Warehouse layout and design directly affect the efficiency of any business operation, from manufacturing and assembly to order fulfillment. Whether you’re planning a shipping operation or designing your space around manufacturing or assembly, a sound warehouse floor plan will help you minimize costs and maximize productivity.
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What to Know Before Creating Your Warehouse Layout
Before launching into your warehouse design and layout planning process, you need to think through the various needs you have—from space utilization and storage options to aisle layout and production area workflows. You also need to be well-informed regarding the many warehouse storage and shelving options available, as well as equipment that will help boost warehouse productivity and efficiency. Finally, you need to keep your business inventory management systems in mind, as your layout will impact your ability to manage inventory effectively.
These are the five steps that a warehouse layout and design process must include:
- Create a warehouse layout schematic
- Plan your warehouse layout for efficient space utilization
- Understand your warehouse storage & work area equipment options
- Use efficient warehouse floor plan traffic flow strategies
- Test your warehouse traffic flow plan
Let’s look at the first step in warehouse layout planning, which is creating a warehouse layout schematic.
1. Create a Warehouse Layout Schematic
Your new warehouse space is a blank slate. Your goal is to transform it into a productive workspace that accomplishes your business goals.
A good warehouse layout always starts with putting it all down on paper first, no matter the size of your space. The easiest way to do this is to use a copy of your warehouse blueprint, especially if your space is large or not a standard rectangle shape. If you’re renting, your landlord might be able to provide a blueprint you can use.
If you can’t get your hands on a blueprint, it’s easy to draw up your own warehouse schematic on grid paper. When drawing your layout, plan as though one square on the grid paper equals 1 square foot in your warehouse. That way, the spatial relationships on your plan will match your actual warehouse space.
When using a paper schematic, attach it to a piece of poster board or foam core so you’ll have a sturdy platform on which to design your warehouse layout. Then, overlay a piece of tracing paper. This lets you sketch and play with different shelving and equipment arrangements without marking up your original. You can use paper cutouts to represent shelving and work tables and move them around to test different layouts.
You can also use layout software to create your warehouse floor plan schematic. The grid-based layout shown in the images above were created using Inkscape, a free graphic design program with an optional grid background.
If your budget allows, you can use an online layout tool that offers specific options for warehouse design, such as SmartDraw. A single user plan with SmartDraw costs $297 and includes unlimited use. The upside with an online space planning and layout tool is that you can easily experiment with different layout approaches, as online tools allow you to move elements around on your screen with ease.
Whether you choose to design your warehouse layout on grid paper or with an online layout tool, it’s important to ensure that the warehouse measurements you’re using are accurate. This means measuring your warehouse interior spaces yourself.
In warehouse space planning, which we’ll discuss in the next section, you need to take every inch into account. Failure to do so can lead to disaster once you start bringing in shelving and warehouse equipment, which may not fit if your warehouse measurements are inaccurate. You don’t want to be making last-minute warehouse layout changes that can be avoided easily with proper planning. So, pull out a distance tape measure or rolling tape measure to take accurate measurements from the start.
Once you have a printed or online schematic with measurements drawn to scale, note any stationary features such as columns or supports, office area buildouts, sloping floors, stairways, installed equipment, and overhead doors. These areas will place restrictions on your warehouse floor plan, so you want to note them on your warehouse layout schematic accurately.
Many warehouse operations set aside some space for offices. In the example below, the office buildout takes a chunk out of the middle. A rough block-out of space is all you need, with one exception. Be sure to note when office doors open out into the warehouse as, if you omit this fact, you might accidentally block door access.
In the example below, you can also see that the receiving and shipping pick up doors have been noted on the warehouse layout. Most warehouses require special areas for receiving and shipping out inventory, and hence, be sure to include these entrances and exits on your design schematic.
Once you have noted major features on your warehouse design schematic, you’re ready for the next step. It’s time to start planning your warehouse layout.
