Warehouse operations have changed significantly in the last two years, and that’s not only because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Disruptions in supply chains, the Brexit effect and the advances in digital technologies have all impacted warehouse design and layout. Warehouses that are well-designed and have an efficient flow minimise risk and keep employees safe.
Warehouse Design & Layout Considerations
Whether designing a new warehouse facility or redesigning an existing one, the basics are similar. There are four main areas to consider:
The design and layout should promote the smooth and effective movement of people and goods. The result is increased throughput and better productivity. Work areas must make the best use of available space and be fit-for-purpose.
Space must be allocated for unloading, receiving, storage, picking, packing and dispatch.
More square feet per person may be required now to allow for social distancing and to avoid congestion. The optimum use of space can improve your process efficiency and reduce your costs.
The planned layout should arrange the processes in a logical sequence that can help streamline operations to boost productivity. Unnecessary travelling by walking from
one point to another wastes time. A well-planned layout reduces distances between activities and the stress on workers.
Digital technology tools are becoming commonplace in warehouses to speed up communication, automate processes and reduce paperwork. The growth in the number and type of solutions available is rapid and the selection of the right one(s) for your business is critical. The wrong choice means time and money wasted.
Post-COVID-19, there are some specific aspects to consider. The UK Government has provided updated guidance that businesses should follow when operating factories and warehouse facilities. They highlight key areas in warehouse design and layout that should be managed, two of these are ventilation and hygiene.
Ventilation impacts employee safety and health: good ventilation brings fresh or cleaned air into indoor spaces. Identify areas of your workplace that are usually occupied but poorly ventilated. The guidance says “if you use mechanical ventilation, ensure that your systems are set to maximise fresh air and minimise air recirculation. You should take action to improve ventilation where CO2 readings are consistently higher than 1500ppm.
The guidelines include notes on how to handle incoming merchandise, PPE and onsite vehicles as well as how to ensure a high level of sanitation of employee facilities. Specifically, they suggest putting in place cleaning procedures for shared equipment such as forklifts and pallet trucks. COVID-19 protocols still require adherence to social distancing and regular sanitizing of equipment.
Steps to determine the best design and layout:
Document your current situation. This includes providing answers to these questions:
- What is the current storage space required for each of your inventory items?
- How can your current warehouse operations be made more efficient?
- Are you achieving the desired speed of throughput?
- What are your seasonal peaks?
Forecast your future capacity and resource needs for the next 3 – 5 years. This includes current and new facilities, both internal and external.
- How much capital investment is needed?
- What type of storage equipment and media will be needed?
- What new processes and activities will take place in the warehouse?
- What type of automated systems and technology will be required?
- What will the effect be on employee resources?
A clear strategy will define what is required for the future functioning of your warehouse facilities. This will determine your broad design and layout and how to make the best use of the available space. Businesses are dynamic, flexibility and extra space will be required as the business evolves.
The most space should be allocated for operations, storage and throughput activities. The least space should be given up for administrative functions such as offices, rest areas, pallets storage, vehicle parking, battery charging, etc. Clearly defined work areas maximise efficiency, minimize risk and safety issues. For each step in the process there are layout considerations:
The unloading docks can create congestion if they are not well-designed and spacious enough. The number and frequency of incoming goods should be understood so that decisions can be made on how many docking areas and space is needed. The size of the area required depends on the speed and method of processing before storage. Extra space must be allocated for inspection and for storing damaged goods. Bottlenecks in receiving goods waste time, cause safety issues and introduces processing errors.
When designing storage areas, it is recommended that you make maximum use of the vertical space to increase capacity. Consider the type of products carried, which are the most active, and how they will move through the warehouse. Efficient storage aims to reduce the amount of time taken to pick items for dispatch.
The dispatch area should be separated from other spaces in the warehouse to avoid congestion. The loading area should be separate from unloading – a shared loading and unloading dock creates challenges with coordinating arriving and departing vehicles.
The chosen flow affects the design and layout of the warehouse in the planning process. A one-way flow is regarded as the most efficient and safe movement path in a warehouse. It helps to ensure safety and eliminate congestion. Pathways should be clearly labelled with signs or floor markings to show the direction of movement. Outside the premises, consider the flow of vehicles in and out of the yard, queueing and parking facilities for trucks, trailers and visitors.