Design

This chapter discusses how to set constraints on the warehouse design process, map out your facility, and apply key design principles that will lay the foundation for an efficient and safe facility.

What we'll cover

  • Why design matters 
  • What to do before starting
  • Design principles
  • Design examples
  • Testing your design

What we won't cover

  • Picking a location for your facility
  • Designing the facility’s foundation

Why design matters

Warehouse design is the process of creating the layout for your facility based on your unique set of constraints and objectives. It’s fundamental to the success of your entire operation – from selecting the right equipment to optimizing the day-to-day processes of your team. 

When warehouse design is done right, you’ll see increases in efficiency, lower incident rates, and many more benefits. But if neglected, poor design can lead to gridlock in your operations and even put your team at risk.

What to do before starting

Define your constraints

Before getting started you’ll want to define your needs. These are the basic criteria for evaluating every design decision you make going forward.. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, sodefining strong pass/fail and performance criteria is the first step in the warehouse design process. 

  • Pass/fail criteria - these are your deal breakers. They are binary requirements that are either met or not.
  • Performance criteria - these are scored criteria. They are measured on a numeric scale.

Here are a few to help you get started: 


Budget

How much can you spend on designing your warehouse? This will most likely be a pass/fail criteria for you. If your design options fall under the threshold you set, then you’ll also want to set performance criteria to grade them on (i.e., criteria for rewarding savings or value for money).

Space 

How much space are you working with? Is there a possibility of future expansion? Define the physical limits for your project.

Regulations

What regulations do you need to consider? You’ll want to check to ensure you’re complying with local safety requirements and avoiding any design mistakes that could lead to fines or legal action.

Throughput

What’s your desired throughput? You’ll want to know your current or estimated # of products processed through shipping, receiving, putaway, storage, picking, and packing to make sure your design can accommodate.

People

How many people do you need to run your operation? How many could safely operate within your facility? You’ll want to know how many, their current experience levels, and shift timings.

Equipment 

What equipment do you have or need? In designing your space, you’ll want to consider the dimensions and capabilities of your equipment to ensure they fit in your operation. For example, can a forklift comfortably maneuver and access what you need?


Software

What software is your operation running on or planning to use? Are there physical sensors that need to be installed? Does your software have any specific design requirements? 


These are just a few considerations to get you going. You’ll need to sit down and determine which matter to you and what others you might need to incorporate into your decision-making process.

Mapping out your space

You now have a basic idea of what constraints you’re working with – let’s get into mapping out your space. Mapping out your space will allow you to create the foundational blueprint for your designs. If you already have a blueprint, skip this step. If you don't have a blueprint, you have two options: 

  1. Map it out by hand – you’ll just need a pen, paper, and a measuring tool.
  2. Map it out with software – check out AutoCAD, SketchUp, Smartdraw, or any other computer-aided design (CAD) tools that you prefer

Your object here is to end up with an extremely accurate set of measurements (lengths, widths, and heights) for your warehouse.

Design principles

With your constraints set up and your space mapped out, let’s talk about core design principles for optimizing your space. When considered altogether, these principles should ensure you’re making the most of your space.

Flow

The movement of personnel and materials through your facility. Generally, unidirectional flow means more efficient operations since it minimizes the risk of cross-flow clashes and bottlenecks. 

Accessibility

How easy it is for equipment and staff to reach products and materials. You’ll want to consider how your products are packed and whether they’re accessed on a pallet, case, or individual level. This will affect what equipment you need and how you should design your space so these products can be easily and safely accessed. 

Capacity 

You’ll want to plan for 85% utilization of your total capacity. Since most facilities naturally add more pallets overtime, if you planned for 100% utilization you could end up with a gridlock scenario. 85% utilization ensures that you leave room for buffer and reduce the likelihood of gridlocks.


What is your theoretical capacity? 

The physical capacity for your warehouse dedicated to storage (e.g. 10,000 pallets). 


What is your working capacity? 

The maximum capacity at which your warehouse can still run. Your answer depends on the characteristics (e.g., item size, number of items, etc.) and configuration (e.g., selective-rack, floor-stacked, etc.) of your inventory. Now, if you’re using a selective-rack setup, when one pallet is removed it can be filled with another. However, with a floor-stacked setup, where your lane is 5 pallets deep, for example, it’s possible to end up in a scenario where lanes are blocked until the current set of pallets are moved and therefore can’t be fully utilized. 


Calculating working capacity can get a little tricky, so we recommend checking out this guide.

Traceability

Can every action be traced. Do you know the location and status of any product at any time? Do you know who in your warehouse has been in contact with that product? In order to do this, you’ll need to understand what systems you’re using to track the flow and storage of products through the warehouse. Once you know what warehouse management system (WMS) you’d like to use, you can design your space in a way that complements it. 

Design examples

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are a few common warehouse design patterns that should help you get jump started: 

I-Shaped (“Through-Flow Design”)

Shaped like an “I,” this warehouse design is great for high volume facilities, but comes with the drawback that products often have to travel the full length of the facility to ship out.

How it’s designed: 

  • Loading & Unloading on one end
  • Storage in the middle
  • Shipping on opposite end

U-Shaped

Shaped like a “U,” this warehouse design is quite common as it’s easily implemented on top of almost any warehouse blueprint.

How it’s designed:

  • Loading & Unloading and Shipping areas next to each other (one on each end of the “U”)
  • Reception behind Loading
  • Picking behind Shipping
  • Storage in the middle

L-Shaped

Shaped like an “L,” this warehouse design has lots of room for storage. 

How it’s designed:

  • Loading & Unloading and Reception on one side 
  • Shipping and Picking on opposite side 
  • Storage in the middle 

Testing your design 

The final step! You’ve now mapped out your space, defined your constraints, and designed your warehouse layout based on best practices. Before you put any of your designs into action, you’ll want to test them first. 


Measure out each area of your proposed design and with some handy painters tape, create an outline of your design. Once the outline is laid out, walk through it to check if the design makes sense within your space. If possible, ask your employees to walk the floor and use your equipment to make sure it will fit. Get their feedback, make changes, and test until you’re satisfied. 


Now you’re good to go!

Summary

  • Define your constraints - budget, space, regulations, etc. 
  • Map the dimensions of your space - this will be your canvas. 
  • Design with flow, accessibility, capacity, and traceability in mind.
  • Test your design and iterate your design using feedback from your team.

Next:

Equipment

Essential equipment for an efficient & safe operation.

Next Chapter

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