2. Plan Your Warehouse for Efficient Space Utilization
If you want to create an efficient warehouse floor plan, you must begin with a thorough consideration of how you plan to use your warehouse. You might be designing a warehouse layout suitable for a manufacturing or light product assembly operation. Perhaps you are planning a warehouse layout for a product storage and shipping facility, a common warehouse design for ecommerce businesses. Your business needs will dictate how you allocate your warehouse space and configure your warehouse layout.
Plan Space for Warehouse Equipment & Surrounding Workspace
In planning your warehouse layout, your first step is identifying your key units. These are the things that take up most of your space and/or are the center of your production zones. For example, if you are an ecommerce company that stocks and ships goods, your key units would be pallet rack and metal shelving. You can see what this layout looks like in the image below.
A business’s key warehouse units will vary based on the primary goals of the warehouse. Your key units might be equipment or workstations. Whatever they are, you need to identify and place these elements on your plan first.
If manufacturing is your business, then your primary concern is designing your space around equipment and adjacent production workspace. Storage spaces, while important, are secondary in your plan, and will be dependent on where you place your equipment.
Most ecommerce companies’ warehouses focus on accepting, storing, picking, packing, and shipping items. In this instance, stock storage units are the primary equipment, as shown above. Storage units used are typically either shelves or bins. The variety in size, shape, and weight of these storage units vary greatly.
For ecommerce companies, other activities that impact the overall warehouse floor plan include order packing and shipping as well as receiving stock. It’s important to provide ample space around your various warehouse work centers so that employees can perform their tasks effectively and so that any equipment used—from hand trucks to forklifts—can navigate the warehouse aisles easily.
If you do light assembly paired with some shipping, assembly stations or light manufacturing equipment are likely to be a significant focus. After that, you’ll need to address storage space for parts and finished goods, plus adequate packaging, packing, and shipping areas. You must conduct a thorough review of your needs before embarking on any warehouse floor planning process. Failure to consider the full nature of your needs could result in ineffective warehouse design.
Create Warehouse Production Zones & Workflow Areas
After addressing primary units like equipment, stock shelving, and assembly stations, the next step is thinking about how workers, materials, and goods move in and around your key elements. You also need to consider the space needed for your production work to safely occur.
Safety needs to be a prime consideration in all warehouses, although it may be more complex in manufacturing, where materials movement occurs around equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers detailed publications that you should review in planning your warehouse safety initiatives. Safe workflows apply to all types of operations, so it’s important to include adequate production zones and workflow areas on any warehouse layout plan.
In manufacturing, you need to allocate space for workbenches, bins, tools, and safety stations needed for production. Plus, you need to reserve adequate production zones around equipment for workers to move materials and safely produce goods. There are no one-size-fits-all rules on what’s considered adequate space that applies across all manufacturing equipment and production processes. Pay close attention to equipment manufacturing instructions, as each piece of equipment will come with complete directions for safe operation.
For a stock and ship operation, one primary work area is the aisle space between shelving units, as shown below. This is where you or your employees need adequate space to stock received goods and pick items for orders. You’ll also need to allocate workspace for employees to move goods into, around, and out of the production zones, which are your packing, shipping, and receiving areas.
Assembly operations often combine the space needs of manufacturing and stock and ship. Assembly stations and related equipment make up the heart of your production zone. These can include workbenches or specialized stations, plus any needed bins for parts and finished goods. Like manufacturing, you need to allocate ample production space around these areas. Then, like stock and ship, you need to reserve space to efficiently package, pack, and ship finished goods.
Establish Warehouse Storage Areas
Storage is another key factor to consider in your warehouse layout. In fact, for pack and ship and some assembly operations, efficient arrangement of storage areas is your prime concern. Storage is important for manufacturing too, but usually secondary to equipment needs. To determine the storage space you need, and the shelving or other storage units you’ll use, you first need to consider what you’re storing.
