Best Warehouse Layout Optimization for Your Business: U Flow or Through Flow?

Best Warehouse Layout Optimization for Your Business: U Flow or Through Flow?

Being a business owner means that you must handle a unique set of challenges that don’t even occur to most people. For example, warehouse layout optimization.  Warehouse solutions are not typically a subject that comes up at dinner parties, but if your company needs warehouse space, it’s a subject that will drive you mad if you don’t address it from the get-go.

Whether your company is a small business or a large corporation, setting up your warehouse in an optimal physical layout will be the lynchpin of saving money, getting work orders out on time, knowing your inventory at any given moment, and even dangerous hazards that could endanger your employees.

We know that trying to figure out the best options for warehouse solutions for your company can be a headache, so you may have ignored it until now. We’re here to break it down for you so that you can make the right choice with confidence.

So what are your options for warehouse solutions? While every business is different, the basic need is the same. You need to be able to find your product and get it out the door as efficiently as possible. Quite simply, when it comes down to it, there are two options for warehouse layout optimization that are the most popular: U Flow and Through Flow.

So let’s take a look at both of these options, break them down for our average Joe and Judy Boss, and help you determine which one is best for your growing business.

U Flow Warehouse Layout

The most common choice for warehouse layout optimization is the U Flow. Whether you’re just getting started or you’re well on your way to being a Fortune 500 company, this is a great first option to consider.  Think of this option like a one-way, two-lane road in a “U” shape with a storage area in the center. Much like its name implies, the U Flow layout operates around this semi-circle.

Think of the “outside lane” of this U like the fast lane on a highway. Product in this lane is moved quickly.  Therefore, it’s best if these are your non-fragile, lightweight products.

The “inside lane,” conversely, should be utilized for product that doesn’t need to be shifted daily. It could also include safety chemicals or apparatuses that need to be moved with caution.

By having two distinct lanes, product and equipment can move at their necessary pace without a bottleneck in the flow.

Finally, the central portion of the U Flow can be utilized for new inventory awaiting placement. This product will be out of the way of your daily operational flow, giving your employees a chance to attack it when there’s free time after the daily orders have been filled.

Advantages of the U Flow

U Flow layouts are great for optimizing smaller spaces and maximizing efficiency. Both of those translate to saving your company money by utilizing every square foot you already own while you’re growing.

The layout of this option is perfect for your small businesses if:

  • Your start-up doesn’t have much product yet, but you expect your inventory to grow significantly.
  • You need to keep your payroll low for the time being.
  • You aren’t ready to invest in a larger warehouse yet.

Maximize Space. Since the U Flow is a one-way in and one-way out option, it means that the shipping and receiving trucks can share the same side of the building, each having its own dock.  A receiving truck pulls up to the dock, your employees pull the items off the truck and move it the central inventory location for sorting. Meanwhile, on the other end of the “U,” the shipping truck gets loaded with goods to head out to their destination.  Work is occurring simultaneously. Plus, shipping and receiving within close proximity to one another means employees can easily move goods from one truck to another with ease and speed.

With this style of warehouse layout optimization, your storage and inventory are taking up the least amount of space in your building as possible. Good news if your offices and production space are slowly taking over more space as your business grows!

Minimize Staff. Moving production and inventory through a U Flow layout can be accomplished with even a small production team.

Minimize Error, Theft & Shrink.  With only two docks to keep an eye on, your security risks are low.  Plus, your general foot traffic accessing your warehouse is considerably smaller than other layouts. And, in well-organized, close-proximity U Flow warehouse, risks of misplacing or damaging orders are much lower.

Inventory Storage With a U Flow Layout

With the U Flow layout, the location of your static and dynamic items play a key role in how well your production flows.

Picture your inventory in three sections laid out in a row. The first and third sections for are for static storage, and the middle section is for dynamic storage. Using this system makes it easier for employees to access the goods without being in each others’ way. Since the products are in a central location, the product travels less and can be loaded or uploaded in a fast, efficient manner.

Disadvantages of the U Flow Layout

One of the same factors that make this option great can also be its downfall. While having separate slow and fast lanes keep product moving from dock to dock smoothly, it does limit your docks to one truck at a time. If you usually get multiple deliveries or shipments coinciding at the same time, you’ll have drivers burning fuel and billable hours while they way for the bay to be free.

Another consideration is whether you often have product that gets transferred directly from receiving truck to delivery truck.  If this is the case, a U Flow layout will actually create a congestion point somewhere in the middle of the transfer.

Through Flow Warehouse Layout

Let’s contrast the U Flow with the Through Flow layout. Again, its name hints to its layout. In this layout, though, we utilize three paths of mobility.   (This layout is also sometimes referred to as either I or L shaped warehouse flow).

Typically, a Through Flow warehouse utilizes trucking docks on two ends of the building, with the production flow taking place from one end to the other.  Inventory that needs to shift frequently and quickly will move directly from one end of the building to the other.  In contrast, products that need careful handling or those that don’t shift frequently move in arcs to either side of the thoroughfare.

Advantages of a Through Flow Warehouse

This option for warehouse layout optimization makes use of the entire length of the warehouse. It maximizes efficiency by having multiple bay doors for shipping and receiving.

The layout of this option is perfect for your businesses if:

  • Your business deals with a large volume of inventory
  • Your product shifts frequently
  • You have a large warehouse space to take advantage of
  • You’d rather invest significantly on the front-end to establish best practices before experiencing significant growth

Move Higher Volumes. With this system, having two slower lanes means that a larger volume of slow-moving product can be handled at one time.

Minimize Bottlenecks & Congestion. This system also addresses the centralized product congestion concern that the U flow can create. Product moves in practically straight lines across the building, rather than cutting back and forth across the space.

Focus on Specific Points of Production.  With more of an assembly-line layout in your warehouse, your management team can specialize and focus on one segment at a time.  One team member supervises incoming shipments and inventory growth, while another oversees order fulfillment and outgoing shipments.

Eliminate Delivery Truck Wait Times. With multiple bays on each side of the warehouse, you’ll have more space to dock your trucks.  Not only does this save the drivers fuel, but it also means your drivers can be on their way with their deliveries sooner.

Inventory Storage with Through Flow Warehouse Layouts

With this style of warehouse layout optimization, your products are centralized in your warehouse. Just as in U Flow layouts, your static storage sits on either side of your dynamic storage. By having your inventory take center stage, it can easily be reached from both ends of the warehouse quickly without too much worry of employees being in each other’s way.

Disadvantages of Through Flow Layouts

As with any option, the Through Flow layout comes with a few distinct drawbacks.  Obviously bigger production means more moving parts. More trucks, more inventory, more team members – all of this can add up to more complications and more problems.

Additionally, having your inventory farther from the door means more legwork for your employees. You may find yourself needing a larger team to manage your warehouse.

Before you implement this option, make sure it’s cost-effective for you to have more employees and tools for them to move your products a farther distance.

With more access points, you’ll want to implement a sound security system to monitor each entry.  Another good investment is a strong, streamlined in-house inventory tracking system to keep up with all the moving parts and minimize shrink and order error.

Which Layout is Best for Your Company?

It’s clear that both options for warehouse layout optimization come with a great deal to consider for your current and your future needs. We hope that by highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of these two warehouse solutions for different type of businesses, you’ll be able to choose a layout that optimizes your workflow!