Case study

Does your racking layout match your warehouse layout?

Apr 19, 2023 | Pallet Racking

An optimal layout is the foundation of a successful warehouse operation in which a corresponding warehouse and racking layout will boost workflow and encourage high level efficiency.

Warehouse layout – an outlined meaning

Warehouse layout refers to the way in which the contents of the warehouse are arranged within the space, for instance the structures, departments and facilities.

Racking layout – an outlined meaning

The racking layout zooms in on the finer details to establish how inventory is managed and stored with consideration given to access, navigation and available space.

Plan your warehouse layout with intention

The aim is to position the varying structures and functions in such a way that all movement within your facility can be purposefully steered to maximise productive capacity and avoid warehouse congestion. As well as a streamlined flow, the aim of a strategically planned warehouse layout is to:

  • Use all space optimally – This is the fundamental purpose of warehouse layout planning because wasted space equates to wasted opportunity. It’s important to remember that every inch of your warehouse space comes at a cost; therefore every inch should be viewed as functional. A warehouse that uses space effectively promotes efficiency and speed making any irregularities that do occur much easier to detect.
  • Boost performance – An optimal layout makes way for product organisation and process streamlining which all goes towards successful order fulfillment, meeting customer expectations and increased profitability.
  • Maximise labour utilisation – Being a significant cost, you will certainly want the money on labour to be spent effectively! An optimal layout gives labour direction and promotes simplicity during the undertaking of tasks, minimising the risk of costly errors and time wastage.
  • Maintain organisation and cleanliness – In an orderly warehouse, the risk of items becoming lost is minimised and any clutter or mess is much easier to detect.
  • Ensure overall efficiency – With an optimal layout, you have created the framework for a successful warehouse which is simple to manage with higher and easy to maintain productivity levels.

When developed without intension, your warehouse layout will likely cause you numerous problems and incur more costs in terms of labour, product replacements, lost sales and possibly accidental damage or injuries.

Warehouse planning session

Warehouse layout planning – what to consider

If expectations are to be met beyond the four walls of your warehouse, then harmonious movement is essential within its four walls. Whilst each component of your operation plays its own role in productivity, the poor positioning of those components will risk the effects of a bootless errand. The key is to plan your warehouse layout to ensure each departmental task will seamlessly run into the next, so first, let’s consider the key elements of your operation:

  • Goods received – This is the area in which goods enter the warehouse for the first time.
  • Storage – Where and how inventory will be stored
  • Packing/order preparation – A key activity in which orders are prepared, packaged and labeled
  • Despatch – The last leg of the journey where goods leave the warehouse
  • Returns – Orders that have been sent back to the warehouse
  • Staff facilities – Ensuring access to WCs, resting and lunch areas will keep staff productive

Course-plotting your warehouse

Before tooling your warehouse with its contents, a fresh look at the shape of the space and location of the entry and exit points is required because these are used to guide you to the most effective route.

I shaped flow – Items enter the warehouse and by the time they arrive the exit point, they have only traveled a single line direction. The entry and exit opening sit directly opposite one another.

L shaped flow – With the exit point located along the wall joining the entry point wall, goods take a single left or right turn before reaching the exit point. The building shape will normally be an L shape making this route the most effective

U shaped flow – The entry and exit points are located at apposing ends of the same wall allowing the goods to travel a semicircle route as part of their journey from entry to exit.

Once familiar with the shape of your warehouse flow, the next step is to plan the positioning and location of various functions along the route in a logical and sequential order.

Diagrams illustrating the L I and U shaped flow layout

Whilst planning your route, here are a few things to be mindful of:

  • Fast stock accessibility – For products undergoing brisk demand, it makes sense to ensure that these items are stored within easy reach and conveniently close to the next stage. Fast stock refers to seasonal, promotional or high trending products for which order frequency has peaked. The fast stock section of your storage structures should be reserved for fast stock products to allow a speedy process for products in high demand, whatever they are. For example, in the months running up to Christmas this section could be filled with chocolate selection boxes, only to be replaced with heart novelty chocolates as Valentine’s Day approaches, and then chocolate eggs in the run up to Easter.
  • Anticipated growth – If you envisage future growth, then this should reflect in your warehouse layout plan. The plan should allow for areas that may undergo future modification in line with growth such as a potential mezzanine floor extension for example. When growth demands more space, you will have the ability to stay in premises and accommodate your operational growth needs rather than endure the disruption and costs of a building expansion or relocation.
  • Departmental space– Your plan may demonstrate that your operational functions and departments will be optimally placed, but does it demonstrate adequate space allocation to each one? A department operating in more space than needed will result in wasted space, whilst a space too small for a department to function effectively is likely to see productivity falls. In both instances, there is a real risk to overall efficiency which is why departmental needs are significant when it comes to warehouse layout planning.
  • Safety – The safety of any person in the warehouse, whether that’s employees or visitors must be prioritised. Whilst emergency exits must be clearly marked, the routes to those exits must also be clear from obstruction and this must be considered when placing your structures and equipment.  Another safety feature to make provisions for in your layout plan is pedestrian walkways, particularly in areas you envisage to be high traffic, and safety barriers where the risk of collision into structures may be heightened.