Your warehouse storage needs may take many forms, including:
- Small assembly items housed in bins on light-duty shelving
- Pallets with machinery parts
- Boxed goods for pick, pack, and ship
- Overstock items
- Large raw materials for manufacturing
What you’re storing dictates the type of storage you need to plan for in your warehouse layout. It also dictates the space you need to allow in and around storage areas, like aisle widths between shelving and clearance areas for moving goods in and out of storage.
How you move materials and/or goods around in your warehouse dictates aisle spacing. If you use a pallet jack or forklift to move pallets or equipment in your storage areas, you’ll need generous space between shelves or around other units. Pallet jacks need a minimum aisle width of 4 to 5 feet to navigate between shelving.
Forklifts require much more open aisle space. If you plan on using a forklift in your warehouse, your required aisle width will need to be between 11 and 13 feet, depending on the type of forklift you plan to use. Before using forklifts in your warehouse operation, make sure you thoroughly review all manufacturer recommendations for forklifts you procure. Different machines have different use requirements. Also, before operating a forklift, familiarize yourself with OSHA’s rules regarding forklift use, and follow all mandated forklift training requirements.
If your warehouse plans involve hand-stocking small boxes for assembly or pack-and-ship, handheld bins or rolling carts are all you need to stock and pull stored goods. In that case, your shelving aisles will need to range between 3.6 to 4 feet wide in most cases.
In creating your warehouse floor plan, don’t forget your overhead spaces. Most small warehouses easily accommodate shelving that is 8 feet tall or higher. Larger warehouses can house shelving 12 feet tall and higher. If you need overstock areas for large stock purchases or materials storage, using high shelves is a great way to preserve your warehouse floor space for production activities.
3. Choose Your Warehouse Storage & Work Area Equipment
Most small business warehouse operations, whether manufacturing, assembly, pick-pack-and-ship, or a combination of all three, need some form of storage and workspace equipment, such as assembly tables or packing stations. Here you have many options, and the storage you need greatly depends on what it is you do.
When planning your warehouse layout, the size and type of storage, shelving, and workspace equipment all come into play. Pallet racks, heavy-duty and light-duty shelving, cantilever racks, and all types of bins are common warehouse solutions.
While you can track down each of your warehouse equipment and supply needs from various sellers, you can get most of them at significantly lower prices on Alibaba. As one of the largest global marketplaces, Alibaba lets you buy warehouse necessities such as shelves, racks, bins, scales, stock carts, pallet jacks, conveyors, and work desks directly from hundreds of manufacturers.
Popular Warehouse Storage & Shelving Options
Before buying any storage or shelving units for your warehouse, it’s important to understand your options. It’s also helpful to know which solutions best meet your unique needs and will work well in your warehouse design plans.
Type of Storage/Shelving
Common Sizes & Space to Allow in Your Warehouse Layout
Midweight to heavyweight storage needs
4’ deep x 8’ long per unit
Lightweight to midweight storage needs
3’ to 4’ deep x 6’ to 8’ long per unit
Lightweight storage needs
18” to 2’ deep x 4’ long per unit
Cantilever rack & specialty shelving
Specific storage needs for oversized items
Varies by need
Bins, boxes, and hoppers
Loose parts and materials storage
Varies. Common allowance is pallet size: 40” x 48”
Small parts & assembly bins
Storing small items in limited space
None, usually used on shelves, carts, and/or workstations
When to Use Pallet Racks
It’s called a pallet rack because it’s designed to store pallets of goods, but it’s also used for stocking all sorts of products and materials, large and small. Pallet rack is best for midweight to heavyweight storage needs like boxed stock, work materials, and finished goods.
Pallet rack is available in various sizes, most commonly in sections 4 feet deep by 8 feet long by 8 to 12 feet in height. Costs vary significantly depending on how much racking you intend to use. Expect to pay between $120 to $350 per set for new heavy-duty warehouse racking; you can save up to 50% by ordering these in bulk on Alibaba. You can also sometimes save by contacting used warehouse dealers to find deals on used pallet racks and other warehouse storage items.
