For those of us in logistics, specifically warehousing and distribution, maximizing the capacity of our warehouses is a constant we are working toward improving. From my experience, when we see capacity constraints, our next step is to look at the warehouse design to make it more functional.
When we start to analyze our warehouse design, we usually start by answering the following questions:
- Is the current design/layout optimal for efficiency in material handling?
- How much of the space is efficiently used?
- Does the current operation allow for economical storage for product, cost of equipment, handling, and operational safety?
As business needs and consumer demand changes, we're always looking for ways to maximize our warehouse capacity without adding space. When you can't add space, but your capacity levels start to reach 80-85%, we start to see a decrease in efficiency and increase in safety concerns as workers try to find new places to store product and maneuver around the extra product blocking aisles, staging areas, and dock doors.
When you can't add space horizontally, there's only one way to go; up. Installing racking throughout your warehouse utilizes the vertical space you're already paying for. There are many different types of racking available today, but in this post I'll go over 4 common types of racking and in what instances they work best.
Flow Through Racking
Flow Through Racking, also known as Gravity Racking, allows product to flow to a picking position that is easily accessible. By loading the rack from one side, and picking from the other, this design allows you to store your product back to back, decreasing the number of aisles needed, which in turn increases capacity for storing product. FIFO (first-in/first-out), and quick-moving rotations may benefit from a flow through racking operation.
Drive-In Racking allows your fork lift to drive in (or Drive-Thru) the rack for easy access to the bay where the product is located. Because of the single entry and exit point, a drive-in racking system is ideal for product that is rotated LIFO (Last-In, First-Out) which are not date sensitive or are rotated frequently.
Push Back Racking
Push Back Racking is a method that allows product to be stored 2 to 6 pallets deep on either side of an aisle, maximizing storage capacity. The first pallet to be picked is at the end of the aisle which allows for faster load and unload than a drive-in rack option. For warehouse locations with a variety of product SKUs, this system allows you to maximize capacity because each level of the rack can store a different product.
Narrow Aisle Pallet Rack
In a Narrow Aisle Pallet Rack configuration, aisles are reduced from a standard width of 12 feet or more to 8 - 10 feet. Although this configuration may save money in space, it's important to review the equipment in the warehouse to ensure it is capable of picking the product in a Narrow Aisle Pallet Rack situation. Most of the time, this setup requires a stand-up reach truck or a 3-wheel forklift.
These four racking options are just a starting point for analyzing your current warehouse capacity situation to determine if you can increase capacity without adding space. Before you commit to a racking design, you'll need to accurately identify the space needed to hold your product, allowing for seasonal fluctuations, to maximize the capacity of the racks by adding additional levels.
Flexibility within your warehouse space is key to accommodating fluctuations in demand for product storage and any specific handling requirements along with allowing you to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to your warehouse requirements. Pay close attention to the location of racks. Can they safely be installed over dock doors? What about installing tunnel racks over cross aisles or portable racks on rollers? These features help optimize the vertical space in your warehouse that you're already paying for.
Dedicate time to working through a design layout that takes advantage of your clear span height while paying special attention to sprinklers and fire code. Making the necessary adjustments to your warehouse design can increase your overall efficiency and functionality by making the most of the space you have.