In many ways, the warehouse is the heart of logistics. The place that pumps merchandise and where product arrives to keep the flow of our supply chain alive. Therefore, getting it right when designing it will be essential for our logistics to be successful.
However, it is easy to forget important aspects. Although the list is practically endless, we are going to collect some of the most basic ones so that you can start designing your logistics warehouse on the right foot.
Keys to warehouse design
matter of size
In a similar way to what happens with homes, as a warehouse has more meters, the price per square meter usually falls. However, that is not why we have to launch ourselves to build the biggest warehouse that we can afford. More meters also means more distance, which will increase the meters traveled by our merchandise and by our workers, reducing the efficiency of our picking.
Something similar will happen with height. Increasing meters upwards can be cheaper than acquiring more land, but you will have to analyze the difficulty and the additional time involved in working at height.
When we are faced with the task of designing a warehouse, we need to analyze and study our needs. Issues such as the sizes of our merchandise, what kind they are, whether they can be stored together or how many special or differentiated areas we need (food, refrigerated, chemical products…).
The number of references that we handle, for example, can also be essential when deciding on one pallet storage system or another. While a warehouse with few SKUs can take advantage of a Drive In system, one with many SKUs may take better advantage of a pallet rack.
Look To The Future
This point is closely linked to the previous one, but focused on the future. It is very possible that the needs of our warehouse today will not be the same as they will be in five years. Will we continue to move the same type of merchandise? How much will we have grown? For how many years do we want the warehouse to last, according to our growth forecast? How much will it cost me to have a larger warehouse, which I currently do not use to its maximum capacity, while I wait for that growth of my company?
In addition to the amount of space needed, when designing a warehouse we must consider a margin of flexibility that allows us to absorb seasonal peaks and that does not make our warehouse obsolete due to lack of space in a very short time.
draw a good plan
In a warehouse it is essential that there is a fluid flow of processes and goods. To do this, it is recommended that you try to order your space so that the processes that happen one after the other are as close together as possible in the storage and in the same order in which these processes are executed.
It also tries to have a rational distribution of space. Avoid creating areas with very little activity or very saturated, crossroads that create “traffic jams”, etc. Two other areas that you have to try to have as close as possible are the warehouse itself and its offices (or at least the people with the most direct relationship with the merchandise), to facilitate easy and fast communication.
doors and docks
The location of doors and docks is vital when designing a warehouse. U-shaped layouts, where the docks perform input and output tasks at the same time, are usually the most common. In these cases, the merchandise with the most turnover is usually located in the locations closest to the docks, to save meters traveled. In Drive Through designs, in which the merchandise leaves at the opposite end to the entrance, the merchandise with the most movement is usually located halfway between the entry and exit docks.
Depending on the type of merchandise, vehicles and the amount of material you have to manage, you will have to decide the location, the number of docks and the type and size of access doors. For example, it will not be the same if the vehicles enter your facilities directly, if they only do so occasionally or if they never do so. Or if you want to allocate some doors to smaller vehicles or exclusively to trailers.
All these considerations have to have a final objective: to improve the performance of your warehouse.
Inside and outside
It’s easy for us to automatically think about what our warehouse looks like on the inside and forget about the outside. If we want to facilitate operations, we will have to make sure to design a warehouse on the outside of which we have reserved enough space for the entry, exit and maneuvering of the vehicles that have to load and unload.
A warehouse must be fully measured. Both before, to carry out your design, and after, to check our work. Estimate the time it would take you to process your orders according to the design you have in mind and see if it will be fast enough for your needs. It measures the time to locate the merchandise, to remove it from its location, to move it to the point of departure, to handle it, etc.
You must do the same with loading and unloading tasks, moving materials from one point to another, the number of orders you can process, etc. The performance you get will be largely the proof of whether you have succeeded in designing your warehouse.
people and machines
The people and machines in your warehouse will force you to take them into account when building it. As was the case abroad, you have to take into account the areas for both machines and people to transit, and it is important to give them reserved spaces so that they can do so safely.
You will also have to have a place reserved for recharging forklifts and parking. In the same way that you will have to enable rest, toilet and food and drink expedition areas for employees. They are tips so elementary that it is easy to skip over them.
The objective of a warehouse is to facilitate the movement of merchandise, so accessibility will be one of your main duties. To know how to do it, once again you will need to define your needs. Simply having to access single-reference pallets is not the same as having to access specific pallets, specific references in multi-reference pallets or even containers from specific batches or batches. Here both the design of your shelves and getting the necessary management software will be relevant.
Think about the different zones
The different areas of your warehouse have to create a whole, and each of them will influence the others. For example, the size of the beach area will influence the space available for your shelves and vice versa. Will you need a space to work with cross-docking? A specific place for re-labelling, handling or pallet preparation? A special waste area? Another one for returned or defective orders? What tasks are you going to perform and what areas do you need to define to do it?
Broken pallets and those that have to be repaired also need to have a designated place. Not having it will make it easier for them to be left anywhere, impairing operations and increasing the chances of an accident.
The more flexible our warehouse can be, the better. We have already recommended taking into account how our customers and their needs may evolve. To which must be added the possibility that new clients force us to do things different from what we have done up to now.
Up to now we may have always worked with full standard-size pallets, but a new customer who works with large, non-palletized merchandise may ask us for other types of facilities. Or that the new product that we launch does not conform to the sizes that we have used up to now. When designing a warehouse, it is interesting to make it easy for us to be able to adapt to this type of situation.
Warehouses according to the type of activity
Depending on the level of activity (turnover) of our warehouse and how much merchandise we need to house, we can differentiate four types when designing a warehouse:
Low activity / low need for storage: they are, in principle, the easiest logistics warehouses to manage. It is difficult for them to require warehouse automation, beyond the basic control of product inputs and outputs, and order preparation can be manual.
Low activity / high storage needs: in these cases, the lesser importance of the location of the goods stands out, since without a high turnover, a study of the most used references for their location in preferred locations in the warehouse becomes less necessary. Automation needs remain low.
High activity / low need for storage: this type is usually solved with a front part of the warehouse for picking and a simpler storage behind, with products with less movement. Here already begins to introduce automation in order processing.
High activity / high storage needs: finally we find distribution centers with high performance and, therefore, highly automated. From picking processes -with help and guide systems for preparation- to the warehouse shelves themselves, which can be in charge themselves -or using robots- of searching for the merchandise to be prepared, taking it to the operator.
Where to locate our warehouse
Just as important as the design of our warehouse is its location. This can mean that we work with the wind in favor or against. There are several factors that you should consider when making your choice.
How stable is the country’s economy? Do you have the necessary infrastructures? Do you have a solid and diversified transportation system? Does this development in transport include having the necessary associated services nearby (training, vehicle fleet, purchase of equipment, etc.) in case you need them? What legislation does it have and how does it affect our business and the type of merchandise we work with?
We also have to ask ourselves about the location with respect to the client and our own suppliers. Do we want to stay close to our potential or actual customers? Or do it close to our suppliers of raw materials and from there distribute to our customers?
To design a warehouse, we can ask these questions at the national, regional and local level. And vary our answers depending on whether we are going to need a single central warehouse, several distribution centers or many local warehouses throughout the entire geography.