Pallet racking is assembled using end units called uprights, adjustable crossbars called rails, and heavy-duty particleboard or metal wire grid shelves called decks. You can have many shelves or just a few on each unit.
Pallet rack can be freestanding, though it’s designed to interconnect for long shelving runs. Used this way, it’s the most cost-effective shelving solution for large warehouse storage areas. If you have storage space of 1,000 square feet―around 20 feet x 50 feet―or more, two long rows of pallet rack can provide ample storage at a reasonable cost.
When to Use Heavy-duty Shelving
Heavy-duty (HD) shelving is pallet rack’s baby brother. The name is a bit deceiving as pallet rack generally holds more weight than HD shelving, but HD shelving is a cost-effective solution in many warehouse designs.
Heavy-duty shelving is best for light to midweight storage in smaller warehouse spaces, storage units, and garages. These types of shelving units come in various sizes—usually from 3 to 4 feet to 6 to 8 feet long and 6 to 8 feet high. Pay attention to the weight ratings on the shelves you purchase. For safety reasons, it’s important to adhere to weight stipulations assigned by the shelving unit’s manufacturer.
You can expect to pay $75 to $200 for an HD shelving unit, though you can save from 30% to 50% by ordering units in bulk through Alibaba. If you need a few units, you can also buy these shelves anywhere shelving is sold, including Home Depot, Amazon, and Lowe’s.
When to Use Light-duty Shelving
Light-duty (LD) shelving is commonly used in garages, small retail storerooms, and residential storage areas like utility and craft rooms, but there are times when they’re the right choice for your warehouse needs. Light-duty storage is an inexpensive choice for small warehouse spaces and storage units. Sizes vary, although 18 inches to 2 feet deep by 4 feet long is common.
If you want to maximize the height of your warehouse for extra storage space, you won’t be able to do that with LD shelving, as these units are usually only 6 to 7 feet high. A big plus with LD shelves, though, is that most units come with five or six adjustable shelves, which gives you versatility if you’re storing items with significantly different dimensions. Light-duty shelving also works well with stacked parts bins, discussed below, for stocking small items and assembly parts.
You can buy light-duty shelving anywhere shelves are sold, including Home Depot, Lowes, and your local hardware store. Expect to pay between $40 and $100 per shelving unit; you can save up to 50% if you buy 10 or more of the LD shelves shown above on Alibaba.
When installing LD shelving units, be sure to secure the shelving appropriately as directed. In most cases, LD shelves are to be secured up against a wall or another unit for safety reasons.
When to Use Cantilever Racks
Cantilever rack, shown above, can handle your pipe, lumber, panels, and oversize material storage needs. Cantilever rack sizes and costs vary by need and type of material stored, so you’ll need to contact a used warehouse dealer or online vendors, like Alibaba or Shelving.com, to get a quote if you feel cantilever rack storage is an appropriate option for your warehouse.
If you have a storage need that regular shelves or cantilever racks can’t handle or need a unique size or wall-mounted solution, contact a used warehouse shelving dealer. Most have an amazing array of unique storage solutions, and some can custom-cut shelving to fit specific needs.
When to Use Warehouse-caliber Boxes, Hoppers, & Barrels
Metal and heavyweight plastic storage boxes, hoppers, and barrels are common in manufacturing and assembly operations. Many businesses move these on pallets using pallet jacks, but some bins and hoppers are wheeled. You can purchase these in various sizes and in various materials that are capable of holding even heavy items. Expect to pay $100 to $200 for the caliber of the box illustrated above, but as usual with most warehouse materials, you can save up to 50% when you buy in bulk on Alibaba.
When to Use Small Parts & Assembly Bins
These handy stackable bins are ideal for storing small items for all sorts of needs, including materials for manufacturing, parts for assembly, and small goods for pack and ship. Plus, their easy-access design makes them an efficient alternative to stocking small goods in closed boxes. Expect to pay $1 to $10 each for small parts and assembly bins.
