Warehouse Automation: Designing For The Future

Warehouses are critical components of the supply chain.


3. Collect information and data. Collect any and all information specific to the new facility. Since it is best to work from inside the facility out when considering new construction, don’t let any building constraints restrict design. When considering existing space for the new facility, make sure the information includes accurate drawings showing column sizes and locations, dock and personnel doors and locations, ceiling height restrictions and ceiling girder/joist construction.

It is also important to collect all relevant product information pertaining to the number of stock keeping units (SKUs) to be stored and picked within the facility, along with their dimensional measurements, weights, order history and velocity data.

4. Analysis. Once information about the building and the inventory has been collected, a thorough analysis should be performed in order to determine if the goals and objectives can be obtained. The analysis should answer the following questions:

• How well does the product flow into, within, and out of the facility?
• Does the forward pick area (pick modules) hold sufficient inventory to avoid excessive replenishment requirements?
• Is the storage system and area large enough to accommodate the inventory including any required safety stock?
• What type of conveying and sortation equipment will be used?
• What are the staffing requirements?
• Does the operating budget include staffing, maintenance, utilities and the cost of the information system?
• How well will the facility adapt to a change in operating requirements?
• How effectively will the warehouse management system work with the automated material handling system?

If the analysis determines the goals and objectives can be met, the detailed solution and project plan can then be developed. If they cannot be met, then management should determine an alternate plan of action such as modifying the goals and objectives or making substantial changes to the building design.

5. Create a detailed project plan. This plan should identify all the steps required to create the warehouse or distribution center layout, including the overall goals and objectives, and the results of the information and data analysis used in developing the plan. The project plan should contain the major tasks to be undertaken, the resources needed to achieve each task, and how much time should be allotted to accomplish the tasks successfully.

The project plan should include start and end dates for all tasks, as well as availability of resources. Once the plan has been developed, it should be reviewed and checked to be sure the time line is realistic and attainable, as the available occupancy date of a new facility will dictate equipment delivery and installation.

6. Implementation. The implementation phase of the project is when the “rubber meets the road.” It’s during this phase that the layout is transformed from concept to reality.

All resources within the new facility need to work together to ensure the project plan’s goals are met. Since there is a set order in which components of the system should be installed, delivery of all products is carefully coordinated so as to arrive at the time when it is needed.

Like a race car which is tuned to perform its best at each individual race track, this phase is when the system gets tuned for peak performance. Timing for the sortation systems and merges are set to maximize throughput. The pitch to be used for the carton and pallet flow racks is adjusted in order to meet the user’s satisfaction.

The time from establishing system goals to completion can in some cases be over a year and, on occasion, changes are requested during the implementation phase in order to meet the most current objectives. It’s important to remember that all of these changes or deviations from the original plan must be well documented so that expectations for all stakeholders are managed properly.

7. Post project review. Once the project has been completed and inventory is moving smoothly in and out of the facility, a closeout meeting should be scheduled. This session will include a discussion with the implementation team as to whether the final layout was implemented as originally designed and approved, and to confirm that any changes were appropriately documented. This step is critical for future project planning.

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