Warehouse Design and Layout Guide
The difference between a smoothly operating warehouse and one that experiences costly delays lies in the layout. Optimizing a warehouse layout to improve traffic flow, reduce worker travel distances, and help keep employees safe can speed picking and processing times. By using best practices for warehouse operations, the design can lead to noticeable differences in the facility’s productivity.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
- How to Design a Warehouse Layout: Step-by-Step
- Design Considerations and Warehouse Layout Best Practices
- Tips for How to Plan a Warehouse Layout for Optimization
- Importance of Loading Dock Canopies and Shades
- Get a Quote for Loading Dock Canopies from VPS
How to Design a Warehouse Layout: Step-by-Step
A warehouse’s design could hold back the facility’s productivity. Even if the site once had a functioning layout, it may require periodic updating. These updates become more important when introducing upgraded equipment, or changing the types of products stored. Reevaluating the warehouse design regularly, even by just looking at it on paper, is one way to ensure that the distribution center has a layout that facilitates smooth operations.
1. Collect Correct Measurements of Everything
Gather correct measurements of the space, separate rooms, and structures within the warehouse. This information may come from blueprints of the facility or room measurements. Look at equipment specs for racking and shelving or take direct measurements of these elements.
Having good sources for measurements before starting the warehouse layout design process ensures that the data is accurate, which facilitates the entire design process.
2. Create a Layout of the Current Design
Before making any changes, look over the space and equipment currently used in the warehouse. Use design software or old-fashioned graph paper and a pencil. Both options should allow for the creation of the current design and ways to visualize new configurations. If trying layouts that use new equipment, such as higher capacity pallet racks, gather information about the new equipment to get an accurate view of how the pieces will fit into a new layout.
In the current layout, include the specific work areas of the facility. Use arrows to show the direction of the workflow, including paths and directions taken by both vehicles and pedestrians. For example, label the loading and unloading areas, storage, offices, receiving, packing and shipping, and picking areas. Show how workers move through these areas to fulfill orders. Looking over the design will help identify areas of improvement and determine ways to fix problems through a better layout.
3. Identify Layout Objectives
Determine what the new layout should do for the facility’s operations before making changes. Without a clear goal, the changes required are harder to identify. Specific goals may include reducing waste, lowering costs, cutting picking times, boosting customer service, or increasing storage.
When identifying goals, make a note of them and how to track progress toward them. Keeping records of these goals and how changes to the warehouse layout affect their outcome will show whether the new design was successful.
4. Research Local Building Requirements
The design must meet local building codes. Research the area’s requirements to ensure that the updated design will not break any guidelines. For instance, look at clearance requirements for ceiling sprinklers and exit doors. A local building engineer may need to review the proposed plan to see if it adheres to local codes. This simple check of the proposed warehouse layout against the codes could prevent costly fines after executing the design.
5. Only Use a Fourth of the Facility for Storage
Allow for enough space for receiving, shipping, packing, and picking by only using up to a fourth of the facility for storage. With careful planning and deliberate storage, even the smallest space can store a large amount of products. By providing less space for storage, workers will have ample space to conduct the other tasks of organizing products and preparing them for shipping. For instance, aisles take up 60% of the volume of a facility to permit the safe movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic as workers move through the warehouse to fulfill orders.
6. Plan for the Equipment Used
Typical aisles must measure at least 12 feet wide to accommodate standard lift trucks. Additional aisle space for a separate pedestrian walkway may improve foot traffic flow and safety, despite requiring more space.
If a new layout will have narrower aisles, use only trucks designed to work in more confined spaces. Reach trucks and order pickers allow workers to access goods stored high on shelves in narrow aisles.
When integrating reach trucks, order pickers, or higher shelving, consider potential hazards. Sprinklers, lights, and pipes in the ceiling could sustain damage from improper use of extra-tall equipment. Goods stored on top of high shelves or racks could create tipping hazards if a truck attempts to lift a too-heavy load too high. Plan for lightweight storage on high shelves where possible to prevent this issue.
7. Run Simulations of New Layouts With Workers
See how planned layout changes would impact workflow. Use floor tape or paper to outline new locations of aisles and equipment. Have workers go through a simulation of their daily tasks to see whether the changed layout hinders or helps their performance. Make sure to have any vehicles or other equipment on hand when conducting the simulations to ensure the new arrangement will work. Then, change the layout as needed based on feedback from the simulations.
Conducting trial runs of the new layout before making major changes to the warehouse design will save time and money since the first rearrangement of equipment will be the final one. The facility will also experience fewer interruptions caused by changing the equipment to the new layout.
