9 Warehouse Solutions to Maximize Non-Productive Aisles Without Breaking the Bank


warehouse solutionsDid you know that 23% of logistic costs come from warehouse activities?[0

] In other words, everything that goes on in your warehouse—from picking techniques to retrieval vehicles and travel times—affects your bottom line.

So, when one part of the puzzle is out of place—such as wasted aisle space—your entire operation isn’t running as efficiently as it could be.

Instead of suffering the financial fallout from having non-productive aisles or biting the bullet and moving to a larger facility, here’s what you can do to maximize aisle space, improve efficiency, and get your warehouse operations back up and running.

Non-Productive Aisles Wreak Havoc on Warehouse Operations: Here’s How

Non-productive aisles could be a result of using inappropriate-sized racks or shelving. It could also be due to storing awkward-sized items together or placing faster-moving items next to slower-moving SKUs.

It could even be caused by an inefficient layout, in which the aisle width is too wide, reducing the number of pallets and wasting valuable space.

Non-Productive Aisles Create an Unsafe Workplace Environment for Employees

Either way, the point is, non-productive aisles are a drain on warehouse operations. For one, they limit space, leading to excess product on floors. This, alone creates an unsafe, injury-prone environment for employees.

In fact, Occupational Health and Health Administration (OSHA), estimates that employers shell out nearly $1 billion dollars per week just on worker’s compensation.[2]

That’s not including the other direct and indirect costs such as medical expenses, legal services, accident investigation, employee training, and property or equipment damage.[3]

Add these costs together and it’s no wonder non-productive aisles are not just an annoyance but a profit-sucking problem for businesses.

Increases Retrieval Times

And then factor in the extra (unnecessary) travel time retrieval vehicles must spend maneuvering around the product on the floor.

Other operation inefficiencies like incorrect picking technique or storing slower-moving product towards the loading dock only increases travel time even more.

With each chink in the supply chain, loading times are reduced, which means product isn’t shipped out to customers in a timely manner, and businesses risk lower customer satisfaction—potentially turning off first-time and even repeat customers.

Long story short, how do we get warehouse operations back on track? What warehouse solutions do we use to solve the domino effect non-productive aisles cause?

Warehouse Solutions that Banish Non-Productive Aisles Once and For All

Below are several cost-effective warehouse solutions that will turn non-productive aisles into profitable, efficient warehouse space.

1. Assess Your Warehouse Layout

Sometimes, wasted space starts with the warehouse layout. What once was an efficient design now could be a storage nightmare.

Contrary to what some may think, your warehouse layout should actually be very flexible. That way, it can easily accommodate your business as it changes over time—from expanding product to storing new, different-sized items.

That being said, take a look at your design—or hire a professional to analyze it for you. Your aisles may be too wide or you could be basing the design around your rack system or lift equipment instead of the building.

After thoroughly assessing your layout (and going over your options like installing a mezzanine or modular inplant office, etc.) can you decide whether non-productive aisles really are the problem or perhaps you really have run out of space and need to upgrade to a larger facility.

(Speaking of which, if you are on the fence whether you should move, read “10 Questions That Will Determine If You Need to Up Your Warehouse Solutions Strategy and Rent a Larger Storage Facility.”)

2. Know What Inventory You Have

Yes, we mean in your entire warehouse, not just the items on your non-productive aisles. In fact, taking a 100% physical inventory at least once a year is a good habit to get into, as it helps businesses maintain inventory accuracy.[4]

Not only will you know what product you have and if it matches with the expected inventory count but where it is and how quickly it’s moving.

If you are too busy to spend a day or two suspending operations, cycle counting is always a good alternative.[5]

In a nutshell, cycle counting is where you physically count inventory section by section; it’s effective (and less time- and resource-consuming) because it breaks up the physical inventory count into more manageable chunks.

What does an inventory count have to do with non-productive aisles?

By knowing where each SKU is located, you’ll have a better idea on what products to switch out of non-productive aisles—or even which products to order less or more of.

For instance, perhaps, after doing an inventory count, you realize you have more high dollar items on the shelf than you expected, which is why the aisle is crowded and inaccessible.

Maybe making some temporary changes and storing excess product on another empty shelf in the back (or even in your mezzanine office) until the inventory evens out is all you need to do?

3. Use the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule goes hand in hand with doing an inventory count. Ideally, warehouses should store 20% of its fastest-moving items that make up 80% of the orders closest to the loading dock.

Not only does this cut down on travel time and speed up the shipping process but it helps you address slower-moving product that is crowding hot-seat pallets that are meant for storing faster-moving SKUs.

