Design Your Warehouse Layout for Maximum Efficiency

warehouse layoutA thoughtful warehouse layout can streamline processes and ensure faster rates of productivity. Inefficient warehouse layouts fail to use space efficiently, negatively impacting the supply chain, workflow, and shipping times. Whether you’re designing a new warehouse or taking over an existing one, the time to redesign your layout is now. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to warehouse design, there are some tips you can employ to maximize efficiency and revenue.

Warehouse Design and Layout Considerations

Warehouse layout depends upon how the warehouse will be used, so be thorough during the planning stage. Regardless of your business type, your warehouse design will center on these three things:

Regardless of the warehouse size, start by putting a basic plan down on paper or on a computer screen. It can be downloaded and printed when you’re finished planning. It’s best to use a copy of the building’s blueprint if there’s one available. If not, lay the space out on grid paper, using a scale of one grid square equaling one square foot. 

Be sure your measurements are accurate.  Measure the building yourself. Accuracy is very important, so it’s best to use a laser measuring device. Even errors of just a few inches here and there can cause problems when you install workstations and shelving. Make a note of any supports, built-out areas, overhead doors and other items you’ll need to plan around.

Other Factors to Weigh for Warehouse Floor Plans 

Identify the key areas that will take up the most space in your operation. For E-commerce businesses that mostly store and ship products, key areas will probably be racks and shelving. For manufacturing and assembly operations, key areas might include machinery, equipment, and workstations. Whatever your key areas are, make them the first things to put on your plan and warehouse design and layout around them.

The next thing to consider is a smooth workflow. Give thought to how people, materials, and products can most safely and efficiently move around in your key areas. For manufacturing operations, be sure to make space for workbenches, tools, bins and similar items. Be sure there’s enough room in the production zone for workers to produce to safely move supplies in and finished goods out. For businesses that stock and ship products, the aisles between shelving are primary work areas. There needs to be enough room for employees to maneuver equipment to stock shelves and pick items when filling orders. Other primary work areas are the production zones where packaging, shipping, and receiving take place. Assembly operations sometimes combine the requirements of manufacturing and stock and ship businesses. You’ll need to reserve space for workers and their tools, benches, and assembly equipment. You’ll also need space to package and ship the goods.

Warehouse Layout Planning Best Practices

It’s important to take into account every stock keeping unit (SKU) the warehouse will hold. Considerations include each item’s dimensions, weight, and packaging. Also, consider the minimum and maximum quantities of SKUs on hand at any given time. This will help determine the amount of floor space required, as well as the type, size, and number of storage racks and shelves that will be needed. Make note of any items are temperature or humidity sensitive.

Keep these additional factors in mind when mapping out your warehouse layout:

Physical Characteristics

The length and width of the building’s floor area needs to be precisely measured to plan a warehouse layout. You’ll also need to know the clear ceiling height. Other factors include the location and dimensions of fixed obstacles, such as support columns, mezzanines, restrooms and interior offices. Take into account the source and amount of electrical power, along with the sizes and locations of all windows and doors.

Machinery and Equipment

There needs to be enough room for forklifts, jacks and similar equipment to move around safely. The size and location of all machinery and equipment used for production, assembly, packaging and other activities needs to also be known for warehouse planning.

Inventory Flow

Moving materials and inventory cost money. It must be kept to a minimum. For the most efficient warehouse layout, take into account inventory flow. This includes activities like receipt of parts and materials, moving finished goods to and from storage, processing orders, retrieving items and shipping them out. This analysis should also include how often the inventory is turned over.

Number of Employees

Determine the maximum number of employees on site at any given time. Consider how they are organized and the number of shifts the warehouse will operate. These will affect safety issues, such as the number and location of emergency fire exits. The number of workers will also determine how many restrooms are needed to comply with OSHA regulations.

