How to Optimize E-commerce Fufillment Center Layout

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The flow and layout of your ecommerce fulfillment center can make all the difference. When it comes to efficiency, space utilization, and the safety of your workforce, designing a proper layout ensures optimization. Basic warehouse design principles can help you design the best layout possible for your business. Simple ideas such as using vertical space and considering the flow of your operation can take your warehouse from “working fine” to completely optimized. Use some of the following layout and design suggestions! They will increase your bottom line and improve the overall operations of your fulfillment center.

Storage Space & Cube

One of the most important design principles is to make sure you’re utilizing the potential storage space/cube of your fulfillment center. Consider vertical space. Think about individual location cubic capacity, as well. Both should be fully utilized. This might mean installing new racks, mezzanines, or high-density storage in your fulfillment center. This can help to maximize cube and ground-level square footage.

Rack design and aisle width in your fulfillment center impact square foot requirements. Most ecommerce fulfillment centers operate with one of the following racking designs.

  • 12-foot standard aisle width. This utilizes a traditional sit-down/counterbalanced lift truck
  • 8-9-foot narrow aisle width. This aisle width utilizes a narrow aisle reach truck and may yield up to a 33% improvement in pallet storage capacity over 12-foot aisles
  • 6-foot very narrow aisle width. With this width, a turret truck or swing arm truck design is required. It may yield up to a 66% improvement in pallet storage capacity over 12-foot aisles.

The rack configuration and layout affect these potential improvements.

One way that an ecommerce fulfillment center can make better use of the total cube is by installing mezzanines over work areas and departments that do not require high clearance. In larger centers, install picking modules on upper levels.

Operations & Layout Flexibility

In short, your business should scale. To avoid unnecessary costs that occur from unplanned changes, develop business operations, as well as a warehouse layout, that enables flexibility. As you design your fulfillment center, your company’s planning process should be strategic. Account for the possibility of product mix changes that may make automation solutions ineffective, any company acquisitions being discussed, and consolidation or expansion of centers. Don’t develop a layout or process that is inflexible or can’t scale.

Facility Design Innovations

Whether you’re looking to build a new fulfillment center, it’s important to understand how trends in warehouse design have developed.

For example, centers built in the last ten years typically have a clear span of 24-34 feet. In addition, larger, automated centers with very narrow aisles and picking systems are now built with up to 54 feet of vertical usable space throughout the facility. Note that older centers often have less than 24 feet of clear span. These facilities have larger footprints but lower ceiling clearance vs. larger clear span and higher clearance for storage space in newer facilities.

The existing warehouse market is currently at capacity. As a result, it’s important to calculate the total storage capacity in your current facilities. Consider the racking, automation, and material handling equipment that are required to take advantage of the higher clearance.

Dock Doors

The expense of providing enough inbound/outbound dock doors, docks and staging areas is relatively small in the initial building design and construction. However, the impact of not having enough doors is huge because cartons on docks and staging areas create congestion and flow problems. It’s a reoccurring issue every time your center is at shipping and receiving capacity, which might be half the year.

Slotting Procedure

In some cases, pickers at a facility may walk up to 14 miles per day. This represents up to 75% of their working hours! Maintaining slotting procedures is critical to an efficient center.

Try to provide primary pick space for one week’s average unit sales for each SKU. Focus on the top 10% of fast selling SKUs to ensure they are properly slotted. Maintenance around slotting processes should be constant and continuous. In addition, make improvements to the procedure as often as possible to adapt to your operations.

Available Space

This may seem like the most simple principle on the list, but it is often overlooked. Some businesses equate a completely stocked fulfillment center with maximized opportunity. However, this can be detrimental. It is much smarter to keep 10% of your locations open and availableThis may not be possible all the time, but having space available to store inventory in picking and reserve locations is a key factor.

Product Volume

Another simple principle for efficiency is to move as many products as possible at one time. In other words, maximize the product transported per trip. This will reduce the total trips your workers need to make as well as the time required. Consider this principle when reassessing picking, put-away, and replenishment functions in your facility.

Optimize Your Fulfillment Center Space with Specialized Storage

Designing an ecommerce fulfillment center requires a lot of foresight and planning. Use some of these principles in your layout planning, and your operations will improve and your business will benefit. Choosing the right space optimization partner to provide guidance and the right equipment is also a key step. At Specialized Storage, we think outside the box and always stay abreast of the newest trends in facility design. To learn more about how our team of experts can help you, reach out to us today! One of our warehouse design experts can come to your facility, learn about your business needs, assess your space, and provide layout design advice.