Some of the best experiences I have had with being in the material handling industry as a supplier is that I have had the privilege of observing how each company designs, manufactures, and distributes their respective widgets during warehouse and production areas in companies across the country.
However, I have discovered that no matter how different the company, one key complaint has plagued most business owners and warehouse, production/manufacturing, and operations managers: running out of space. In fact, some businesses are so convinced that they have no more room that they are considering a facility move when the economy begins to improve.
A facility move can easily cost some companies in the millions of dollars. Even a smaller manufacturing company making a local move can encounter a cost well into six figures.
If we can learn one thing from the companies that have recently failed, it is to improve on what you have without over-extending yourself. One way to do this is to rediscover your lost warehouse space. Correcting certain inefficiencies will allow for faster product throughput, it will eliminate current waste which will save you money, and improve the overall bottom line. Since your manufacturing and storage costs will decrease, you will become more competitive in the marketplace.
Below are seven common ways to attack this issue of wasted warehouse space. No one solution may be the end all be all, and other solutions exist as each warehouse is different. Some of these solutions require a substantial financial investment, others require little or no fiscal commitment.
Pallet racking over dock doors
One of the most cost effective solutions is to utilize the lost space over your dock doors by using pallet racking over this area. While I would not suggest storing product in that location, this creates an incredible opportunity to eliminate all of the empty pallets off of the floor. How about equipment you rarely use? There are several reasons why this method is useful, most of all, it can immediately save you up to 15% of your warehouse space for a relatively low cost. Retain a consultant or a trusted salesperson prior to construction as certain building requirements are necessary for this system.
Using the correct pallet rack
Countless times during warehouse tours I have seen the same issue over and over again: utilizing rack rated for too much weight that what is required. While this problem is somewhat unavoidable with warehouses who utilize random slotting, those who use dedicated slotting will find that by using the right beams for the capacity required for that beam level, an inch or more per level can be saved by using a smaller beam. 1.5 inches may not seem like much until you add up the space savings all the way down the row. In some cases, an entire bay can be opened up for additional storage. This correction, when multiplied by the number of rows you have, can free storage capacity by 10% or more.
Correct beam placement
Another common problem is beam placement. You can easily measure your lost space by examining the amount of space between the top of the product stored below the next beam level up. If this product is palletized, you need to allow 6 inches for forklift interaction. Should the open space be more than 6 inches, simply re-profiling your rack can free up an additional 20-30% of storage space in certain situations. Again, this would apply more to warehouses who use dedicated slotting over random slotting.
Smaller product, if possible, should be stored in shelving rather than pallet racking. Shelving uses thinner shelves than pallet rack, which in and of itself saves space. An additional advantage to shelving, depending on the manufacturer, is modular shelving, especially in a manufacturing environment. This type of shelving does not just utilize shelves, but also cabinets, drawers, computer cabinets, in-shelving work or packaging stations, spools for wire, a coat closet, the combinations are endless. Have a consultant examine your current processes for a complete analysis on space savings as each situation is different.
Multi-level deck over shelving systems
Another advantage of using shelving systems for smaller product storage over pallet racking would be the ability to grow into a multi-level deck over shelving system. This solution is more economical than a mezzanine due to the decreased amount of steel needed to provide additional levels of shelving. Steel grating at the top of each row of your current shelving provides a floor for the second level (third, fourth, etc.) of shelving. Install a staircase and safety railing (and possibly additional equipment depending upon your local building codes) and you now have a multi-level deck over shelving system. Depending on the system used, the cost savings over a mezzanine system can be 25-40% and you have effectively doubled the storage capacity in the same footprint.
Mezzanines provide the ultimate second or multiple floor solution to your warehouse space problem. They provide for a myriad of uses ranging from additional storage to a raised office to machinery support. They also can be built for capacities larger than a multi-level deck over shelving system can provide.
Mobile shelving is shelving (or in some cases, pallet racking) set on tracks that move back and forth either manually or automatically. Think of an accordion for warehouse rack. This system eliminates aisles and can at least double your storage space, if not more. Cost and product velocity are variables to consider, especially product velocity as you will lose picking and order fulfillment speed while waiting for the system to create an opening for your personnel.
These seven ways can improve your space utilization dramatically, and in the current economic environment we are in and have experienced, we have learned the impact of poor warehousing and space planning. Looking ahead, doing more with less wins the race.