Warehouse Project Planning

warehouse planning
June 10, 2015

Planning for a warehouse, distribution or logistics centre requires serious project management. It requires a huge amount of investment for a business or company to undertake.  Sufficient planning time is essential to ensure it meets its functionality requirements. It is not a task to be undertaken lightly and few people really understand all the key principles of warehouse design. In this article we examine the early processes required in the planning of such a venture.

Key Objectives

The key objectives, goals and purpose of the warehouse space must be identified first before anything else can be achieved. It is important to drill down to really get to the baseline objectives for the site and write them down in order to create a vision, the key functionality and a detailed plan for the warehouse project. This is also the part of the process when you will need to identify a project team and start to investigate potential experts, consultants and the key players to assist in the planning process.

Storage, Volumes and Processes

The next important point is to identify what the warehouse will store and to calculate the volume of stock to be held inside. What will be the stock turnover be?  Incoming and outgoing volumes must be identified and to map how the staff will deal with the throughput and dispatch of items. It is useful to carry out a process mapping exercise to identify the stages of the work required in the warehouse.

A thorough examination of stock quantities and the sizes of the stock items will be required to plan the storage space appropriately. If this is not well planned the overall performance of the facility may not achieve its objectives. This is essential as the amount of associated equipment needed to operate successfully will depend on this. Will forklifts trucks be needed? Will health and safety standards be met?

Will the area require offices, packing space, manufacturing space, special storage for cold or frozen goods? This stage is the key to identifying the full needs and the costs of the venture, and will take the most amount of time in the planning phase. It is during this phase that it is wise to consult experts with experience in designing warehouse space to obtain valuable input, feedback and case studies.

Detailed Storage Plan

When you have an idea or good estimate of the types of goods to be stored and the volumes including quantities and sizes, it is then possible to start to investigate appropriate storage options and the equipment required. Checking against your process mapping exercise you can start to make a floor plan with an expert in warehouse space and storage design. It is essential here to find an experienced designer who is knowledgeable of equipment required and the functional processes involved in running an effective warehouse operation.

You may require conveyers, carousels, stacker cranes and forklift or pallet trucks. You might need static racking systems and mezzanine levels. This is the part of the process when you can really start to gauge the costs of the venture and compare options of efficiency verses cost.

Work Flow Planning

This aspect needs to be considered at the same time as coming up with the detailed storage plan. An analysis of the potential work flow should be gained from your original process mapping exercise and also from the storage capacity data and the equipment requirements. This step is really important in order to plan for the operation of a well organised warehouse function.

Most experts agree that a one way work flow option is usually the best and it can be working in a clockwise or anti clockwise or straight line but at the end of the day the flow should be in a one way in order to avoid confusion, duplication and accidents.

Secondly work flow should take priority over capacity.  Some warehouses sacrificed working space over storage space and in the end this compromised on the efficiency of the premises. So in planning this point needs to be considered carefully.

Thirdly the planning exercise should consider the stock throughput and aim to minimise the number of times an item is handled. The more handling, the higher the workforce costs and a greater risk of errors occurring in the workflow.

Design Evaluation

The project team should then discuss and evaluate the possible design options in terms of a quantitative analysis of the costs, returns on investment and expected costs of operation of the warehouse. Then a qualitative analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed designs. It is important that this stage is discussed widely with the project team and experts. Also with the team expected to be working in the unit (if identified). They may be able to think of practicality aspects or points that had not been raised before. It is essential that as much preparation and consultation as possible is undertaken before a final design is chosen.

Suppliers should also be consulted during this phase to check the plans match their operation plans for delivering to your establishment. It is also wise to discuss the proposal with the local city council or government to ensure every aspect is covered from local health and safety regulations, to security of the premises.

Final Thoughts on Warehouse Planning

Planning a warehouse is serious business, not just financially but also in terms of risk management and customer satisfaction. It is important that the process fully engages all the relevant persons involved and that the plans are well thought through prior to execution in order to design a successful operation. We hope we have provided some food for thought on this subject and in future articles we will focus on some of the individual planning stages in more depth.