Popular Workspace Equipment Options for Warehouses
We’ve covered a full range of storage options that suit most businesses’ warehouse storage needs. Now let’s look at some work area equipment that you might need in your warehouse as well as the space you’ll need to allocate for this equipment during the warehouse layout planning process.
Popular Workspace Equipment Options
Type of Workspace Equipment
Common Sizes to Allow in Warehouse Space Planning
Multi-use tables & workbenches
Manufacturing, assembly, picking & packing
Varies. Common sizes run 3’ deep x 5’ to 8’ long
Specialty manufacturing assembly stations
Manufacturing & assembly needs
Varies. Common sizes run 2’ to 3’ deep x 5’ to 8’ long
Dedicated packing stations
Daily shipping needs
Common size is 3’ deep x 6’ to 8’ long
Pallet packing freight scale station
Operations shipping truck freight regularly
4’ x 4’, or 4’ deep x 6’ long,
Dedicated shipping station table
Operations shipping parcels regularly
Varies. Common sizes run 3’ deep x 5’ to 8’ long
Stock carts & pallet jacks
Operations that move goods with the warehouse
Allow around 3’ wide x 5’ long for storage
Operations that store volume stock on shelves over 8’ in height
Approx. 4’ wide x 8’ long
Operations that are performing light assembly
Varies; 18” by 30” width and lengths of 2’ to 24’ are common
You may not need all of the equipment listed in the above chart but be sure to give careful consideration to the various workstations you need in your warehouse and what types of tables or equipment will be required for those stations to operate effectively. You also must think through how you’ll move stock and materials around in your warehouse and secure the appropriate equipment necessary to transport the items you warehouse.
4. Use Efficient Warehouse Design Traffic Flow Strategies
You now have a good idea of the types of equipment and storage solutions you will use for your warehouse space, which is essential for cost-effective warehouse floor plans. You also have a sense of where everything will fit in your warehouse layout. It’s now time to drill into your warehouse schematic to arrange every element to create an efficient, productivity-boosting traffic flow.
You need to think about your operation by exploring the following warehouse usage needs:
- Consider how much time will you and your employees spend in various locations in your warehouse.
- Determine around which elements—manufacturing equipment, storage areas, or work tables—most work will center.
- Explore different needs you and your employees will have regarding how to move within the warehouse, how items will be gathered from various warehouse locations, and what items need to be close-by to complete daily tasks.
As you become more aware of what needs to be done, by whom, using what methods, you will more easily be able to layout work areas and predict traffic patterns within your warehouse. Remember, every business need is different so, while you can learn from other warehouse layouts, you must keep your needs foremost in mind.
Here is an example of an ecommerce warehouse floor plan with typical equipment, storage, and operational functions fully considered.
Ecommerce Warehouse Floor Plan Example: Aisle Pattern
In the ecommerce pick-pack-and-ship warehouse layout below, notice where the aisles (A) for product storage are placed. You can see how various elements were brought into the warehouse floor plan to facilitate efficiency in this warehouse model. The busiest production zone, the packing area, is centrally located between stock shelves, with two aisles that directly feed into the packing zone.
This warehouse layout allows staff to quickly access or “pick” the product on either side of the packing tables. Plus, each employee is assigned a specific section to pick and maintain, which keeps them from bumping into each other. All of this culminates in effective and efficient traffic flow.
Stock storage areas are maximized by using a 12-foot tall pallet rack that allows ample overstock space on upper shelves, out of the path of daily workflows. Hand-carried bins and small carts are used for restocking and order picking tasks among the shelves. Aisle widths of 4 feet suit this warehouse’s box and cart-moving needs. Ample space is left for pallet movement along the central aisles since the warehouse receives and ships palletized freight too.
Shelving is not used against the end walls, and instead, this warehouse runs 2 feet deep shelving along the perimeter for smaller items. This enables pickers to move from aisle to aisle without backtracking and to pick small items along the way as needed.
