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A proper layout and flow of product is required for any distribution warehouse to be efficient and to maintain the capability of fulfilling orders in a timely manner. Equipment choices, racking layout and specialized systems are all an intricate part of the planning and set up of a good distribution warehouse. The smooth and efficient flow of goods and products does not happen by accident, it happens as the result of careful planning and execution.
Separate the receiving and shipping areas of the warehouse. Ideally, these two departments will be on opposite ends of the building. Between them will be your reserve locations where the bulk of your inventory will be stored. Design each dock door with an electric dock leveler and weather enclosures. All doors should also be equipped with dock safety lights as well as load lights to illuminate the interiors of the trucks/trailers. Both docks should be open with as few barriers and obstacles as possible. The floorspace here is to remain open for the rapid staging, movement and loading of product and cargo.
Layout the reserve locations with narrow aisle-ways and racking that extends to the vertical limits of the building. Use wire-guided machines to allow the travel and stocking aisles to be as narrow as six feet, less than half the width of traditional aisles. Use pallet racking to cube out the warehouse space to allow product to be stored vertically. This can allow up to six times as much product to be stored in the same amount of square footage. Select reach trucks and narrow aisle equipment to allow for rapid stocking and retrieval of stock.
Design the picking area to make use of high-volume flow racks that can be custom built to fit any product size or type. Stocking aisles need to be designed slightly wider than other travel aisles to allow for multiple employees to operate in the same area without blocking access to needed areas or product. Motorized sorting conveyors should be used to transport the product from the picking area to the packing area where it is prepared for shipment. Additional conveyors will be used to transport the shipping cartons from the packing area to the shipping dock to await loading.
Keep travel distances between vital areas as short as possible. Travel time is a thief of productivity and efficiency.
Do not design your warehouse with no margin for growth or error. You will find inventory is much like air, it expands to occupy the area where it is located.
Tom Raley is a freelance writer living in central Arkansas. He has been writing for more than 20 years and his short stories and articles have appeared in more than 25 different publications including P.I. Magazine, Pulsar and Writer's Digest.