Reach for the low-hanging fruit

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There are a host of options for retrenching an existing warehouse or distribution centre. Whether it be redesigning the layout to gear it towards more cross-dock, flow-through product movement, or adding extra racking, or a mezzanine floor to boost storage capacity – the value can be great.

Nick Weetman, director of Davies & Robson logistics consultancy, reckons the decade of growth has led to the survival of inefficient warehouse processes, which have gone unchecked until now. “It’s now time to get on top of that.”

And there are plenty of ways to do it. Ed Hutchison, managing director of Bito Storage Systems, says: “Walk through any warehouse and you’ll notice the actual volume of the stored parts themselves is a relatively low percentage.

“The gangways, aisles, support structure for the building and racking – they all occupy a big proportion of the total space, a proportion that can be reduced by moving to storage systems that offer greater density.”

Hutchison reckons the simplest methods can be the most effective. “Opting for a lower investment improvement, such as carton live storage, will see a small saving in personnel, yet the investment is relatively small so the payback period will be shorter – between three to six months.

“In these times where cash flow is restricted, the principal of keeping things simple when it comes to reconfiguring your existing facility can certainly pay.”

Suppliers are thinking up new ways to support companies looking to squeeze more out of their warehouses. Bito, for example, is now knocking off up to 25 per cent from orders in excess of £2,500 for its UK customers.

Bob Jane, business development manager for SSI Schaefer, advises that companies should look for suppliers with additional added value services which include project management and the positive integration of other trades.

“Installation of labelling, warehouse signage and floor markings are other services to consider, along with design planning, with consideration of current building regulations, local authority approvals, ongoing storage maintenance, financial planning, and equipment leasing.”

A fresh pair of eyes can work wonders when it comes to money savings. Bito offers a free overview consultancy, where a project manager visits a site to determine how it can be reconfigured. It can then offer a more in-depth consultancy for a fee. However, Hutchison advises that “a company seeking an in-depth consultancy should go to a consultancy that is independent from any supplier.”

Weetman says Davies & Robson has seen a “flurry” of demand for its warehouse design and efficiency service. This involves what he describes as identifying the “low-hanging fruit” – pinpointing quick and easy ways to shed costs and make operations more efficient. This includes analysing shift patterns, goods movement, reducing inventory, reviewing product range and spotting obsolete stock.

On average, “a company can potentially take out ten per cent of its stock,” he says.

Davies & Robson will also determine the best storage methods, handling equipment and layout, and WMS selection and implementation.

Reconditioned or used pallet racking is a cheap option for boosting storage capacity. Paul Fagan, managing director of the Nene group, says this is: “ideal for companies with small warehouses or start-ups and those that wish to add to an existing system”.

It’s now possible to rent all types of racking and shelving. “Even specialised racking such as live and drive-in storage is available for hire for any size of facility and for any period of time from two weeks to ten years,” he says.

“Renting racking saves managers’ time and effort in gaining approval for capital expenditure, ensuring prompt delivery for potential new business. It also enables companies to claim 100 per cent capital allowances for the rental, which can work out cheaper than cash,” he says.

Andy Barrie, UK national sales manager, national accounts, Scotland and Ireland, Linpac Storage Systems, says the company’s leasing side of the business is generating new interest. Historically, he says, the service has been most popular with smaller companies, but it’s now the blue chips that are showing interest.

Couzens Storage Solutions has come up with a deal geared towards helping companies get more out of the space they have without tying up precious capital or having to negotiate a bank loan. It has launched a lease plan to enable companies to acquire space-saving automated vertical carousel and lift storage equipment. Managing director Keith Couzens says: “These storage and picking systems can release up to 80 per cent of conventional storage space, which may help companies avoid a costly move or even help to consolidate existing operations into fewer premises.” They can handle individual loads of five tonnes or more in units able to store up to 700,000kg.

Mezzanines are another good way to increase warehouse capacity. They can be single, double, three or four-tier, and can be used to solve various problems such as creating a raised area for extra production or storage sites, or supporting new offices. Hi-Store installed a 27,545 sq ft, lightweight mezzanine for a 24-hour Tesco Extra store at Newton Aycliffe, Durham, which enabled the retailer to increase its sales space in the outlet by 40 per cent.

And archival storage solution company, Data and Records Management, gained 3,000 sq m of additional storage space at its 100,000 sq ft, 18m-high warehouse after installing a 676 sq m, 15m-high, four-tier mezzanine from The Invicta Group.

If you’re thinking of going down the mezzanine route, it’s important to take into account the loadings the mezzanines will impose through the supporting columns.

Storage and interiors specialist Butler & Willow designed and installed a 1,600 sq m mezzanine floor at Games Workshop’s Eurohub distribution centre in Nottingham.

This included 120 mezzanine support columns, each located to ensure they didn’t affect access to existing carton live storage racks, conveyors or machinery. The mezzanine freed up enough floor space for another operation to be accommodated at the site.

Regardless of whether it’s additional racking or a mezzanine that will benefit operations, it’s important not to overlook the floor. An existing floor may not be able to withstand the additional loading that increased storage density will cause.

Kevin Dare, managing director of the CoGri Group, stresses the importance of carrying out “due diligence” surveys early on, in any building, whether it be a new or existing site, saying anyone who doesn’t is “bonkers”.

The survey is designed to check whether a floor is fit for purpose. “If you get a survey like this done early it’s cheap. And it could save you hundreds of thousands of pounds that you would end up spending later if you haven’t got it done.”

Dare points to checking floor flatness before installing VNA systems. No matter how sophisticated the material handling equipment, it’ll be redundant if forklifts can’t make it down the aisles without colliding with the racking because the floor isn’t up to scratch.

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