Warehouse Slotting: Optimize Your Inventory Flow for Efficiency and Savings

Every warehouse is a puzzle just waiting for a fast and efficient solution. Products need to go from trucks to storage, then storage to picking, eventually finding their way to their final destination. 

Time is money. There is, undoubtedly, a cost for every insufficient storage solution, every misplaced item, and every extra step a worker has to take to get a product where it needs to be.

The solution? Warehouse slotting. Slotting is the process of strategically arranging and storing inventory within a warehouse. It aims to optimize picking efficiency and space utilization by placing high-demand items closer to picking areas and considering factors like size, weight, and special needs. 

How can you and your business approach warehouse slotting and get the best results? That’s what we’ll be exploring today.

Understanding Your Warehouse and Inventory

The best way to start implementing an effective warehouse slotting strategy is to understand your warehouse and inventory inside and out. There are many different types of warehouses out there, each with different needs. A deep understanding of two elements — your physical warehouse space and your inventory — is key. 

This information is critical to the slotting puzzle, helping you make informed decisions about where to place each item for maximum efficiency, productivity, and space utilization. It all starts with your warehouse layout.

Examine Your Warehouse’s Layout

To master slotting, you need to have a detailed map. Here, analyzing your warehouse layout design and storage capabilities is essential. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Aisle configurations
  • Door locations
  • Loading and unloading zones
  • Picking and packing areas
  • Storage zones (shelves, pallets, racks, etc.)
  • Employee and equipment limitations (e.g., turning radius of forklifts)

Bottlenecks are another key aspect of getting a clear idea of your space and its limitations. Of course, you also want to consider what is working, but having a list of areas that could use some improvement will help inform later steps of the process. Think about what doesn’t work. Where can you improve the warehouse layout? 

This could be areas of poor traffic flow or large travel distances for picking operations.

Bottlenecks are another key aspect of getting a clear idea of your space and its limitations. Of course, you also want to consider what is working, but having a list of areas that could use some improvement will help inform later steps of the process.

Storage Needs

Next, you’ll want to examine the other side of warehousing: inventory. Start with storage. What is your warehouse’s current storage capacity, and what types of storage equipment are you using? Analyze the weight, size, and accessibility of everything. Things like pallet racking, while essential, need proper spacing so you can make most out of your facility floor.

Consider special storage needs, like cold storage inventory, and how other types of equipment, like forklifts or robotics, play into your current system setup. 

After this, it’s time to tackle your product inventory. Here are a few areas to consider:

  • SKU: Analyze historical data to identify fast-moving, medium-moving, and slow-moving items (A, B, and C categories).
  • Size and Weight: Group items by size and weight to maximize storage space utilization.
  • Other Relevant Factors: This could be seasonal demands, fragility of products, kitting needs, and special safety regulations. 

How does this help with slotting? Well, let’s say you categorize your SKUs in the A, B, and C categories. When planning out your slotting strategy, you can consider prioritized placement for A items closer to picking and packing areas for faster access.

To maximize the value of your industrial storage space, you need to thoroughly analyze your warehouse layout, storage capabilities, and inventory characteristics. This lays the groundwork for an effective slotting strategy that optimizes picking paths, minimizes handling, and enhances overall warehouse efficiency.


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Implementing a Slotting Strategy

Once you have a clear picture of your warehouse layout and inventory, it’s time to put that information to use. Let’s see how this critical data plays into developing an effective slotting strategy.

First, consider those A, B, and C values we placed on each product earlier. This analysis will help inform the most effective picking strategy. Once you’ve identified products of high demand (A items), we can place these items in areas that are near optimized picking paths or even dedicated picking zones that contain those frequently accessed items. 

On the topic of picking paths, this is where slotting shows its value. With the information from earlier, you should have a clear picture of the picking paths in your facility. From here, you can analyze travel times between picking locations. 

Now, it’s time to design efficient routes that minimize travel distances and backtracking. Consider factors like:

  • Location of A and B items
  • Order-picking strategies like batch or zone-picking
  • Traffic flow and potential bottlenecks

Here, equipment can be a great way to add a little extra improvement to your warehouse floor. For example, a pick-to-light or voice-directing picking system can further optimize these routes and reduce operational errors.

WMS and Slotting Software

While a proper plan on paper is always a valuable resource, there are plenty of software tools to help you along the way. There is no doubt that digitization efforts are here to stay. They’re making warehouses more efficient by leveraging the latest in warehouse management system (WMS) technology.

A WMS can help design the optimal slotting strategy that reduces the chance of errors based on the criteria we created in those earlier stages. This type of software has many uses. For example, a WMS can give you real-time insights into the location of specific SKUs. 

Alongside asset tracking technologies like RFID tracking, a WMS can coordinate product entries and exits, helping employees and warehouse managers alike work efficiently.

Here is an example of a WMS in action. Let’s say an entry order comes in for a specific product. Now, this product is in stock, and some specific products in this category are set to expire soon. Since the slotting strategy puts these products directly in the order preparation area, the WMS sends out inventory replenishment tasks to restock the picking shelves. 

This request is sent directly to the operator on their terminal screen. In this way, a WMS works more efficiently with a robust slotting strategy.

Slotting Software

There are also slotting-specific software options designed to help you plan out effective and dynamic slotting strategies. Some of these programs leverage AI to create plans without the need for manual engineering or measurement.

But, much like other software options that leverage AI, the results are only as good as the data it receives. Moreover, the actual implementation and reconfiguring of the strategy based on real-world feedback still demands actual human analysis. While these tools are a great way to get started and save time, they simply can’t replace the experience of working in a facility and seeing how these slotting strategies impact operations.

Best Practices and Ongoing Optimization

To help you better develop an effective slotting strategy for your warehouse and inventory, here are a few tips and best practices to keep in mind:

  • Think About Accessibility: Keeping your product exactly in optimal position is an excellent result of an effective slotting strategy, but don’t forget how your team will need to navigate the area. Keep things accessible, ergonomic, and comfortable.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Reslot: Even the best plans need reworking. Don’t shy away from experimentation with your initial strategy. This will help you not only refine what works but move away from what doesn’t.
  • Factor in Flexibility: Warehousing needs shift. As a result, consider both fixed, random, or mixed slotting strategies to make the most out of your warehouse floor.
  • Plan for Upgrade and Expansion: Growth happens, and it’s a good thing. The last thing you want is your whole strategy flying out the door because there’s no room for expansion or growth. 
  • Consider Macro and Micro Slotting: While looking at the big picture can help you start your slotting plans, don’t forget to consider individual items. Remember, what works in one area might not fit the strategy of another within the same facility.

Master Warehouse Layout with East Coast Storage Equipment

Warehouse slotting is a great way to add extra efficiency and productivity to your business. But, careful planning and consideration are needed to create a plan that works with your warehouse, equipment, inventory, and workers.

While a WMS and even slotting-specific software can give you a head start, there’s just no replacing real-world expertise. If you’re looking for storage experts with years of warehouse and layout design experience, look no further than East Coast Storage Equipment. Our team is on standby to help you make the most out of your facility. Get in touch today to learn more about our service options.

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