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What’s the Ideal Warehouse Layout for Optimal Workflow?

Workers navigating a warehouse layout with a cart

An effective warehouse layout is one that is optimized for the workflows needed to fulfill orders. In the search for greater warehouse efficiency, many companies are reviewing their layouts to identify potential improvements that can be made. Changes in a warehouse layout can often lead to greater productivity, increased storage space, and improved picking accuracy.

An inventory management system can be managed by understanding the warehouse space, inventory needs, and how the layout can be divided into functional areas. In this post, we’ll review some important organizational tips for how to choose a warehouse layout and optimize it based on the needs of the specific site. As with all improvement projects, it is always a good idea to solicit ideas from warehouse staff and work together to design an ideal warehouse layout.

Warehouse Layout Elements

Overhead view of warehouse racks and worker pulling a cart

A warehouse design is comprised of many unique elements that are present on the facility floor. Some of these are components of the building, such as doors and support columns, that are generally stationary and cannot be moved. Other items such as doors, office areas, and equipment can sometimes be relocated to facilitate a better product flow. In order to optimize a warehouse layout, it’s also important to clarify locations for the following essential areas:

As orders are fulfilled, your warehouse staff will need to access these areas and move between them in order to perform their work duties. The ideal layout will help create a smooth transition between these activities.

Warehouse Workflow Elements

An optimal warehouse layout should address the needs of the following workflows. By mapping out the movements and activities associated with each one it will be possible to choose a particular layout that works best:

  • Putaway Flow (from inbound receiving to storage)
  • Picking Flow (from storage to packing)
  • Outbound Flow (from packing to staging)
  • Shipping Flow (from staging to outbound shipping)
  • Rework Flow (from rework to multiple warehouse locations)

The movement of items through each of these workflows will require movement via automated equipment such as conveyor belts, personnel, or forklifts. With the key steps, movements, and warehouse resources identified, they can then be compared to a variety of potential layouts.

Choosing an Ideal Warehouse Layout

Warehouse worker scanning an item

A large portion of the usable warehouse space will be taken up by the storage system and travel paths for workers and forklifts. A storage system should be chosen based on the specific types of goods that the warehouse will support. There are 6 common storage systems found in today’s warehouses:

  1. Multi-tier racking
  2. Static shelving
  3. Wire Partition
  4. Mobile shelving
  5. Pallet racking
  6. Mezzanine Flooring

The placement of the storage system should complement the workflows defined above and make sure that products can flow smoothly through each step from receiving through shipping. If a warehouse is being designed from scratch, it’s important to address any structural changes first and then proceed with constructing the rest of the elements.

Optimizing the Warehouse Layout

It’s also important to keep in mind that a warehouse layout should never be considered truly static, and the design may be adjusted to accommodate new requirements or identified improvements. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when designing a warehouse layout is failing to correct issues that impede the flow of items through the facility. The ideal layout will be unique to each location and should factor in some important customizations. A few common areas of improvement are:

  • Optimize for Product Velocity. Some warehouse managers choose to categorize warehouse inventory according to product type. But one of the best ways to improve picking efficiency is to organize according to the product velocity. By placing frequently requested products closer to shipping lanes it can reduce the travel distance needed to access them.
  • Minimize Aisle Width. An industry guideline of 11 feet is used to define the aisle width in many warehouses, but it may be possible to increase the usable space by shortening the distance in some cases. Reviewing specifications and examining your specific needs for forklifts and other warehouse equipment can help you choose an aisle width that works best for your facility.
  • Reduce Open and Unused Space. Dust that collects in a warehouse is a sign that something has clearly been sitting for too long. Remove or relocate unused products and minimize the open space between storage locations. Don’t forget to look behind, above, and below items for potentially useful space.
  • Implement Warehouse Label and Signage Solutions. Warehouses with clearly labeled racks, locations, and containers make it easy for workers to locate the correct storage areas and functional areas in the facility, which supports overall efficiency. From warehouse floor labels to hanging labels, rack labels, cold storage labels, pallet and container labels, and even custom warehouse signs and outdoor signs and labels, there are a variety of label and signage options to suit every warehouse application. With clearly labeled aisles, racks, doors, docks, and functional areas, your warehouse becomes easier to navigate for more efficient workflows and less traffic congestion that can hinder productivity.

There may not be a single warehouse layout that works for all facilities, but there most certainly is an optimal layout that is best for your location. Choosing an ideal layout requires careful consideration of the warehouse elements, workflows, and storage areas. With proper planning and a commitment to continuous improvement, it is possible to design and optimize a warehouse layout that adds significant value to the operation.

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