8. Rearrange Existing Equipment and Install New Ones for the New Layout
Make the final changes to the warehouse layout by moving equipment. During this time, evaluate the condition of the floor and install new flooring or refinish the existing one, if needed. Doing so when racks and shelving are cleared from the area can save time and money.
Adequate lighting is essential to worker productivity and safety. Review the lighting and update lights to provide adequate illumination based on the new positions of the storage equipment. Using higher storage spaces may block out lights that create visibility in certain areas.
Ensure all new equipment has correct installation and that workers understand safe operations in the new layout. Use signage to direct traffic flow if there are significant changes, such as creating one-way aisles or separating foot and vehicle traffic into lanes.
9. Evaluate Progress Toward Goals for the New Design
As a final step, verify that the new layout contributes toward progress on the initial goals set. If the new design does not begin to show the desired improvements, request feedback from workers to see how to make improvements in the layout or if another solution is necessary. Workers may require extra training in navigating the upgraded layout or additional time to familiarize themselves with the newly designed warehouse arrangement.
Design Considerations and Warehouse Layout Best Practices
Warehouse layout impacts many areas of operation that should be considered before implementing a new design. These operational factors, such as worker safety and movement logistics, may not be part of a blueprint, but the updated design will majorly impact them. When laying out a new warehouse design, consider the following to adhere to best practices.
1. Does the Layout Optimize Traffic and Workflow?
Look at the impact that the design will have on traffic flow. Workers spend a considerable amount of time picking orders, and an ineffective layout may contribute to delays in this process.
Vehicles and pedestrian traffic need space to move without negatively affecting each other. Aisle width and direction will play roles in the flow of traffic through the warehouse.
Workflow should also follow a logical pattern based on the layout. New products need space in receiving for workers to organize them before moving them to storage. Those putting these products into storage should have space to do their jobs without slowing down workers who need to pick orders from the storage area and return them to shipping. It's important to verify that the proposed layout will allow for all operations to occur.
2. Is There Room to Accommodate Future Growth?
Most facilities want to expand in the future, so allow for future growth in any proposed layout changes. Can the layout easily accommodate higher vertical storage or integrate automated equipment, such as conveyor belts or automated guided vehicles? It's helpful to create several future layouts based on the proposed changes to see how easily the future upgrades can be added to the warehouse. By making plans with future additions in mind, those changes can add to the facility faster and with fewer disruptions.
3. Can Warehouse Vehicles Use Available Space Safely?
Warehouse vehicles of all types need to access every space they use safely and efficiently. If choosing narrow aisles, only allow for narrower vehicles, such as order pickers or reach trucks. Even in aisles wide enough for lift trucks, there should be space for a worker to stand to the side or walk alongside the truck without either crossing the path of the other. Increasing space between aisles or only allowing vehicular traffic down narrower spaces could solve the potential issues caused by people and lift trucks sharing aisle space.
4. Are Workers Safe and Able to Do Their Jobs Efficiently?
Workers must be safe while on the job. Considering safety includes thinking about reducing strain on workers caused by sun or heat exposure when working on exposed docks. Covering the dock areas protects those in the area from the impacts of working under direct sun, which may include heat exhaustion and sunburn.
Even those inside the warehouse need their safety and health considered. Minimizing travel time and offering equipment to reduce lifting both reduce the strain on workers’ bodies while improving efficiency.
5. Will New Storage Fixtures or Equipment Help Attain a Better Layout?
Does the new layout require purchasing new equipment to attain the desired goals? New equipment may include upgrading outdated shelves or installing higher-capacity pallet racks. Use dimensions for any new or replacement equipment when creating a layout to avoid spacing or placement problems. It's important not to assume that a replacement rack will match the same dimensions as an existing one. Always use the measurements from the equipment that will go into the updated warehouse.
6. Does New Equipment Fit the Budget?
If new equipment is part of the updated design, how will it fit into the budget? Will the upgrades provide a return on investment in the new equipment to justify the purchase? If existing equipment cannot meet the demands of the new warehouse layout, it needs replacing to prevent problems with overloading. Longer-lasting and safer equipment should also be considered when determining if the new pieces will fit into a budget and warehouse plan.
7. Can Workers Organize Incoming and Outgoing Inventory in the Design?
Space in receiving and shipping must give workers room to move the pallets and products as needed. Receiving needs space for sorting products intended for storage, and the shipping area requires ample space for organizing orders and packing them before loading trucks. Separating these areas facilitates both operations by preventing the work areas from overlapping.
8. Does the Design Allow for Access to Goods in Storage?
Workers need to access all goods in storage, including rarely shipped products. Consider how quickly products sell by using inventory records for the facility. Infrequently picked products can have storage spots in more difficult-to-reach locations while still allowing workers to access them. In contrast, the most regularly moved goods should have storage closest to the receiving and shipping areas. Alternatively, in high-demand seasons, these products may use a direct line to the shipping area from receiving.
