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Planning a warehouse

You have the warehouse and the products to go in it, but do you know how to configure racking to achieve the optimum balance between storage space and handling efficiency? Grahame Ramsey, general manager at leading racking provider, Allibert Buckhorn, shares practical advice on how seemingly minor considerations can bring a major positive impact on your effectiveness.

A typical company may only buy or change its racking every 10 years. Whether it is the relative luxury of moving into a brand new facility on a greenfield site or an existing warehouse, the way your racking and mechanical handling equipment is configured can have a big impact on the efficiency of your operation and ultimately your profitability. But if you don't know the right questions to ask, how can you get the answers you want?

There are hundreds or perhaps thousands of products stored within the typical busy warehouse. Unless you are a powerful supermarket multiple, the chances are your products will arrive from suppliers boxed in various quantities and on pallets in as many as half a dozen different sizes.

You may need to pick or sort at a product, carton or pallet level, or you may simply be storing them for forwarding to a final destination. Whatever your needs, the principles of good racking design remain the same.

At Allibert Buckhorn, we operate a simple principle – to design 'from the inside out', planning a warehouse around the products that go through it. In the same way as a good car is designed around the driver, an efficient and well-managed warehouse will make maximum use of its available storage balanced against practical day-to-day operational needs.

This may sound straightforward, but all too often racking layout is compromised fitting in with the warehouse design. Although this clearly has to be taken into account, when designing 'from the inside out' it is ultimately the products that must lead thinking. There are a number of basic but necessary questions you should ask yourself.

What products do I have a need for?
For example, imagine you are a manufacturer of adhesive tape. Your standard rolls each come in a cardboard box 50mm cube. These boxes then come in cartons of 36, which in turn arrive polywrapped on a Euro pallet in bundles of 160.

To calculate the best racking configuration for your product, you need to work out the total volume of this pallet. This is then calculated against the number of products you are expecting to hold at any given time.

But you also make this product in other sizes, and also distribute other related products, all in different quantities and with various dimensions and weights. A racking system is needed to handle all of these variables.

How do I need to handle them within the warehouse?
Products may need to be broken down and sorted with other products before being shipped, so space will need to be allocated for sortation and marshalling.

Decide upon the best mechanical handling equipment for your operation. Are you constrained to existing equipment, or will budget allow you to consider other handling equipment that may even speed handling operations still further?

To enhance the basic racking and handling procedures conventionally specified for a warehouse, consideration should be given to picking shelves and dynamic solutions such as carton and/or pallet live storage.

Depending on the type of products to be stored and methods of handling, there may be need for accessories. These can include picking shelves and various dynamic picking solutions such as carton or pallet live storage.

What else do I need to consider?
There are many other factors to consider – finance, planning factors, building constraints, environmental considerations, local skill levels, Health and Safety regulations and fire precautions. All these have to be incorporated into your overall supply chain.

Colour coding racking of different strengths for different loads can seem a cost-effective way of managing a warehouse, but very often the product range and warehouse managers can change over time, and the exact meaning of the code could be lost or become confused, risking overloading. Investing in heavier duty racking throughout at the beginning may cost more, but will ensure the system is effective and future-proof.

What racking am I likely to need in the future?
The point is that you can never know for sure, so plan for all possible eventualities. Having a flexible racking system is vital to adapting successfully to future challenges. You may, for instance, have demands created by seasonal products, be planning a major new product launch or be gearing up to sell goods online – which may mean what you need tomorrow is very different from today.

Thoughtful racking configuration can mean the difference between an efficient warehouse and a bottlenecked one. This whole thought process will start to give you a much better understanding of the specification of racking you will need, now and in years to come.

Because you probably purchase racking infrequently, knowing exactly what you need and the right questions to ask can prove difficult. Allibert Buckhorn sells and advises on new and existing racking systems every day, and this bank of knowledge enables us to draw on our experience to consider every potential issue.

As a specifier, you're probably more familiar with working around a problem in an existing warehouse. But have you ever thought that rather than simply living with it or replacing the racking completely, with expert advice your existing processes could be significantly improved.

These are just some of the issues a forward-thinking specifier should consider. The difference comes in collating all the information needed to make sure the racking solution provided is exactly what is required. By thinking 'inside out', you can be sure your facility will operate at its optimum potential for the real benefit of the entire business.

Tel. 01527 882882,
e-mail allibert-buckhorn@myerseurope.com or visit www.allibert-equipment.com

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