Warehouse Organization Layout for Storage

A well thought-out storage area is a key element in warehouse layout. The type of storage you need depends upon the size, weight, and quantity of the items you’ll store. It also determines the space needed in and around storage areas, including the aisle widths between rows of shelves. Depending upon the clear height in the warehouse, store items on taller shelving to save valuable floor space for other uses.    

The mix of storage space and work area depends on the operation. Once you’ve determined the ratio, decide on the storage and shelving that will work best. Here are some common storage options, their uses, and sizes:

Pallet Racks. Used for storing pallets with medium to heavy loads of stock and finished goods. Pallet racks are typically 3’ to 4’ deep x 8’ to 20’ in height. They’re probably the most cost-effective type of shelving for large storage areas.

Heavy Duty Shelving. Used to store light to medium weight loads, like bins filled with small parts. Typically 3’ or 4’ deep, 6’ to 8’ in length and 6’ to 8’ high.

Light Duty Shelving. Also used for storing small, lightweight items, such as parts. Usually 18” to 2’ deep x 4’ long x 6’ to 7’ high.

Cantilever Racks. These hold large items like pipe, paneling or lumber. Check with a local supplier for information on the various sizes and load limits.

Hoppers, Bins, and Barrels. Used for storing various parts and materials in manufacturing and assembly operations. They’re typically loaded on pallets and moved with pallet jacks.

Small Parts Bins. Used to hold large amounts of small items where space is limited. Bins are either stacked on shelves or on workstation tables.

You’ll also need to allow space for various pieces of workplace equipment, such as:

Utility Tables and Workbenches. Used in manufacturing and assembly activities. Common sizes are 2’ to 3’ deep by 5’ to 8’ long.

Packing Stations. Typically 3’ deep x 6’ long, these are used to prepare goods for shipment.

Pallet Freight Scale Station. Used to weigh outgoing shipments. Typically 4’ x 4’ or 4’ deep x 6’ long.

Parcel Scale and Labeling Table. Used weigh and label outgoing parcels. Come in various sizes

Stock Carts and Pallet Jacks. Used to move materials and goods within the warehouse. They’re normally 3’ or 4’ wide x 5’ to 8’ long.

Traffic Flow Considerations

As you determine the best warehouse design and layout for your space, it’s important to keep traffic flow in mind. Start by considering where workers spend a majority of their time. Their workstations, storage areas, and manufacturing equipment should be easily accessible, as should the items they need to move, gather, or have close at hand. While every business is unique, all can benefit from spending a little time thinking about traffic patterns and workstations.

Start by ensuring your aisles between shelves feed directly to the busiest production areas. Aisles should be wide enough for workers and equipment to move freely. Packing and Shipping areas should be roomy enough for workers, equipment, and packing materials. Space is needed to load pallets for larger orders, too. Shipping and Receiving areas should be positioned near docks and overhead doors to receive materials and ship out products effectively. 

Equipment storage areas should have room to store forklifts, pallet jacks, rolling ladders, and other items when not in use. Fail to leave enough storage space for such equipment and you’ll inevitably see traffic flow disrupted and productivity slow. To test your warehouse layout, use masking tape to mark off workstations and workbenches, manufacturing and assembly, storage, shelving, and other areas. Then walk the space as if you’re working. This can give you insight to make any final adjustments.

The Connection Between Warehouse Layout and Productivity

The best warehouse layouts prioritize workers and their habits. When a space feels intuitive, employees spend less time worrying about dodging forklift traffic and more on getting their tasks done in an efficient way. With careful planning, you can create warehouse floor plans that serve your entire team. It may take a few iterations to get right, but with enough insight into existing workflows, you’re sure to make the layout as effective as possible.

If increasing your rates of productivity is the goal, it’s also worth putting employees through proper forklift training. Educated forklift operators are more productive and less likely to be involved in a workplace accident. It’s no wonder OSHA requires forklift operators to be licensed before they begin work. If you need help getting your team certified, FLC can help. If you still have questions about our offerings or certification opportunities, we’re here to help. Reach out to our team online or give us a call with any questions you might have at (888) 278-8896.

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