If you find yourself struggling with storage capacity, you are not alone. Storage space availability has been under considerable pressure in recent years, attributable in large part to economic growth in general as well as the rapid emergence of e-commerce. While the capacity crunch has somewhat loosened as new construction has begun to catch up with demand, many operators continue in their struggle to find necessary space. Here are some ideas for boosting your facility capacity:
As forecasting accuracy has improved over time, companies are increasingly able to lessen the amount of stock on hand, and therefore create empty storage space for other products. Often, however, facility managers do not have control over inventory levels, but they may have the authority to consider other options such as trailer or outside storage. Diverting inventory to the yard or an outside facility can add a layer of complexity, risk, and expense to operations. Potential pitfalls include temperature control and cargo theft concerns related to trailers, as well as availability when needed for shipping. When integrated into the facility’s warehouse management and yard management systems, however, these tactics can help keep congestion manageable.
Bulk stacking can provide a low-cost approach to increasing storage density for some high volume items. It is especially suited to warehouses with lower ceilings. Because it is a "last in, first out" or LIFO storage system, it is more applicable to products which are less sensitive to stock rotation, or to promotional or seasonal items which will be shipped in high volumes to retail outlets over a short period.
Due to the ongoing lightweighting trend for corrugate transport and primary packaging, the stacking strength of palletized products has decreased over time, meaning that unit loads of merchandise in many cases cannot be stacked as high as they may have been in the past. The lightweighting trend can translate into decreased inventory capacity and speak to the need for storage racking to more fully utilize vertical warehouse space.
There are several ways to improve rack storage density. The typical first steps include the right sizing of pallet location height and narrowing aisles. An analysis of needed pallet height requirements for various products can lead to adjusting bar heights to eliminate wasted overhead space between the top of the unit load and the next level in the storage racking system. Alternately, shifting from standard aisle width to narrow aisles can also be an effective approach. Moving from conventional racking (12′ or wider) to narrow aisle racking (8′ to 10′ wide) or very narrow aisle (5.5′ aisles) can dramatically increase storage. There are tradeoffs, however, regarding racking and the type of forklift required (counterbalanced or narrow aisle), as well as between storage density and SKU accessibility. Narrow aisles also are more susceptible to congestion for equipment operators, leading to delays.
Other racking systems can also make sense for fast moving items. Options such as pallet flow, push back, double deep, drive-in, drive through, etc., can help improve storage density in the right circumstances. It is important to analyze inventory requirements prior to making a decision. Items with the highest amount of inventory per SKU are the best candidates for high-density racking options. When a high-density storage installation isn’t fully loaded due to a lack of inventory or stock rotation concerns, the presence of the resulting empty pallet positions is referred to as honeycombing. The presence of honeycombing may limit the attractiveness of such racking systems for many items.
A mezzanine is an elevated platform which is installed between the floor and the ceiling. The addition of a mezzanine can be a great way to make use the upper part of a warehouse to increase its overall storage capacity. Mezzanines are useful for small item storage and picking, as well as functions such as the storage of packaging supplies, box erection, custom packaging and shipping preparation.
Increasingly, warehouses are improving their capacity by adding automated storage and fulfillment systems. While many such installations are large in scale and associated with new facilities, many operations are benefiting from retrofitting "islands of automation" to existing facilities for fast moving items. Various options exist such as layer picking technologies for fast moving products such as beverages, or gantry robot systems, which can make use of unracked areas of the warehouse to pick crates from one pallet to add to an outbound pallet. Such systems can make use of adaptive grippers to meet the need of a particular tote style. Reusable containers such as RPCs are ideally suited for such applications. Experts caution that an automated system for potentially wet perishables should allow for the floor area to be periodically cleared to clean up any leakage from products. A gantry robot system is well-suited to this need.
While measures to increase the storage capacity of your facility may only postpone the inevitable regarding a move to a new building, they can help provide a little breathing room as you prepare for the next stage of growth.