Facility Tour Souvenirs

The most worthwhile takeaways may be found on a walk through your own distribution center.

Business is improving. You need to make some changes to your logistics operations, but you don’t want to invest too much until you are confident the economy will continue strengthening. The help you need may be right in your own warehouse.

Extra space, more inventory capacity, and increased productivity are all available if you know where to look.

Distribution centers are built around storage media—mostly shelving and pallet rack. They represent the biggest improvement opportunities. Take an after-hours walk through your warehouse or DC and ask yourself the following questions. You may discover that simple changes could yield major paybacks.

• Are you picking piece parts from pallet rack? Are you picking cartons from shelving? In either case, it’s a misapplication and you are wasting both space and labor.

• Are your shelf and rack openings uniform? A uniform opening size generally creates wasted space between the top of the inventory and the next level. Adjusting your shelf and beam levels can result in an increase of as much as 25% usable cube or shelf count.

• Is there space on the shelf behind your inventory? If so, you may be using too deep of a unit. Think about converting to a narrower unit, or converting some shelving to “Pick Both Sides.” Converting from 24” deep to 18” deep saves 6”. Converting 12 rows will allow you to add two more rows and a pick aisle.

• Are you finding that you are receiving replenishment or ders more frequently and that they are getting smaller? If your replenishment orders are now cases instead of pallets, you might want to consider converting pallet rack to high bay decked pallet rack 24” to 30” deep. This will increase your storage density by eliminating partial pallets. It also increases inventory accuracy and accessibility.

• Are you using the full clear height of the building? If you are not using the full height of the building for pallet rack, you could be forfeiting an additional 25% growth in bulk storage depending on how many beam levels you are using. If you are floor stacking, the addition of racking might be a trade off because of the addition of aisles, but it could be a trade off for increased production because of pallet availability and selectivity.

Safety Considerations

If you really want to make an impact and get the biggest bang for your buck, make sure you include a safe work environment in the use of storage media. One injury can negate all of your improvements.

• Are you picking items from higher than shoulder level? Shelving above the 5’ or 6’ level should be reserved for the temporary storage of overstock material. Continuously reaching and lifting over your shoulders is an ergonomic concern and leads to picker fatigue and possible injuries. Make sure you have the proper ladders and/or step stools to access the higher shelves.

• Does your layout support dedicated stocking and picking aisles or flow? This eliminates man and machine in the same aisles and decreases the risk of an accident. It also helps establish a product flow from the receiving dock, to overstock, to reserve, to forward pick, to order consolidation and shipping. Everything moves in one direction and eliminates back tracking.

• Do you have the proper aisle widths to allow the safe stocking and picking of pallets in the pallet rack? Narrow aisles result in damaged beams and uprights. A bump to a frame resulting in a crease or dent can drastically reduce capacity and set the stage for a rack collapse. Consider using column protectors. They’re a cheap insurance policy.

• Are your pallet beams and uprights properly sized? If you have reworked your layout or have “accumulated” rack, you should make sure it is adequate to support the loads you are storing.

• Are your storage media anchored? Don’t believe your rack is solid and won’t move or be bumped over.

• Are your storage media constructed according to the manufacturer’s instructions? Incorrectly installed storage media or media installed without all the right components is an accident waiting to happen. Does your shelving system have the right quantity and pattern of cross bracing for your seismic zone? Are you using rigid row spacers in you pallet rack?

• Is your lowest shelf level “sway back” from being used as a step shelf? Consider replacing the “step” shelf with a heavier gauge re-enforced shelf. Reduce the pick height of the inventory. Provide ladders and step stools where needed.

• Do your storage media match your inventory requirements? The media should be sized to safely store the inventory without overloading. Inventory should be stored within the confines of the media and not hang out into the aisles. A pallet overhang is acceptable if it is planned for. Shelving supports small parts picking. Case and larger piece part picking is best done from decked shelf or light duty pallet rack. Case and overstock storage is typically reserved for pallet rack


Don Kuzma is an industry analyst based in Cleveland who specializes in distribution center design and management.

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