Floor painted walkways around the racking structure

Planning your racking layout

With a comprehension of the size and location of your storage areas and the surrounding functions, you can now look at how these areas will be configured. This particular set-up will be guided by the individual needs your inventory and wider operational requirements which means there is much to consider. Here is a number of influencing factors to be conscious of:

Warehouse Zones – Your warehouse space is broken up into different functions, often known as zones. Some warehouses have more zones than others, however all warehouses have specific zones in which effective inventory storage is required:

  • Returns Zone – Since the world went digital warehouses are not only sending goods directly to customer they are also seeing returns in much greater volume, so much so that a returns zone is a common sight in today’s modern warehouse. It’s in this zone; returned goods are processed before placed back into the main storage area. Without proper management, the risk is that the returned items are not re-entered into the system to be re-sold. Being stored temporarily during this process will help keep the items secure, protected and organised. The type of storage system used for your return items will depend on the type of products. It could be a simple set of shelves for light, hand loaded goods or a row of cantilever racking is your expected returns are cookers, washing machines or tumble dryers.
  • Static Storage Zone – These are inventory storage zones for goods that don’t move until manually located and picked. For hand-loaded goods a long span shelving system would be an option and for palletized goods, a standard wide aisle pallet racking system is a great example. These are both selective systems which allow direct access to each pallet or item as and when required and both are suitable storage solutions for a wide range of product types.
  • Dynamic Storage Zone – This zone accommodates inventory that moves even whilst in storage. Access is only immediate to the goods or pallets that are visible on the frontal face, behind which more pallets or items are queued up, waiting for their turn to be picked. A dynamic system consists of deep lane storage and can work on a First-in-First-out (FIFO) basis which makes life easier for operations handling perishable goods. Movement within the system is powered by the natural force of gravity when using the pallet live racking system which has a slight tilt and rollers running the length of the lane. Another option is the shuttle racking system which transports pallets electronically using a radio controlled shuttle on which the pallet is placed for transportation. A single shuttle is ideal is ideal if turnover is low, however numerous shuttles can be incorporated if movement needs to be faster.
  • Temperature Controlled Zones – Whilst the standard pallet racking system has the physical durability to uphold the colder temperatures, the wide aisles between the rows means that extra energy consumption is being used due to the wider footprint area. Its common practice in cold chambers to store as much as possible within a specific area by storing in a more compact configuration to save on energy consumption costs. The drive-in/drive-through racking system is cleverly designed to do just that. The use of deep lane and no beams, but rather ledges that run the length of the lanes which allows the fork lift truck to enter the structure to load and pick pallets all from both sides if using the FIFO method. If goods are slower moving and direct access to each pallet is more desirable, then the mobile racking system would be a good option. The system is configured using standard racking which is mounted onto a mobile base allowing multiple rows to be pushed together to make way for more rows. A temporary aisle is formed to access the pallets, however only one aisle can be opened at one time making this ideal for low turnover products requiring a temperature controlled environment.
  • Picking Zones – It may be necessary to incorporate a picking zone separate from the storage area if picking is sequined, automated or more frequent in reference to certain items. In many instances the productive picking zone is also a sorting and order preparation zone, therefore workbenches and bulk storage would be in the vicinity to minimise travel time. As an example, fully loaded pallets will often need breaking down to allow individual hand held items to be stored on suitable shelving to be picked, therefore the pallet racking is positioned in easy reach of the picking shelves. The nearby workbenches would then allow the items to be prepared promptly after being picked. In fast moving operations, where the goods being picked have a limited shelf life, a carton live shelving system provides assisted stock rotation whilst enabling speed as the one operator loads the goods from the broken down pallet on one side of the shelf as the picker retrieves the goods once they have travelled down-slop along the built in rollers to the picking face.

Warehouse fitted with carefully planned picking solutions

Handling equipment – It’s important to consider fork lift truck (FLT) compatibility because whilst the standard counterbalance truck works perfectly well with most pallet racking types, a specialist truck would be required to work with a VNA racking system. This is due to the much slimmer aisle width and particularly tall racks to which a high reaching, narrow bodied truck is essential. These trucks can safely navigate the slim lames between the racks with the assistance of wired guidance to eliminate the rock of collision into the racks. Whilst the drive-in/drive-through racks can be operated using a standard counterbalance truck, the seating position on a reach truck provides enhanced visibility to the operator who is required to enter the structure.

Flexibility and versatility – Are your inventory needs likely to change? How will your new set-up manage a new inventory type? If inventory needs are variable, you will want to implement a racking solution that offers flexibility and versatility. The cantilever racking system for example is a specialist solution designed to support oddly shaped items that may be particularly heavy. The arms can moved and placed in a new location to ensure varying products can be supported whether that’s because you have a batch of longer timber planks to store or your current dishwasher goods are from the slim-line range. The beams standard wide aisle racking system can also be adjusted in a similar way to ensure varying load sizes can be accommodated. These standard racks can even be fitted with decking to help ensure smaller loads can be stored safely.

Available space – How much space is allocated to your storage areas? This has great influence on your warehouse racking configuration because the aim of your chosen solution is to maximise space whilst supporting inventory needs. Whether a tall racking configuration or a deep lane storage solution is best suited to your space will depend on the full cubic area dimensions and how best to utilise its entirety whilst meeting inventory needs at the same time.

Budget – When optimally designed, your warehouse racking solution will be money well-spent and this will become largely obvious when you start to see a return on your investment. It’s always wise to obtain a racking budget cost in the first instance to gain an insight to the probable costs involved which will enable you to set a project budget. Obtaining a budget cost couldn’t be easier with WSL. Just send your space dimensions including any sketches you may have, pallet details and key inventory traits to us at sales@wslmail.co.uk and we’ll do the rest! We aim to return your budget costs to you within 24 hours.

Here’s your budget cost checklist:

Infographic checklist for a pallet racking budget cost

Want to know more?

Contact WSL on 0113 2045350 or email sales@wslmail.co.uk and speak to one of our experienced Technical Designers who specialise in the design and implementation of effective, bespoke warehouse racking solutions.

Get started

Discuss Your Project

Our service is completely client-centric. We provide all manufacturer types, as well as fitters, engineers and inspectors; which means that not only can we deliver your entire project from start to finish, but that we can provide a fully bespoke solution for your individual needs. Get in touch to find out more.