Tips for How to Plan a Warehouse Layout for Optimization
To optimize a new warehouse plan, separate specific work zones in order to give workers room to use lift equipment or vehicles and make their work easier while having room to move products around. Here are five ways to keep sites separated in a warehouse for optimum workflow.
1. Separate the Receiving Area for Space to Organize New Products
A separate receiving area allows for space away from the unloading dock to sort goods and prepare them for storage. With a separate space for sorting from the dock, workers can unload more goods. With faster unloading and loading, the docked vehicles can spend less time at the docking area, allowing for more trucks to enter.
2. Allow Room Around the Dock for Products
The dock needs to have adequate space for unloaded products waiting to go to receiving and outgoing goods awaiting loading onto trucks. The dock space should also have protection from the elements to help prevent damage to any goods kept on it.
3. Consider a U-Shape Design for General Purpose Warehouses
One of the most common warehouse designs has the incoming and outgoing docks side-by-side with the interior workflow moving in a U-shape. This design allows for sharing of the personnel loading and unloading trucks in order to reduce labor needs in this area. It also accommodates cross-docking needs during high-demand times when goods don’t reach the storage area and pass directly from the incoming dock to the outgoing one.
4. Use an I-Configuration for High-Volume Facilities
High-volume facilities benefit most with docks at either end of a straight line in an I-shape configuration. These types of facilities allow for better security with separate incoming and outgoing docking areas. They also allow for more storage space between the receiving and shipping areas at either end compared to U-shaped warehouses.
5. Opt for an L-Shaped Warehouse to Maximize Storage and Sorting
An L-shaped warehouse has the incoming and outgoing docks at right angles to each other. Like an I-shaped warehouse, the L-shape allows for greater security and more control over inventory. With receiving and shipping in different areas of the warehouse, workers can use their available space to organize products and keep track of them.
Importance of Loading Dock Canopies and Shades
Loading docks may not be part of the warehouse layout design, but their protection needs consideration. Loading dock canopies and shades can improve operations in similar ways that changing the warehouse layout can. These covers may reduce worker fatigue from heat and sun exposure, reduce product damage, show an investment in long-term sustainability, and reduce energy costs for the building.
Improve Worker Comfort and Prevent Overheating
Workers can easily overheat from working under the sun, especially during the heat of summer. Those unloading trailers parked under the direct sun may experience temperatures up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Covering parked trailers reduces their exposure to the sun, which may help to keep the interior of the trailers cooler during loading and unloading.
Shading the loading dock with a canopy protects the workers from hot temperatures. When protected from direct heat and the sun, workers in the docking area may experience less fatigue and fewer incidences of heat stress.
Protect Products From Hail and Sun Damage
In addition to workers being exposed to the heat, products on the dock or in the trailer can experience heat damage. Full sunlight can raise the temperatures on an uncovered dock quickly. In inclement weather, unprotected goods on loading docks could suffer rain or hail damage.
Covering the dock with canopies or shades can reduce the chances of hail or heat causing irreparable damage. Some types of covers will also protect against rain damage to goods on the loading dock. Keeping goods protected from weather damage may reduce losses and protect profits and customer satisfaction.
Boost Long-Term Sustainability and ESG Score
Long-term sustainability is essential to modern businesses, including distribution centers. The ESG score reflects how much a business invests in the future concerns of the environment, society, and government (ESG). Protecting goods from damage and keeping workers healthier shows an investment in preventing the risk of losses. By reducing risk, an ESG score can increase.
Capture Solar Energy to Lower Electricity Costs
Some types of dock canopies integrate solar panels into the hail-protection design. These double-duty covers generate power through the solar panels, and they may earn a distribution center points toward LEED certification. Solar panels integrated into the canopies also show an investment in environmental concerns, which may provide additional contributions toward a higher ESG score.
Installing solar panels with a hail protection dock cover adds energy generation to the benefits of hail and sun protection for the area. Distribution centers that include solar panel-integrated hail protection structures over loading docks and parking lots may enjoy all three perks for goods and people who pass through the protected areas.
Get a Quote for Loading Dock Canopies from VPS
Loading dock canopies can protect workers and goods from heat and hail while acting as investments in sustainable practices. Not all dock canopies are alike. Choose a capable leader in the asset protection industry to provide a warehouse with the dock canopies it needs. At VPS, we have experience and proven results from more than 30 years in business.
Partner with us to get the solutions needed to optimize warehouse layout and loading dock operation. Contact us to get started today.