According to The Wall Street Journal, the supply of warehouse space in the United States most likely caught up to demand at some point during 2018. This was a white-hot market for a good while, but it seems to have cooled off a bit in the last couple years.
In the new and more competitive worlds of warehousing, logistics and freight handling and forwarding, it’s even more important to get the most out of your available storage space. The following are just a few ways to increase your open warehouse storage:
1. Calculate Your Total Space
You won’t be able to optimize or increase your warehouse storage until you know how much space you have to work with. Remember that not every part of the building has a uniform height, so studying the shapes and areas in detail could uncover hidden storage potential you didn’t even know about.
As always, the total warehouse size is calculated as:
(square feet) x (feet of clear height) = (cubic warehouse feet)
2. Reclaim Vertical Height Easily
Best practices generally say to leave 6 inches of clearance between the top of product pallets and the next-higher racking beam. If there’s more space here, it’s probably time to readjust the distance between the rack components.
It’s probably been a while since you re-optimized your racking for your current inventory. If so, you can probably eke out some extra vertical storage space by making sure your forklift operators have precisely — and only — the room they need to stow and pick safely.
3. Add More Vertical Height
Part two of the previous suggestion is to add more vertical height physically if you have the budget, clearance and go-ahead from your local government.
Consider spending the time and effort to expand your warehouse storage system as far upward as you can without running afoul of local building codes. If you haven’t done this already, higher warehouse racking systems and walkable mezzanines can breathe new life into a warehouse facility well before you start seriously considering expanding to another, larger building.
4. Use Right-Sized Containers
Think about the bins, pallets and totes sitting on the racks in your warehouse. Are they the right size for the items within? Plastic and metal containers might give the impression of high space utilization if there are lots of them sitting in a section of racking.
Oversized containers represent wasted space, though. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for product containers in warehouses, so look around until you find a solution that finds a line-of-best-fit between the product and the surrounding racking.
5. Develop Warehouse Layout According to Product Size
Similarly, you might be wasting space by storing smaller or bulk items in warehouse racking areas designed for larger, bulkier or heavier products. During your warehouse optimization, you might find you need to develop a library-style approach to storing smaller merchandise instead of letting variously sized SKUs commingle throughout the warehouse.
6. Take Product Velocity into Account
Sometimes it takes a look at product velocity to free up valuable space in your warehouse. As the famous principle goes, 80% of the activity in a warehouse comes from 20% of the products. To increase your warehouse space, relocate your fast-moving products to the front. As you do this, you’ll naturally find products that tend to stick around for longer.
Look over your warehouse management system and velocity reports. If you can liquidate sticky merchandise or shift it to longer-term storage, that’s productive space you could use for other, higher-value purposes.
7. Look Again at Aisle Widths and Vehicle Traffic
Like your racking height, it may have been some time since you looked at the distance between your warehouse aisles. Your facility may still be set up for a different type or amount of traffic or products.
If you can do it safely, moving the aisles closer together may greatly expand the amount of space you have to work with. Standard aisles — sized for sit-down forklifts and similar vehicles — typically measure 10.5 feet across. If you want to free up space and you’re not afraid to rethink your fleet, 5- to 7-foot aisles provide comfortable travel for narrow-aisle forklifts.
8. Better Understand Space Utilization
Designing or redesigning a warehouse space involves restructuring the environment within as well, including travel patterns and workflows. This factor is why it’s a good idea to understand space utilization in warehouses, as well as know how to calculate it and why dialing in the right utilization level is great for increasing space and productivity.
To calculate the current space utilization in your warehouse, follow these steps:
- Take measurements of the footprints of all of your racking.
- Calculate the vertical storage capacity for all racking.
- Multiply each pallet rack’s true capacity by the number of racks you’ve measured.
If your calculation generates a value between 22% and 28%, you’re generally in good shape. A space utilization score of above 28% means denser products and more storage space, but it comes at the cost of productivity. Meanwhile, utilization below 22% or so shows there are major design or layout issues to analyze within the building.
After you know your facility’s utilization, you’ll better understand the next steps to take. The right utilization level will maximize product density while still allowing plenty of room for pedestrians and vehicles to navigate safely.
Increase Warehouse Storage by Solving Everyday Headaches
Ultimately, you have a workforce that puts in the hours each day and probably has some insights about layout and processes. If the above examples are any indication, you’ll probably find a good bit of overlap between the solutions to everyday employee headaches and the answers for dwindling storage space.
Guest Blogger – Megan Ray Nichols
Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance technical writer. She also runs her own blog, Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making complicated scientific topics easier to understand. You can follow Megan on Twitter @nicholsrmegan to keep up with the latest news.
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