How a Warehouse Design Consultant Can Help You Get the Most out of a Small DC Footprint
If you manage a warehouse or distribution center (DC) and have noticed the space getting tighter and tighter as your business matures and you add more inventory and staff to your facility, you’re probably starting to wonder what your next steps should be. What should you do when your warehouse or DC starts to run out of space?
You’ve got a number of options to choose from. You could simply let your business run its course without making any changes, but this would effectively end your growth phase, and in most cases this isn’t an option.
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You could also relocate to a new facility or build a new facility from the ground up. While there are great benefits to both of these options (especially designing and building a new facility that directly matches your needs), this option isn’t available to every business. The costs can be prohibitive for smaller operations, or other factors can come into play that make a design build unlikely to come to pass.
So what are you to do if you want to continue growing, but are not yet at a size that validates the need to build a brand new facility? Frankly, it means that you’ve got to optimize the space that you have in order to squeeze the most use out of it.
A systems integrator or warehouse design consultant can leverage their skills, knowledge, and expertise to implement the perfect systems to help you get the most out of your small footprint. Below are some of the tools and technologies that they have at their disposal that will help make your facility more efficient without increasing your space.
Modelling software makes facility design more efficient.
This is an obvious statement, but something that bears being said nonetheless: Inventory takes up a lot of space in any warehouse or DC. In most cases, inventory takes up more physical space than any other part of your business.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to change that fact: Storing inventory on site will always eat into your footprint. The good news, though, is that there are ways to make inventory storage more efficient so that it takes up less space. By freeing up space that would otherwise be used to store inventory, you can hire more workers or implement other systems that will help your operation become more productive.
Modeling software can calculate the cubic velocity of each SKU in your operation. That information will allow you to allocate the correct amount of space for SKUs in both the forward pick and reserve storage areas. The goal in the forward picking area is to only have 2–10 days of demand of any one SKU. In reserve storage, you can store your fast moving SKUs in higher quantities, in locations that can be reached quickly. Slow moving reserve can be put in higher density storage and use your overall space more efficiently.
Modeling software can also help you slot SKUs in specific zones. Modeling SKU movement based on historical or forecasted demand will help identify constraints or inefficiencies that you can solve with system design changes. In some cases, simply relocating product can help eliminate a bottleneck caused by overloading one zone with work, allowing your space to be more efficient and productive without physically expanding your facility’s footprint.
Software and Order Release:
Efficient system design can also be impacted positively by the use of software. Today’s Warehouse Execution Software (WES) can help more efficiently task workers in the warehouse by placing careful consideration to releasing groups of work in so that resources (labor) are more fully utilized.
For example, in the past, extraneous amounts of conveyor would need to be placed into layouts to provide a buffer for orders that were released haphazardly into the system. Today, order release can take into consideration line item detail and the location of “hits” in pick zones if certain groups of orders are released together. This order pool can be added to and subtracted from to achieve optimum efficiency and flow as the work day evolves.
Systems integrators have a number of software tools at their disposal that makes the process much easier. Modelling software allow a systems integrator to have a clear sense of your physical space requirements before beginning any kind of work, and simulation softwares (paired with other modeling tools) ensure that inventory is slotted in the most efficient way possible, not only potentially cutting down on the space being used by inventory, but also increasing your operation’s ability to quickly pick, pack, and ship orders.
This is the simplest, but perhaps the most powerful way that a systems integrator or warehouse design consultant can help you achieve your goals of increasing available space in your warehouse. Identifying wasted space and optimizing your slotting process might be all that you need to put off a costly rebuild or move to a larger facility.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) reduce need for space.
Implementing an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) in your facility is another way that you might be able to increase usable space by better optimizing your inventory storage.
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, ASRS is an automated storage and retrieval system consisting of computer-controlled systems that automatically pick and retrieve loads from defined and optimized storage locations. Because the picking and storage is done automatically by machine, and not by human personnel, certain limitations are removed.
High density storage systems such as Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (miniload AS/RS, Shuttles, and other similar technologies) can have a huge impact on the footprint required to store the skus and amount of inventory on hand day to day in an operation. Before letting this one consideration drive the decision to automate though careful consideration has to be given to the rate at which product is replenished into, taken out of, and return into an automated storage buffer.
Though ASRS is not a good fit for all operations, it has many useful applications:
- Unit load (pallet) ASRS reaches much higher (45-125 ft tall) than manual systems with narrower aisles, allowing them to cut square footage requirements by up to 30-50%.
- Miniload ASRS can store product much higher (40-60 ft) and more efficiently than conventional storage. It does not require the additional height required at each storage level for a person to see the product and reach in with their hand to remove it, or a wide aisle for a person and and cart or lift truck to maneuver .
- ASRS systems can perform buffering and sequencing of work in the warehouse. Where before, miles of conveyor may have been required, today this can be replaced with a buffer and properly designed software to more intelligently control the workflow in the warehouse.
A systems integrator or warehouse design consultant will be able to help you determine whether or not implementing ASRS makes sense in your operation.
Modeling and design tools help prevent costly mistakes that, if evaluated in advance, can help customers use their order history to optimize their systems design. By using actual order data and customer requirements during the design process, the system’s effectiveness can be proven before implementation, saving you from costly headaches and unexpected hurdles.
Pairing those takeaways with today’s newest space-saving and efficiency-boosting technologies, like ASRS and other high-density storage systems, can enable you to squeeze more out of your existing footprint, putting off or canceling the need for an expensive full redesign or disruptive move.