Ask a facility manager to list the biggest challenges they face, and they almost unanimously include “space” in their top three, if not number one. This is often a symptom of growth outpacing the ability to expand into more space, but is most often the result of space being used ineffectively. In a perfect world, your facility is full of robots, modular racking that adapts to changes quickly, and A WMS with an AI feature that automatically places everything in its optimal space, ensuring every inch is utilized and every unused inch is known and tracked.
Since that is NOT the case for over 90% of the world, configuring and utilizing space is still a laborious process, managed by floor staff manually or ideally with some help from a Warehouse Management System (which are still not as ubiquitous as you might expect).
When we talk about “managing space” however, there are a lot of different ways to define “waste” and ways to create waste by poor utilization. Here are a few ways to look at it, starting from the macro level and digging down to the micro level:
- Building Selection – Choosing the right building is often the BIGGEST factor in space utilization.
- Layout – For whatever space you’ve already built or leased, the layout will impact not just your space utilization, but all your processes too.
- Racking and Equipment – Your choice of racking and the equipment you use to access it and use it will also matter.
- Processes – Your own processes can lead to massive wasting of space, and time, as well.
How to make the most of your space? Here are some of the problems you may or may not be aware of for each of the above categories.
Your Building Was Designed For Waste
Before you sign that lease or approve of that blueprint, be sure you are moving into a space that can deliver maximum utilization. All the questions around your choice of space tend to be very broad ones. Is the location convenient to the shipper’s distribution hub? How high is the ceiling? How many docks and bays does it have? A few things to consider when choosing space:
- Is it worth the additional cost trading distance from the distribution Hub for the ideal dimensions? If being a neighbor to your local UPS collection point is most important, then you may find yourself having to compromise on some other features.
- Depending on your business and your processes, high ceilings can provide major advantages. In reserve storage areas, you can leverage the speed and efficiency of picking cranes on a rail, which also require far less aisle space than a standard forklift, and also can eliminate the need for overhead lighting given the cranes provide their own. In other areas like picking or other value-added processing, a mezzanine means getting twice the utilization out of the same square footage.
- Are you juggling incoming and outgoing trucks outside while they wait for bays to open up? Lack of enough bays means over-utilization of that space, but can also imply under-utilization in another part of the DC as well. Having the right set-up for docks and bays not only matters for Receiving and Shipping, but impacts all the other processes in-between.
- Finally, odd columns, beams and other fixtures that result in having to avoid certain spaces forces you to design your layout on less favorable terms and wastes space so you can make it all fit.
Layout and Process – Joined At the Hip
When you design your warehouse layout, you can’t do so without aligning to your workflow and processes. If your processes are not well-documented, then your layout will suffer accordingly. In fact, if you did not design your layout with your process guiding it for you, you will very likely end up updating your process to fit your layout.
The biggest source of wasted space in your layout are the extra aisles, wider aisles, and the additional paths required to connect your work areas if they are not laid out properly. For example, is your Reserve racking closest to your Receiving dock? If not, the additional space required to move incoming inventory there is wasted. Same problem for your packing area’s proximity to your shipping dock. If your picking area is not adjacent to your Reserve/Replenishment area, then you’ll be wasting space - and footsteps as well.
Finally, sometimes there are simple process steps you can take to make short-term improvements. For example, just the simple act of intelligently staging your outgoing pallets can not only reduce the loading time required for a truck or container, but reduce the dock space required for the process as well.
The Quickest Impact Comes From Racking and Equipment – with Software
Most of our readers in the industry will very likely already be working in an existing space that has been built out and running already, meaning that many of the best options aren’t available until you outgrow your space and are ready to move again. For everyone who knows they can do better but can’t build the perfect new facility right now, you’re left with updating some of your racking and equipment.
Flexible racking can allow you to adopt different areas of the same section to accommodate various pallet and product sizes, so you don’t have uniformly large pallet racks with smaller pallets that result in unusable air space. Combined with slotting optimization software can massively increase the volume that can be put away in your racks by not only identifying and assigning the ideal space for each product, but to create a guideline to the sizes and counts of each slot required for the inventory currently in-house or anticipated to arrive.
There are a number of slotting optimization products out there, including this one shown below from Optricity. The top image is a screenshot giving top-down view of a warehouse PRIOR to optimization and the second image showing a much cleaner view after optimization (For anyone familiar with de-fragmenting their hard disk drive, this might look familiar!).
Your storage areas BEFORE slotting optimization...
And AFTER slotting optimization... [Images from Optricity]
Where Do I Start?
If you are not using software that optimizes your slotting, palletizing or loading, then that is your lowest hanging fruit to see immediate, measurable impact. After that, but before re-modeling your entire layout, look at your workflow and identify where the most footsteps are, where the bottlenecks form, and which processes hold up others more often. If you’re not already measuring these things, then it is time to start – you’ll not only recognize where you can make improvements, but will see solutions become apparent in discussions with the floor staff who live it every day.
Looking to make improvements? Contact us (below) to share your space challenges.
Advanced Mobile Systems will be presenting some unique methods for improving space management at MODEX 2020 in Atlanta from March 9-12th.