You may realize (from the inventory count) that certain items that you thought were turning over quickly—or once was—aren’t. In which case, they are taking up room, crowding out your aisles and cutting profitability.

Using the 80/20 rule, you can relocate them to another area farther back in your warehouse facility, making room for your faster-moving product. (To learn more about the 80/20 rule, check out “Eliminate Pallet Storage in Industrial Warehouse and Distribution Space.”)

4. Pay Attention to These Common Misconceptions

Besides applying the 80/20 rule and consistently keeping up with inventory counts, knowing these misconceptiosn (and the following warehouse solutions) can help you avoid cluttered aisles, maximize space, and reduce unnecessary traffic jams.

Not as Simple as Adding Another Row

Some may think you only need to add a few extra rows to fix non-productive aisles. If only it was that easy. Unfortunately, doing so could shorten the required 18-inch length between the top load and sprinklers. This goes against building codes, and could potentially cost you in time and hefty fines.

Not Factoring in Obstructions

Another misconception is you base your pallet measurements on the height of your warehouse, without factoring in obstructions. Like with adding the extra rows, you may (literally) run into problems; warehouses have HVAC units, sprinklers, and lighting, not to mention gas lines—all of which affect the pallet height.

Assuming Rows Can Be in Any Direction

While racks need to be sized to your layout, know that no matter the manufacturer or style, the rows of your racks need to be facing the same direction—cross aisles or not. This frees up storage space for product and reduces the chance of excess product spilling out on the warehouse floor.

Exposing Pallet Columns

Also, columns should be inside of the pallet versus exposed on the outside, where they could sustain damage from lift trucks. Doing this will not just save you from shelling out cash for damaged equipment but can help create a safer workplace for your employees.

Having Wider Aisles

In general, the wider your aisles, the less pallets you’ll be able to install in your warehouse facility. Nonetheless, on the bright side, the extra room allows for your retrieval vehicles to be more versatile. However, it comes at a cost: wasted space.

While aisle width should accommodate your retrieval vehicles, your storage facility doesn’t benefit from the extra space. In fact, because of fewer pallets, you’re more likely to deal with non-productive aisles.

Aisle Widths and Retrieval Vehicles

If you are using standard lift trucks to retrieve product, 12-feet (clear) aisles will do. For stand-up trucks, 8.5-feet to 9.5-feet. And, as for deep reach trucks, 9- to 10-feet aisles.

Still, as mentioned, make sure that your racks are designed around the entire warehouse facility, not simply your retrieval vehicles, which won’t outlast the vehicles, much less the space.

6. High-Density Mobile Shelving May Be Your Best Bet

In terms of warehouse solutions that eliminate non-productive aisles, high-density mobile shelving is one of the best go-tos. It doubles storage capacity, or decreases storage requirements by 50%, and yields a high return on investment for slower-moving product.

Also, high-density shelving is very versatile. It is designed to support items of any weight or size, from CDs or DVDs to printing press cylinders and industrial equipment, among others.

Consider Security Partition Fencing to Reduce Theft

Especially for high dollar SKUs, security partition fencing around racks and high-density shelving can deter the opportunistic employee from quietly stealing product and forcing the company to shell out thousands in pilferage costs.

The fencing is stackable and accessible by card, lock, pin pad, etc. which means it can be used for any size warehouse.

7. Free Up Space with a Mezzanine Office or Modular Inplant Office

Even if you only have limited space, expand your vertical by installing a mezzanine office. This is one of the best warehouse solutions to free up space from the ground level so product that once blocked aisles can either go up in the mezzanine office or be stored below it. In any case, it clears up crammed aisles and maximizes space.

Don’t Forget to Consider a Modular Inplant Office

Modular Inplant offices, on the other hand, expand vertical as well and increase storage capacity that crowded aisles desperately need.

At the same time, their vantage points give warehouse managers a clear view to oversee warehouse operations and spot congested aisles.

8. Inappropriately Sized Racks or Shelving Leads to Crowding and “Traffic Jams”  

Your standard pallet is about 40 x 48 x 54, usually weighing (with product) 2,400 lbs. more or less. Nonetheless, you could have product that won’t fit in these dimensions. Trying to squeeze it in anyways leads to crowding and potentially even product damage.

The same goes for not factoring in overhang and pallet height, which too will damage the product if pallets are too tightly packed.

Excess product may even (accidentally) sit on the floor, in which it can easily cause a “traffic jam,” depending on size of the operation, picking technique, and number and training of employees picking the product on foot and in retrieval vehicles.

