Case study

The 2022 Warehouse – What to expect

Dec 21, 2021 | Pallet Racking

The challenges faced by warehouse and distribution over course of 2020 and 2021 have been relentless. Demand overload, staffing constraints and supply chain break-ups have all seen the warehouse industry forcibly adapt to stay neck and neck with our rapidly changing world. When we consider the high-speed evolvement in technology, the pressing issues surrounding climate change and the continual threat posed by Covid19, it’s palpable that further revisions to the warehouse infrastructure will take form over the coming year and beyond.

So as the New Year approaches, what changes are we likely to see taking place in the warehouse environment and what variations might you need to consider for your particular warehouse?

Meeting an ever-growing demand

Significant limitations on the physical shopper during lockdown meant that for many, the only way to make both essential and optional purchases was to buy online and despite lockdown restrictions lifting, the upward trend for online purchasing continues to rise. This is because the virtual world of purchasing allows avoidance of busy retail spaces in which Covid19 still poses a threat. Not only that, many have discovered the convenience of online shopping: it saves time, is often cheaper and returns are simple and often free. Also online purchasing is safer now than it has ever been; therefore confidence in online safety has grown.

In its persistent escalation, online purchasing drives pressure on ecommerce and fulfillment to respond with speed, accuracy and availability. Already in 2021 we have seen a decline in accessible warehouse space due to a peak in demand as businesses work to increase their online availability, therefore using existing space to its full potential will be a key approach for warehouses in 2022.

Pallet being picked by FLT

Increase Capacity – Not your Footprint Area

When business activity increases, floor space is a valuable resource but if limited it can restrict growth, so if you’re anticipating a squeeze on floor space a mezzanine floor could be the savior of your operation in 2022. The independent floor between floors will allow your expanding operation to grow within the same premises without the high cost, disruption or risk of relocating. A mezzanine floor has the potential to double your existing operational space, and if height space allows, multiple levels can be incorporated. However many levels and whatever the size of your mezzanine, the structure is designed and implemented to match the needs of your operation whether that’s to provide more storage, office or production space so you can be sure that through professional design, your mezzanine will only increase productivity.

Warehouses will also be looking to support heightened inventory volume through the reconfiguration of storage structures with the aim to increase storage capacity without the need to increase the footprint. If there is unused height space above your current storage structures, further levels of pallet racking or shelving is a viable option. Pallet racking can be built up to ceiling height with easy access through the use of a specialist high reaching fork lift truck (FLT). These trucks which are very slim are able to navigate aisles of a very narrow width which are purposely designed that way to enable more rows. This narrow aisle racking system can also be fitted with pick and deposit stations (P&Ds) which can further influence speed of the overall operation. With P&Ds, the slim FLTs which are highly effective within the aisles but less so beyond the aisle can work in conjunction with the faster counterbalance FLTs which can take on the task of transporting the pallets between the P&Ds and external doors.

In the same way shelving height can be extended, creating a multi tier shelving system with incorporated walkways and stairways with the option of lifts for access. For the fast paced operations chutes from the upper level to lower will enable very fast movement of products.

For the warehouse currently operating using a standard wide aisle racking system with limited height and floor space, the double deep racking configuration is a hassle free, low cost solution. Simply place the standard rows of racks back to back to reduce aisle numbers needed from one per row to one per doubled row. This makes better use of floor space with more used for storage rather than fixed aisle space.

Double deep racking

Reverse Logistics Acceleration

Before the pandemic, e-tailing was a steadily growing trend and returns were always a part of that; however the significant boom in ecommerce has meant that returns is no longer a second thought. A big part of meeting customer expectations is to ensure a hassle free returns procedure, and although it may not sound very profitable, easy returns and a fast refund eases customer apprehensions and instead gives them more confidence to spend with you.

Given that online sales are on the rise warehouses have begun strengthening their focus on the reverse logistics operation to ensure customer returns are effectively handled, not only by way of meeting customer expectations, but also to avoid hindrance to profitability. Once customer returns are back in the warehouse, they need to re-enter the storage and distribution process as quickly as possible. If returns are left in a discarded pile, the items become unaccounted for and will miss the opportunity to be sold again. The longer items are left in the returns area, the bigger the area needs to be therefore a fast and efficient returns operation will not only save money, but will also save space.

Employee Wellbeing and Management

The requirement to isolate after a positive Covid19 test looks set to remain in place for the foreseeable future and the effects could be intensified by emerging new variants of the virus. This entangled with the potential of further lockdowns which is never ruled out, is a real concern for fulfillment operations. However, we are used to the uncertainty Covid19 brings so the warehouse is learning to be better prepared. To help ease pressure on operatives and to be better positioned in the case of absences, try looking at how you can simplify processes. As an example you could look at the warehouse layout to see if the departments could be better placed for a more streamlined process to reduce time wasted on unproductive travel times between poorly placed departments. Staff covering for their colleagues would be more appreciative if they weren’t burdened with more work than what’s really necessary. Using a variety of full-time, part-time and temporary staff as well as flexible working is particularly useful when workloads are unpredictable and can also work better when cover is needed at short notice. Is there an opportunity to increase training to ensure more staff have the ability to operate various machinery or equipment such as the FLT should cover be required?

Introducing More Sustainability

Climate change issues have been dominating the media for a number of years now so the warehouse going into 2022 has already built up awareness, however the focus on climate change has become more intense and demand for more action is likely to escalate in the coming year. If you haven’t already given it some thought, 2022 is the year to put plans in place for a more eco-friendly warehouse

In 2022, businesses will be expected to plan for and start implementing greener and more sustainable solutions and systems. For the warehouse whose reliant on a large open space, this in itself will be quite a task, however we are already seeing warehouses adopting ways to operate with more sustainability and they are saving money in the process. As well as fitting solar panels to the roof of the building, warehouses are introducing LED lighting which consumes just a fraction of the energy of standard lighting. The demise of the petrol FLT has already begun as more warehouses are now using eco-friendly powered trucks such as electric or battery powered. The cold chain warehouse can make huge savings in terms of cost and energy consumption by storing compactly. Compact storage systems, some of which operate on the First-in First-out (FIFO) basis (assisted stock rotation) consist of pallet racking and shelving systems that allow you to store significantly more within the same surface area. This reduces the size of the frozen or chilled space which subsequently reduces the amount of energy used.

Highly Compact Push back Pallet Racking System

Take Advantage of Technological Advances

Effective inventory management using drones is already in motion and with more warehouses set to adopt the concept; it won’t be long before the drones become a common sight in warehouse settings. Using drones to help keep track of inventory levels by flying the drone to the high racks to scan barcodes or to enable the operator a visual on the stock from the ground floor level. Drone technology allows for fast, effective stock management with minimal need for human input resulting in significant labour cost savings.

Digital signage with LED lighting is another smart technological solution we are likely to see more of as we journey through 2022 and beyond. Digital warehouse signage shows real time information such as stock levels, and as a result operatives constantly have the right information to hand, ensuring accuracy and minimising risk of error. The signage can also be used to give the team performance updates, reminders, production information, and alert staff of any safety issues and make any special announcements.

Top of racks and LED lighting

 

Whatever your warehouse needs in 2022, the WSL team is here to help ensure the most effective solution for your business and budget. To discuss your individual requirements with one of our expert design technicians contact us in 0113 2045350 or email sales@wslmail.co.uk

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