designated parking space which is away from emergency exits and doesn’t block ramps or passageways. A separate space for storing forklift keys should be provided and all drivers and operators should know the correct method of storing the forklift.
Curt Doherty is the CEO at CNC Machines Network.
“It’s essential to have…”
ERP and other systems in place that help employees be efficient and minimize workflow interruptions and mistakes. However, one of the biggest issues we see is in training employees and operators.
Operating a warehouse isn’t very complicated when systems are in place with continuous training to help inventory and processes be completed on time with very little delay.
The key is making sure you have the right people and train them to be efficient and use technology systems to ensure smooth operation. Automation mixed with highly competent, trained employees is the competitive edge in the 21st century.
George Keliher has been involved in the making and stocking of parts for over 30 years, both as an entrepreneur and as a small business consultant specializing in inventory management. George is having so much fun with LOCATE Inventory that his retirement plans have been put on hold. In addition to growing and expanding LOCATE, George keeps himself busy with a regimen that includes inline skating and standup paddleboarding.
“One of the most important aspects to consider is…”
Figuring out what your top moving parts are. You want to make sure those parts are in an easy-to-get-to location, since they will be picked upon the most. This will help speed up the picking process. Something else to consider is looking at the size of items you plan to store. Are they large and heavy? You’ll want to make sure to store big, bulky items in easy-to-get-to areas that are close to the ground, while keeping the smaller, lighter items at the top. This will go a long way toward helping to prevent injuries during the picking process.