How to Plan a Warehouse Layout Design

3 November 2019

Regardless of how much storage space you might have available, storage inadequacies and issues with productivity, as well as with capacity can easily overtake a business if the warehouse layout design is unsuitable or inflexible. There are a host of things to keep in mind when designing the physical arrangement of your storage space. In what follows, we’ll briefly go over the most important aspects of this process.

Objectives and Restrictions

Before planning anything, it’s vital that you know what you hope to achieve, namely the objectives you have in mind for a specific storage space. Make a list of these aims and order them according to priority. Some of them might have identical priority, so don’t make it a point to have a neat hierarchy.

You also need to be aware of the money, time, and/or manpower constraints you’re working with. It seldom happens that we have all the resources we need at our disposal. The same is true in terms of the actual foundation of the warehouse, since the latter is likely an existing facility that has to be redesigned to fit your needs, rather than a ground-up project.

If you own an e-commerce business, achieving peak operational productivity might be what interests you and/or your stakeholders the most. Alternatively, established organizations might look to cut down on their expenditures/maintenance costs, while major retailers are always bent on maximizing their storage density, as well as scalable infrastructures.

Figure out what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, as well as what constraints will challenge you throughout this process.

Establish an Operational Profile

You can’t design a proper warehouse if you don’t know the features of all the products that will be deposited there. As such, you need to know the following:

  1. How is your inventory ordered and delivered: by split carton, pallet, or individual unit?

  2. Pallet (/carton/unit) size, height and weight. This will help you figure out how big the racks and the bays need to be.

  3. Environmental control requirements (if you need to be within certain temperature or humidity margins) and handling needs.

  4. How much inventory you’ll be keeping. Make sure to check peak, low, and normal seasonal periods.

Inventory turnover of each storage keeping unit (SKU). This will help you understand which goods need to move faster and which will be slower, so that you can store them appropriately.

How Do You Design a Warehouse?

Now that we are aware of what we want to achieve, the available conditions, as well as the operational profile of our business, it’s time we tackle the storage and layout design proper. This part of the planning process is quite complicated, which is why many businesses seek the expertise of rack suppliers or various consultants in the field of industrial design.

Depending on the variables you’ve established so far, you have to decide whether an automatic storage and retrieval system, standard racking, or something like cantilever racking might suit your needs better.

You can, of course, design the system yourself with the help of specialized digital tools such as CLASS or AutoCAD. Although the latter is less costly than the former, it’s also less user- friendly, because it’s aimed at engineers, architects, and other such professionals. Alternatively, you could also try software like Google Sketchup, something that is not necessarily aimed at warehouse design, but that can help you visualize various layouts.

This is why external help is most often needed and requested. You can do it yourself, but it will likely take more time and effort.

Warehouse Design Done Right

Regardless of whether you’re going at it alone or with specialized help, there are several principles you should do your best not to stray from.

Worker safety takes priority over everything else. Don’t cut corners, because your employees’ lives and working conditions are at stake. You can significantly improve your flow by having your units touched as little as possible while passing through the warehouse. More than half of all storage labour is spent walking.

While designing, figure out at least 2 or, ideally, 3 layouts so you can compare them against one another. Choose which of these would be best from a quantitative/qualitative perspective. Last, but certainly not least, make sure to query all of the important stakeholders on your design layout. You want them to provide their opinion, as well as agree with the plan before you go ahead and execute it.