Your warehouse layout directly impacts the efficiency, productivity, and potentially the safety of your employees. Creating a practical plan to maximize inventory storage, flow, and accessibility is the first step to success in the warehouse or distribution industry.
There are numerous factors to consider as you finalize an efficient warehouse design for your business. Learn how to create an effective warehouse layout with our warehouse guide and downloadable checklist.
Table of Contents
The first step in planning your warehouse is to assemble your design team. Your design team can include:
- Current managers or employees
- Inventory control and tracking specialists
- Packaging and shipping agents
- Equipment and maintenance technicians
Including members with different areas of expertise and knowledge can give you more insight into which layouts and equipment are best suited for your warehouse needs.
Initially, you might think a team will slow down planning and process management. The team strategy allows you to divide and conquer the gathering and analyzing components and choices much faster than if done by one or two people alone.
Not all buildings are created equal! The ideal warehouse is more than four walls, a roof, and increased square footage over your last location.
Warehouse Floor Assessment (Concrete Slab)
Factors to consider when assessing your warehouse floor include:
How thick is your warehouse floor?
- Racking systems attach to the concrete using mechanical anchors. The anchor’s size and depth vary depending on the concrete’s thickness (and sometimes the PSI rating).
What is the PSI strength of the concrete?
- If you are considering going vertical for your storage needs, a higher PSI strength allows the concrete to handle more load (from equipment) and weight (of inventory).
Is the floor a Post-Tension Slab?
- This pre-fab slab assembly provides a faster installation, but the tubes within the panels severely restrict potential drilling and anchor points.
- Working with a Post-Tension Slab is both challenging and expensive.
Warehouse Roof Structure
- The vertical storage option may require that the racking system be connected to the roof structure for added stability or local seismic requirements.
- If your inventory requires cold or frozen storage, the roof details are essential for determining support locations for cooling equipment, ducts, and pipes.
- Most jurisdictions require a fire suppression system for the occupied office areas of the warehouse.
- Depending on your inventory, you may need to modify or update the existing sprinkler system.
- Typically, modifying an existing fire sprinkler system is quicker and less expensive than installing an entirely new system.
- You may want to consider consulting with a reputable contractor or local building department official regarding any specific building requirements for your warehouse.
The next step in creating an effective layout plan is to determine how your warehouse strategy moves forward. Every business will have different goals, so there is no wrong strategy.
To achieve the end goal of maximized storage, flow, and accessibility possible within the building, it is important to review your recent operational data. Your team can then identify specific areas for improvement while planning your new warehouse layout. Common areas of improvement include:
- A new picking process to expedite the packing and shipping of orders.
- The increased storage a different racking system can provide.
- Additional equipment and workstations for banding or stretch wrappers.
As you explore various warehouse locations, keep your “brainstorm list” handy at all times. Your list should include some basic info such as desired square footage, required roof height for the racking system, and preferred material handling equipment.
Once you have a possible location or two that passes the brainstorm list, you are ready for a pre-design walkthrough with your team.
Successful warehouse layouts start out with a detailed, strategic plan.
Physically Measure Your Warehouse Space
If you obtained any blueprints or a layout from the owner, it’s critical to verify the dimensions listed. If there are no reference drawings, sketch one out while you are onsite.
Identify Potential Obstructions
Common issues typically include the following items:
- Fire sprinkler system including pipes, sprinkler heads, and connections
- HVAC (Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning) components such as ducts, intake/exhaust locations, and equipment (compressors, blowers, and fans)
- Life Safety items such as smoke detectors, exit signage, and alarm panel location
- Electrical panel and transformer locations
Building codes can vary dramatically from one city to another. Consulting with a contractor or building code official can help ward off any potential obstruction issues.
At this point, you are ready to plan your warehouse layout. The physical measurements will help you determine each department’s general location. Keep in mind that your design should maximize storage, inventory flow, and inventory accessibility.
- Existing door locations will probably determine the shipping and receiving areas as you plan your warehouse layout.
- Your inventory storage is the next step of the warehouse layout process.
- It’s imperative to choose the best racking or shelving option based on your product inventory and requirements.
- You must include factors such as expiry dates, FILO or LIFO, and cold-storage conditions as you choose the best racking solution.
You are ready to determine the remaining areas of your warehouse layout now. Always consider your potential growth and future needs as you are designing a warehouse layout. Besides a designated space for offices, be sure to include other areas such as:
- Production area
- Assembly stations
- Safety stations
- Equipment repair and maintenance supplies
- Shipping desk or portal
Don’t forget about ergonomics; employees benefit from maximum flow and accessibility too. All work areas should meet applicable HIOSH standards.
Besides choosing the best rack or shelving option, don’t forget about carts, dollies, bins, conveyors, and hoppers. These options allow inventory to flow without a forklift on a smaller scale throughout the warehouse.
- Material handling equipment is available in a variety of styles and sizes.
- The lift specs and capacities must work with the inventory and your rack system. The lift’s size and turning radius determine the aisleways’ size, impacting the available storage space.
- You can add any additional packing and shipping equipment if needed.
- Items such as tables or benches, scales, a stretch wrapper, or a banding machine can further improve productivity.
- Be sure to include safety zones where applicable and add them to your warehouse layout.
Once you have the completed layout in hand, it’s time to take it for a test run.
- Tape off the prominent areas onto the floor, as indicated on your layout.
- Walk-through the areas to check for maximum storage, flow, and accessibility.
- Make necessary adjustments to the tape if needed, and be sure to note those changes on your layout drawing.
- Double-check all clearances comply with safety requirements where applicable.
- If everything checks out, you have successfully designed a warehouse layout.
Chances are that the first warehouse layout you create won’t be the one you use. As you continue to refine your warehouse layout, you may go through a few or possibly dozens of revisions.
Planning an efficient warehouse layout is a complicated process due to all the various options and choices. That’s why we recommend a team approach when planning your warehouse layout. Sharing the work with a team allows for a quicker decision-making process at each step of the layout process.