Warehouse Layout and Design for Breweries and Beer Distribution
It is sometimes hard to know who is more passionate about craft beer: the brewers or the consumers. The truth is, craft beer has taken the world by storm and it is only growing in popularity. If you are a passionate brewer with big visions of getting your brew out there for all to enjoy, that’s fantastic. Just make sure you remember the more mundane details. While celebrating the creative joys of recipe development and playing with the nuances of your newest IPA flavor, don’t forget to also pay attention to the nuances of your warehouse layout and design. Take the time to develop warehouse solutions to make your business run smoothly and easily, so you have more time to focus on the fun stuff.
If you are a distributer and not a brewer, the boom in niche beer affects your warehouse organization too. The diversity of your inventory has, and will, necessarily continue to increase with the demands of a thirsty public. More variety means more stock keeping units (SKUs) and more to keep track of. The huge surge in beer diversity adds new challenges to warehouse layout and design for both brewers as well as distributors.
Below we’ll look at some general organizing principles that are important to consider in any warehouse if you want to maintain maximum efficiency, but with an eye towards the beer industry. Then we’ll take a look at some more specific challenges unique to the brewery world.
Regularly Update Your Layout
Whatever sort of warehouse you are running, it is essential that you keep a regular inventory on your use of space in order to maintain the highest efficiency possible. This is especially true when considering the warehouse layout and design of beer storage, since the market is in constant fluctuation as tastes shift and change.
Since the demands of the market are in a regular state of fluctuation, utilize dynamic warehouse management systems to analyze your traffic. With this data you can sequence your orders by prioritizing the most popular brands or flavors into the most accessible locations.
Then with all the information organized, you can maximize your floor space by segmenting it into high traffic zones and low traffic zones. This is especially important in a brewery where there are so many different processes going on, such as brewing, storage and tasting (more on this below).
In addition, beer distributors have to deal with a complex variety of packaging. Since aesthetic appeal of packaging is a big selling point for consumers, it’s up to you to figure out how to organize your warehouse in a way that can accommodate all kinds of package sizes and shapes.
The key to ultimate efficiency is to stay open and ready to constantly adapt to changes in demand. Make a commitment to continuous upgrades and you won’t get stuck in tired old systems of management that only hold you back.
If you are in a place where you feel as though you don’t have enough room for your expanding business, take a moment to assess your warehouse layout and design. Are you using the full volume of available space? You don’t necessarily need to expand into a bigger warehouse just because your business is growing. For instance, you can consider warehouse solutions that involve creative use of your vertical space.
Often times, people think that having a bigger space will make movement and organization easier. However, having too big of a space can actually lead to a fatiguing and confusing environment. The most efficient business model takes advantage of storage density, reducing the amount of space needed to store a product. Better design equals better operational efficiency and a more productive environment.
Of course, you don’t want to overcrowd either. A warehouse is at its most efficient when it is at about 80-85% capacity of total usable space. Beyond this, it becomes difficult to move around easily and it is probably time to upgrade in size.
Don’t Forget Your Team!
One of the most overlooked warehouse solutions to optimum efficiency lies in training your team. Make sure everyone understands what is going on and why. Cross train staff so the floor team understands what the loading dock is doing and the loading dock understands what the truckers are doing and vice versa. Each person should know roughly how to execute each step of an order so the entire team can move as a unit. The more each member understands about the overall operation, the better they can support one another in a graceful dance of efficiency.
Incentive programs are also fantastic. By providing realistic goals to shoot for—such as shorter loading times, for example—your team will have more motivation and more fun. Team building events, both at work and without, are also great for group morale.
GREEN Warehouse Solutions!
Green is all the rage, and for good reason. It’s better for the environment and for your pocketbook too. Higher efficiency in your warehouse = less energy usage = smaller carbon footprint. And going green is also a great marketing strategy for breweries. People appreciate ethical companies who make an effort to be conscientious of the world at large. And everyone wants to enjoy a beer while feeling they are supporting efforts to clean up the earth!
In other words, going green has 3 fold benefits: it attracts new customers, cuts costs and is better for the earth.
A few ways to decrease your warehouse’s carbon footprint is to use energy efficient light bulbs and conveyors. There are conveyors on the market which are sensor activated, so they do not waste energy when nothing is on the belt.
You could also install solar panels to generate electricity, which is a great investment as prices for electricity go up with coal and gas prices (not to mention carbon taxes imposed by the federal government).
Another option is to reclaim water used for landscaping or even make your facility zero waste. Zero waste can be accomplished through reusing materials. Old hops and barley can be composted. Empty cartons and palettes can be reused. You can even install a monorail system in your warehouse that carries empty boxes and material up and over other equipment, keeping the floor space open and uncluttered.
Designing a Warehouse Space for a Craft Brewery
When designing a warehouse space for a brewery, you have a multitude of things to consider: you want to preserve the beer, you want to preserve the raw ingredients for the beer and you also have to consider specialized containers for holding the beer (such as kegs).
You also need to consider how to segment the space you’re working with in the most logical way for all of the processes to coexist in peace. For instance, beer needs to be left alone to ferment—somewhere that it won’t be subjected to shaking, tampering and disturbance of the chemical process.
You’ll also need to have proper storage areas for all of the brewing ingredients. All the ingredients that go into beer, such as yeast, hops and barley, all have different storage needs, as does the beer itself. You’ll need to consider temperature, as you’ll likely need a temperature controlled warehouse. Beer in kegs, for instance, is best stored below 40 degrees F.
Additionally, you need employees to be able to access these ingredients easily in order to do their job effectively. Heck, you may even have a tasting room. And don’t forget offices for administration work. With the right organization, all of these processes can flow seamlessly without interfering with one another.
Kegs pose an awkward storage conundrum for microbreweries and beer distributors alike. These robust, metal barrels can weigh upwards of 100 pounds. They don’t store easily on palettes and they are a strain on workers’ bodies. They must be stored upright and their round shape makes them roll together on conveyor belts in a fine disorder—unlike the more tidy boxes that seem to line up perfectly in comparison. Kegs also have a higher center of gravity than boxes, due to their round shape, so they are more likely to fall over if not tended properly.
So how are you going to optimize your warehouse layout and design to accommodate these awkward but necessary beasts of the beer world? This is an especially good question since you’ll likely have a wide range of beers stored in kegs, due to the above mentioned surge in demand for beer options.
Keg Flow Racking is one method that has been developed to make the storage of kegs easier. It involves strong bars that hold the kegs steady as high strength rollers move them in order. The size of the bars is adjustable to accommodate different sizes of kegs. A high rolling bar prevents the keg from toppling.
This is a method that could be used in conjunction with the traditional palettes, based on an assessment of your SKOs and which products are in the highest demand.
As a desire for new beer flavors continues to grow and the market continues to support the microbrewery industry, beer seems to be a pretty solid investment. Beer will not, after all, ever go out of style. When planning for your own brewery or distribution center, take a look around your warehouse: solutions to higher efficiency—and thus greater profit margins—are all around you.