Getting it right

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Approach the challenge in the right way and you will create a well-designed warehouse that gives your company wings; get it wrong and you will have an inefficient operation that will hold your business back and haunt you for years to come. As warehouses are built to enclose the logistics operation it is the operation itself that is of primary importance.

Understanding what you want to achieve and finding a storage solution partner you can trust to guide you through the decision making process is the best investment of your time you can make at the early planning stage. Using reputable storage specialists ensures that you not only have a team of experienced professionals to guide you through the maze, but also you have the benefit of an office-based team with complementary skills.

The overall scheme will be reviewed and vetted by engineers, whilst contract managers will look after all of the installation problems.

Having found a partner you can trust to listen to your requirements – you now need to be absolutely clear about what it is that you want. Many questions will need to be answered at this stage, for example:

ls it going to be a warehouse or a distribution centre?

What is the stock profile?

What will the order path be?

Will there be quality assurance for goods in and out?

Answers to these and many more questions will enable your chosen storage partner to build an intellectual model of the proposed warehouse or distribution centre system. It is also vital that you allow access to data and operation details so that a complete analysis can be undertaken. In a large distribution centre this can be a very complex task. The analysis involves two key factors:

lThe stock being stored/distributed.

lThe profile of the storage/picking operation. Stock is segregated into slow, medium and fast movers (ABC analysis), and exceptions are quarantined for special treatment. Zones are created for the different stock operations – i.e. storage, picking, replenishing and quality control. Picking rates need to be made available against stock together with a typical pick profile so that outline plans can be formulated for the pick process.

Broad brush ideas are put together at this stage regarding options for the warehouse design so that you, the customer, can make a good value decision. It is necessary to bear in mind that the warehouse needs to be future proofed for expansion or likely stock profile changes – or at least some flexibility to change.

How long the design process takes varies with the size of operation and the information that is made available. However it is the most important part of the process and is rushed at your peril. Once completed, you will be presented with an overall concept design and costs.

At this stage it is also important to look at the warehouse/distribution operation as a whole, and identify the key performance indicators as these will be different for each particular operation. It is these indicators that will be the fundamental drivers in the overall design of the project together with the capital and manning budgets.

As far as the physical aspects of the building are concerned it is important to involve all interested parties at an early stage. Consultations with local authorities, fire officers, health and safety inspectors and your insurance company from the outset ensure that there are no shocks later on – i.e. you have got your new warehouse up and running but you are not allowed to use it because it contravenes some regulation or other!

Space requirements

The floor type is critical and the one selected must be fit for purpose. If a high tolerance floor is required it must firstly be achieved, and secondly maintained for speedy truck operations. Cutting corners at the build stage with the floor quality will lead to deterioration with inevitable problems of slower picking and even potential for rack and stock damage.

Frequency of deliveries and dispatches will determine space required for vehicle hardstands and loading bays whilst tasks performed as stock enters and exits the building will establish the area to be devoted to internal and external marshalling.

Although there is constant pressure to maximise storage use within the warehouse it must not be forgotten that the smaller the space you give to products, the slower the pace to move it around. The design of the storage solution must allow for the correct clearances for fast, safe retrieval. It is tempting to try to narrow the aisles and cram in stock, however this will not only lead to a slower operation but will also result in more damage to your stock and your racks.

Strike the right balance with minimum space wastage and you have the right product in the right place that can be moved safely in the right amount of time – after all late deliveries can result in cancellations and that is the last thing you want.

At the end of the day the type of storage solution that is right for you will depend on the products you need to store and the techniques that are determined for the pick process. Stock needs to be stored in such a way that the storage or pick technique does not cause damage; for example glass on live storage or block stacked products that are crushable.

Safety considerations always come first when designing your warehouse and storage solution. The Health and Safety Act endeavours to provide a safe working environment for everyone and the implications of this Act must be evident throughout the warehouse: hazardous goods require special storage requirements; people and materials handling equipment need to be segregated; a safe picking environment must be created to allow the picker safe access to products and the picked items must be safely transported to collation – the list goes on and on.

A well lit warehouse is also a safe one, although aesthetics are not always considered a priority. Getting the environment right not only creates a better work place it also reduces pick and driving errors that can in turn lead to returned or damaged stock.

What really counts is whether the solution, be it high bay, multi-tier, mini-load or whatever, is the right application for your specific and often unique requirements. This is where the trust and understanding built up at the initial stages with your chosen partner pays off.

Designing an efficient and effective warehouse storage/retrieval system is a complex business, but there are one or two key steps that can be taken to make your life easier and safer. Firstly select a partner who can provide a one-stop-shop for everything you require – racking, shelving, unit load containers for example. Then look for a partner who has design and manufacturing facilities in the UK. Why? Because lead-times for delivery and build will be shorter and when those inevitable changes are made, or build snags occur, the response time will be far quicker for design alterations or revised product specifications.

Your warehouse or distribution centre is the heart of your business – make sure you give it wings rather than chains by teaming up with the right partners and meticulously planning every stage of its development right from the very start. n

Tim Judge is direct sales and marketing manager Linpac Storage Systems. Tel: 0121 607 6700.

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