To prevent a potential jam let alone workplace injury, store like-sized products together on appropriately sized racks or shelves. If you do have excess product, consider storing it in or under a mezzanine office or modular inplant office (as mentioned earlier).

9. Incorrect Picking Techniques—or No Technique at All— May Create a Chaotic Warehouse

Having the correct picking technique for your operation is crucial in order for orders to be filled on time and shipped quickly.

However, unless you have a very small operation with only a few employees (and even then), you most likely won’t be able to get away with basic picking (simply grabbing and order and filling it, without zones or a specific picking technique).

Picking Technique Basics

In a nutshell, you have your choice of four techniques: zone picking, wave picking, batch picking, and a combination of two or three.

Zone and wave picking tend to work better in larger warehouse operations where there are multiple employees and several SKUs and orders that need to be filled.

Meanwhile, batch picking is ideal for a small warehouse layout that only has a smaller number of orders to fill for that day.

(For more details about picking techniques, check out “How to Improve Warehouse Operations with the Right Picking Technique.”)

What Does This Have to Do with Non-Productive Aisles?

Not having a picking technique when your operation needs one much less using the incorrect technique can easily lead to employees bumping into one another, extra time spent searching for product, and product being misplaced and lost—especially if the operation is large and the employee isn’t familiar with certain areas of the warehouse (another reason why zones come in handy).

This, in turn, could cultivate a chaotic environment that leads to non-productive aisles (along with other factors like storing different sized products together).

It also can be a case of who came first: non-productive aisle or warehouse chaos. Sometimes, non-productive aisles caused by inappropriate shelving or racks, few inventory counts, etc. may slow picking and cause disorganization, as employees spend more time retrieving crowded, even nearly inaccessible product.

How Your Warehouse Benefits from Eliminating Non-Productive Aisles

Clearing non-productive aisles not only increases storage capacity and maximizes space but reduces injury in the workplace. This is huge considering that, according to OSHA, workplace injuries lower employee morale and absenteeism.[6]

Combine this with the other direct and indirect costs businesses face when an employee is injured[7]—like corrective measures and lost productivity—and you’re looking at thousands of dollars well saved, a positive for both employee and employer.

Final Thoughts: Say Goodbye to Non-Productive Aisles Once and For All

No matter what the cause is, be it improperly sized racks or shelves or fewer number of pallets, you can eliminate non-productive aisles once and for all.

To get down to the details on what’s causing the crowded aisles and affecting your operations, consider reaching out to an experienced professional.

Has your warehouse operation suffered from non-productive aisles? What warehouse solutions did you use to solve this problem and increase profitability and efficiency? Be sure to leave a comment.

Summary: Warehouse Solutions for Non-Productive Aisles

  • Non-productive aisles wreak havoc on your warehouse operation, reducing space and hurting your bottom line
  • Crowded aisles could be caused by storing awkward sized items next to each other, having too wide of aisles, or simply an inefficient warehouse layout
  • Assess your warehouse (better yet, have a professional do it for you) to see if non-productive aisles are the problem or if you really do need to move to a larger facility
  • Do regular physical inventory counts to determine if your actual product matches what’s expected
  • Use the 80/20 rule, one of the most impactful warehouse solutions, to prevent an accumulation of slower-moving product
  • Pay attention to common misconceptions like assuming you can add more rows to your racks; not factoring in HVACs and sprinklers when you measure pallet height, etc.
  • Consider high density mobile shelving, a mezzanine office, and modular inplant office to increase storage capacity
  • And, make sure you have the appropriate sized racks or shelves for your product to prevent damage
  • Use the correct picking technique to minimize picking chaos and the possibility of creating non-productive aisles
  • By using these warehouse solutions to clear non-productive aisles, you create a safer workplace, which is a plus for your employees and the business as a whole

Interested in assessing your space to make sure you don’t have to deal with non-productive aisles? Want to know more warehouse solutions? Contact Specialized Storage Solutions for more details.

And, while you’re at it, sign up for our newsletter to learn how you can improve your warehouse operation without breaking the bank.

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[1] SAGE journals: Minimizing Warehouse Space with a Dedicated Storage Policy

[2] United States Department of Labor: Business Case for Safety and Health

[3] United States Department of Labor: Business Case for Safety and Health

[4] The Balance: How to Cycle Count Your Inventory

[5] The Balance: How to Cycle Count Your Inventory

[6] United States Department of Labor: Business Case for Safety and Health

[7] United States Department of Labor: Business Case for Safety and Health