Ecommerce Warehouse Floor Plan Example: Packing & Shipping Workspace
Packing and shipping is the primary goal of this ecommerce operation, so ample space is dedicated to these tasks. In the central packing area (B), the warehouse layout includes a mix of 8-foot and 6-foot utility tables that can be moved and rearranged as packing needs dictate. This lets warehouse employees handle daily parcel packing with room to spare, accommodates holiday volumes easily, and allows staff to pack pallets for large freight orders.
As a pack-and-ship operation, this ecommerce warehouse stores shipping boxes and packing materials in easy reach of the packing tables. Once parcels are packed, they are moved quickly to the nearby shipping station table for weighing, sealing, and labeling. If you plan on shipping daily, allocating space for a dedicated shipping station is a real time-saver.
Order fulfillment and shipping can be a bit tricky. If you’ve not done this before, make sure you visit other warehouses and take a look at how others perform fulfillment and shipping cost-effectively. Doing your homework will save both money and hours of frustration.
Ecommerce Warehouse Floor Plan Example: Generous Receiving & Shipping Areas
Continuing with the ecommerce warehouse design example, you can see ample room is available for shipping and receiving thanks to the large overhead doors (C). As a pack-and-ship ecommerce operation, this company receives numerous freight and parcel stock shipments daily.
Allowing room to store received stock prior to unpacking is essential. Plus, it’s helpful to keep receivables separate from daily outbound parcels to prevent confusion and carrier pick-up mistakes.
Ecommerce Warehouse Floor Plan Example: Warehouse Equipment Storage Layout
This warehouse uses two rolling staircases to safely store and retrieve large numbers of lightweight overstock boxes from its 12-foot shelves. If you plan to use high shelves in your warehouse, be sure to develop a way to access items that are overhead securely. In this example, rolling staircases work just fine. In other warehouses, heavier equipment, such as forklifts, are used to both store and access items stored overhead.
Since the rolling staircases take up warehouse floor space, their storage must be considered in the warehouse layout. The spaces marked (D) near the receiving and shipping areas are used to store the rolling staircases.
Rolling ladders, moving conveyors, and pallet jacks are things to keep in mind when planning your warehouse layout. If you don’t have them now, but think you might down the line, allocate warehouse space for these items now. Once you get your heavy equipment situated or rows of shelving securely installed, you don’t want to move them to make space for pallet jacks and other large items you had not considered.
5. Test Your Warehouse Traffic Flow Plan
The last step before you start installing equipment, shelves, and tables is to walk your finished plan. To do this, measure off the space and apply masking tape on the floor to mark the positioning of your main units, be they equipment, tables, or shelves. You don’t need to do this for every piece but do it in your key workflow and production zone areas. Then, walk the space as though you’re conducting key tasks that will be performed in the warehouse.
Practice Performing Work Functions in the Planned Layout
Carry boxes, tools, or materials while you test your warehouse design. Make sure you have plenty of clearance in all directions. Roll carts or pallet jacks through the warehouse layout to ensure items navigate easily along the planned paths—even when heavily loaded down.
Get Employees to Test Your Warehouse Floor Plan
If you have employees, get them involved in acting out work processes. If you don’t have employees yet, enlist some family or friends to help role-play key warehouse processes. Make sure your staff has ample room to conduct the tasks they will be required to perform.
Check Hard-to-Change Layout Areas Multiple Times
If you have large spaces within your warehouse layout that will house heavy equipment or large shelving units, test these areas multiple times. You do not want to move these heavy fixtures and equipment once they are installed. It’s far better to make traffic flow corrections at this stage while changes are easily made.
Your business’ needs likely differ somewhat from the ecommerce warehouse examples shared here, but the principles of effective warehouse floor plan design remain the same. Make sure you put considerable thought into your planning and testing process, and you’ll be rewarded with a cost-effective, efficient, productive space, no matter your size or operation.
Effective warehouse design starts with identifying your needs, including the tasks to be performed within your warehouse and the equipment and fixtures that will best support those tasks. When you take the time and effort to create an efficient warehouse layout, you pave the way for saving time, money, and hassles for years to come.
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