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Optimizing Small Warehouse Spaces

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Optimizing Small Warehouse Spaces
By Roy C. Bennett

If you are operating a warehouse, (especially a small warehouse) effectively using every cubic inch of space can be crucial to the operation. Running out of inventory space can paralyze both shipping and receiving in ways that lead to unsafely stored product, decreased productivity, and much more.

On the other hand, a streamlined operation that utilizes every square inch within your existing floorplan can have far reaching benefits across all departments. With an efficiently running operation it becomes possible to safely pre-stage outbounds and have space set aside for inbounds before the truck ever arrives.

So how can you best utilize your space? The solution is one that both maximizes storage and streamlines distribution. There should be standard operating procedures in place that are flexible enough to enhance both, and smart enough to adapt when needed.

Know Your Product
It is important to know exactly what you are warehousing, how much it weighs, how it comes in and how it will be shipped. Are you crossdocking product? Do you store Haz-Mat? Food product? Refrigerated? or Frozen? There are as many products as there are regulated ways to store them. Knowing the ins and outs of your commodity will help greatly towards planning and executing the most efficient solution for your current operation.

Everything Starts in Receiving
Take a walk out into your warehouse and observe a load being received for warehousing. When the product comes in, is it staged or is it put away live? If you have the space always stage a load on your dock before storing it away. This not only cuts the offload time in half making the shipper very happy, but it provides a great opportunity to check the load properly. It’s hard to go back and check for a pallet you did not see once it’s put away.

Every Inch of Space Counts
You should know the dimensions of a product or material before it ever arrives at your warehouse and have space set aside for it in advance. Standard pallets are 40” wide by 48” deep. If you are storing 4’ tall skids in a space that can accept a 7’ tall skid you need to make some adjustments. Ideally you should have just enough room to maneuver the fully loaded skids out of the space and no more. For pick position (bottom) skids in a multi-level racking system you may want to leave enough room for a few cases of the product on top of a full skid. This is done in order to refill the pick position with a full skid when you are down to just a few cases of product in the space. Do not underestimate the space that empty pallets can consume. Have a plan in place for skid exchange on a regular basis and designate an area to store them. (Preferably near the receiving dock doors and the trucks that will be taking them)

Going Vertical
By storing up rather than across, you can take advantage of otherwise wasted space depending on the ceiling height. When designing a good rack system there are a few items to consider not the least of which are sprinkler systems, exit lighting, and an egress plan. You will also need to consider the type of equipment used to remove and load pallets from the rack. Traditional forklifts are not suited for removing skids in narrow Isles of multi-level racks. You will require a reach type machine for this task. Could you use an extra office in the warehouse? Building an office on a mezzanine is one way to create an office without sacrificing the floor space usually associated with a satellite office in a warehouse. The point is in going vertical, you are better utilizing the space you pay for. No one wants to pay to store air.

Dynamics
When analyzing the best storage positions for a product or material you need to consider a few things. What are we going to do with this product? Is it raw material or is it shipped as it is? For example, if a product needs to be re-labeled before it can ship, it’s a good idea to store it closer to the department that will accomplish that task. Once it is relabeled and ready to ship however, it should be stored near the shipping docks. It’s always good practice to have your loads pre-staged to ship but that is sometimes not possible. Therefore, planning your storage based on what often ships together is a good idea.
Where a truck must get live loaded directly from stock it’s much more efficient when the loader does not have to traverse the whole warehouse to find product. Items that ship together on a regular basis this year might completely change next year so be ready to adapt. Always take the time to reanalyze wherever, and whenever needed. A little effort here can go a long way in creating a more dynamic and streamlined operation.

Constantly Re-evaluate
Much like a road crew making progressive repairs on a major highway, by the time they reach the end it’s time to start repairs all over again at the beginning. Always re-evaluate your best use of space. What works great this quarter may not be viable next quarter and so on. It is surprising to learn how many warehouses will dedicate multiple skid bays adjacent to the shipping doors to a product that ships only one or two cases per Month. That Item may have been a fast mover at one time but now it’s time to consider moving it in favor of a large volume item. A streamlined operation that makes the best use of all available space relies on constantly assessing the situation simply because it is always changing. If something is tried that doesn’t seem to work, change it back, or try something else. Within every unsuccessful attempt to correct a problem, is the opportunity to learn something new.

Correct what Doesn’t Work!
If your layout no longer works for your operation, do not hesitate to overhaul it. We’ve built a large portion of our business helping companies to streamline their warehousing operation through renovation.

If you need an office where that rack is currently installed, get the rack dismantled and build that office. If more loading docks make sense, get them installed. It’s not nearly as difficult as it may seem, and it does not have to be done overnight.

All that’s required is some careful planning and execution. Work can be done in stages and scheduled during “off hours” to minimize impact on daily operation. Change a little at a time, or all at once for an instant benefit.

We have relocated and rebuilt entire operations for our clients and in the end it’s always worth it to be in a space fully optimized just for your company! -TTB

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