Optimizing Warehouse Storage to Boost Productivity

December 01, 2020
By Sehrish Huma

Storage is considered one of the most pivotal components of warehouse operations. But the handling and assignment of stock-keeping units (SKUs) and the movement of inventory between areas can present challenges for warehouse managers. How a warehouse layout is designed can make a difference. Such a design requires careful decision-making based on two factors: efficiency of storage and efficiency of access.

Efficiency of storage is contingent on how much available capacity a warehouse has. In contrast, efficiency of access depends on how a warehouse practitioner utilizes resources while managing storage and order picking.

Implementation of either strategy requires careful consideration of SKUs across different departments. SKUs not only assist warehouse employees in management stock and keeping track of inventory, but also help determine the amount of warehouse space required. To better manage warehouse operations, it is critical to consider which type of SKU should be dedicated to particular storage areas. For example, only fast-moving products should be assigned to the area dedicated to such SKUs. Lesser-picked products should be located in the far corners or higher up on shelving; frequently-picked products should be stored near the front or aisle end. It’s essential to use the easy-to-reach spaces for storing frequently pulled products.

Likewise, when SKUs are assigned to different zones, warehouse managers must analyze the zones in terms of numbers, shapes and sizes. Pallet racks come in many sizes, shapes and formats, and the type of racking used will depend heavily on the types of products stored. It’s important to consider the type used, as it affects the amount of space required and influence the facility’s layout as a whole. A common practice is to effectively build a warehouse from the inside out. When assigning storage to incoming products, it’s important to account for a product’s configuration as well as its size and quantity; this ensures an adequate space for racking and other facilities.

Warehouse storage management can be challenging, and it’s important to consider strategies pertaining to these factors:

Design criteria. Carefully designing a warehouse layout can maximize storage space. When designing a warehouse, considerations include:

  • A single-story facility can reduce the chances that product damage will occur. Plus, it can save energy and time spent storing and picking goods.
  • A racking system can help optimize height utilization
  • Movement of product flow should be straight, which means product should be received at one end of the building, stored in the middle, and then shipped from the other end. This minimizes congestion and confusion.

Additionally, safety hazards can be reduced by avoiding storage of goods at unsuitable places.

Handling technology. Having the right material-handling equipment helps in goods transfer, as well as provides time efficiencies and reduces potential for (1) damage to goods and (2) safety hazards and injury caused by manual handling practices. To optimize storage, warehouse space must be arranged to allow adequate space for maneuvering weight-carrying machines or forklifts, which means warehouse employees can move smoothly and with ease while carrying goods throughout the warehouse.

Storage plan. The storage plan should consider the weight and volume of the products stored. For example, high-volume sales products should be stored in a part of warehouse that is easily accessible and minimizes movement. Heavy and bulky products should be stored on low racks, thus minimizing the chances of product and mishandling.

It’s also important to have visibility into warehouse inventory. For example, reviewing remaining inventory at the end of shifts and creating an inventory location guide or plan can make it handy for warehouse service providers to find the products they need to retrieve, stock or restock.

Walking distance. To optimize warehouse storage, automation or conveyors can be employed to reduce the amount of walking time needed by employees to fulfil their tasks. In warehouses, foot traffic is predictable. It’s important to arrange the warehouse in such a way that reduces the amount of walking (and thus time) required. Having a product map, so employees can become familiar with storage locations, can help.

Technology. In warehouse operations, technology is considered a backbone for managing a disorganized warehouse. Warehouse management systems, smart robotics technology and customized software enable management of the movement, sorting and storage of warehouse inventory. Automated vehicles can help maximize efficiency and safety and enable companies to assign employees previously doing manual tasks to more critical ones.

Drones can help to perform accurate inventory counts. Robots are being used for pick and pack and heavy lifting, with the aid of humans when necessary. Additionally, 3-D-printing technology can aid in effectively reducing lead times as well as transportation costs because customized components can be produced on-site.

To prevent fatigue and harm, Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be used to scan shipments and track the health of warehouse workers while graphene tubes and nanotubes can be used to transport lighter equipment and materials.

Achieving warehouse productivity will improve employee productivity and safety. How facility storage is managed is key to a company’s operations. A well-designed warehouse contributes to the functioning of people working inside and the optimization of the facility.

About the Author

Sehrish Huma

About the Author

Sehrish Huma is a supply chain researcher, reviewer and blog writer based in Pakistan.