3 Unconventional Warehousing Layout Strategies That Work

Published : May 10, 2016

Warehouse storage and equipment

You've invested in great people, great shelving and a great location, so why aren't your warehousing layout / KPI (key performance indicators) strategies working? Omni-channel has disrupted the comfort and familiarity of the “one true way” style of warehouse management. Innovators like Amazon are shaking the very foundations of tried-and-true workflows to uncover hidden caches of efficiency and cost savings. Automation and connectivity is strapping the equivalent of seven-league boots to your staff, allowing them to work harder and smarter without wearing themselves down. While these advancements require some decision-making and resource allocation to function, the best possible environment is one that allows them to properly flourish: an intelligently-designed warehouse.

Here are three “outside the box” strategies that will guide your “inside the box” product picking and packing to a successful outcome.

Location, Location, Location

Kenco's Jason Menghini cautions eager warehouse renovators that every project must begin with an understanding of the movement of inventorySkus can be slippery little concepts that can even turn into obstacles if your warehouse floor is particularly busy. They shift with the seasons. They slide out of reach in high demand. They spill into valuable shelf real estate when there's a surplus. You can clearly label and sort your bins, but if even one needs to move to make room for another, the entire system can get bumped out of cohesion and leave your pickers scrambling. Instead, SkuVault's Aaron Mikel suggests applying your categorization to places in the warehouse, rather than the objects your staff is targeting.

If, for example, a picker is looking for a faux apple, they might hunt it alphabetically under "A," by sku type, or they may even comb through its purported row or aisle before discovering it out-of-place with other autumn products. That eventual discovery wasn't wrong, exactly, but it was an unexpected interpretation of item filing that wasted a lot of time and effort. Now, imagine if the picker knew that item was in Quadrant A 1. He or she wouldn't have to go on a wild goose chase through the warehouse to find the faux apple they need, they simply walk to A1, take a quick scan of the shelf, and grab the apple they need. Knowing the location also allows a picker to plan their pick route more organically and logically. They can start by striking out to the farthest location from their position and hitting other, smaller picking locations on their way back to the packing station. This way, not a step is wasted, and orders are gathered and processed that much more quickly. 

Confer with your employees, or watch them closely on a busy day to see the inefficiencies in their footwork. What paths do they take to pick two skus at opposite ends of the warehouse? Is there a certain route that takes up more time than most? What are your most popularly paired skus? These are all questions that should be kept in mind as you design new location grids and help your staff pick and pack with better efficiency.

Fully Embrace Technology

Need to know what's going on in your warehouse? You could take a day to observe, of course, but chances are it will set the staff on edge to have the big boss looming over the day's work. Instead, rely on your technology to not only keep an eye on your staff's productivity, but to ensure the automated portions of your warehouse are working as they should. In an article for Fishbowl, Rachelle Wilber advises warehouse professionals not to fear new tech investments. The right technology won't merely safeguard your warehoused company belongings, it will offer a healthy, diverse data stream that can be easily studied to reveal trends in the marketplace.

Properly-configured modules can also remotely trigger helpful actions: a dip in a particular item's stock could be programed to automatically place an order with the manufacturer, for example. As warehouses get bigger and sku loads grow in volume, this type of accounting and control is going to become vital for staying on top of order flow and preserving staff energy for crunch days. If you can't automate the products, automate the shelves in your warehouse. If you can't automate your shelves, automate your pickers by using scanners that are wired into the internet — or, more accurately, connected with wi-fi to determine metrics like overall pick speed and error margins. These pieces of data will help the owner review how well time-based consumer promises are holding up and if an individual is the right fit for a busy company. 

The tech-connected capability of your warehouse will depend on a dual consideration of budget and need; if a particular innovation wouldn't contribute directly to your warehouse's efficiency, it's best to leave it on the drawing board. The push to remain competitive and the persuasion of equipment sales reps are both decidedly enticing, but your first duty is always to the warehouse itself, and that means not overspending for more tech than you might need.

Sustainability: Saving Green Times Two

If a warehouse aisle is silent and empty, if no one walks it, does it still show up loud and clear on your utility bill? This question isn't merely a brain-teaser, it's pointing out how much money can be wasted by keeping unnecessary corners of your facility open. Consider installing motion-sensor lights in dim areas; for the most part, these lights are eco-friendly, and can even be a great talking point when touting your company's green expansion and investment plans. Switching to biodegradable packing materials helps cut down on waste materials. In fact, many items in a warehouse can be reused or repurposed, particularly pallets: an excellent reminder to make sure that outgoing waste is actually waste. Installing environmentally-friendly lights and similar utility-connected upgrades can translate to a substantial cost savings for warehouse operations.

Eco-friendly warehousing layout strategies don't need to break the bank or upset your workflow to make a huge difference, either.

While focusing on long-term sustainability efforts is a skill that might not always come naturally, it's an important one to cultivate — especially with potential legislation and regulation looming on the horizon. Warehouses that take initiative to shift into a “greener” mindset almost always come out ahead: transparency turns their efforts into a compelling bullet point for marketing, and in the event of new environmental laws, your warehouse will have a much shorter journey into compliance.

Not sure how to start rolling out eco-friendly measures in your warehouse without disrupting production? Ask your utility company for advice or, ideally, a visit from a representative to determine weak points in your HAVC system, recommend replacement equipment for energy and resource-hogging older models and give you an idea of the time, effort and rewards that are in store when you start your green conversion.

Your warehousing layout strategies must exist in symbiosis with the needs of your company; even the best warehouse layout can't dictate variables such as order flow and sku popularity, so enough modular versatility must be built in to bend without breaking. With smart structure, wired-in upgrades and an eye towards planet — and bottom line — preserving practices, your warehouse will become a well-oiled part of your company machine, and stop being a source of frustration for your staff in the process. 

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Topics: Warehouse Management

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