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Warehouse Automation - Warehouse Design and Layout

warehouse automationIf you are making the significant change from a manual warehouse to an automated warehouse you should not under estimate the impact of the change.  In reality even if you only use a small number of automated technologies these will still have a dramatic effect on your warehouse processes, management systems and on your warehouse team as a whole. 

The deployment of automation technology in a warehouse, whether it’s a fully integrated solution or an enhancement to an otherwise manual warehouse, can bring a real competitive advantage, with benefits in staffing, property and/or service.

For staff these include:

  • reduced costs
  • improved ergonomics
  • better productivity

Within the warehouse it can bring:

  • space efficiency
  • reduced facility size
  •  reduced costs. 

Service benefits include:

  • improved order accuracy
  • product security and condition
  • better lead-times

However, there are also risks, such as increased complexity, a degree of reduced flexibility and a finite capacity.  Warehouse automation best suits a ‘steady state’ throughput, not one where the variability creates ‘feast and famine’.  In addition, poor implementation can mean that automation expertise doesn’t transition into the operation, and the full benefits are not always realised. 

By looking at the most common potential warehouse automation risks you can then identify ways to mitigate or prevent them. In this article we will be looking at risks related to warehouse design and warehouse layout. While subsequent articles will review warehouse automation specification and tender management plus implementing automation technologies.

Warehouse Layout and Warehouse Design

warehouse layoutAutomation has finite limitations and may not be able to respond to unexpected peaks in throughput.
The limitations of a solution can be mitigated during the design phase.  Given the likely scale of investment then the planning base should be at least a ten-year horizon, to include the most robust forecast of changes in business profile and growth that are available.  The design should have a clear upgrade and development path to accommodate the anticipated changes, with a focus on those areas most likely to change, such as SKU growth, stock reduction or throughput increase.  It is important to scrutinise the under-lying process assumptions, and test their sensitivity to variations in throughput and business profiles, such as items per order line and lines per order.

There can be resistance to changing working methods with a desire by staff to retain as much of the existing process as possible.
Specifying new working practices can be difficult as people have to envisage how they will be working in the future, but thorough detailing of the revised processes is absolutely necessary.  However, the focus should be on adapting to how the automation works and getting the most benefit out of it. For example, constructing mock-ups to resolve physical issues will help to get the best solution both from and for the operations team, also getting their buy-in.  Changed processes should, wherever possible, make maximum use of staff expertise.

Understanding the impact of a peak throughput day and its frequency of occurrence are critical to a successful on-going operation.
Three days of peak activity has a different impact to thirty-three.  Knowing the finite capacities within the automation will enable appropriate contingency planning and alternative strategies for handling peaks.  Having an integrated peak plan will minimise its impact, by assessing, for example, the additional manual processes required when the automation reaches its known limit.


Implementing an warehouse automated solution can bring great benefits including:

  • improved productivity
  • order accuracy
  • product security
  • space efficiency. 

However, there are significant risk in adopting automation into your warehouse because it is such a life-changing experience, which can have a negative impact on both an operation and a business.  This has been demonstrated by a number of highly publicised failures, where poorly managed warehouse automation implementations have had a detrimental effect on business performance and service. 

By investing, typically, less than 2% of the total project cost in independent, professional support from a logistics and supply chain consultancy like Total Logistics these risks will be mitigated and project success assured.

For Total Logistics designing, specifying and implementing automated warehouse solutions is a way of life.  Our robust methodology minimises risk and delivers effective operational solutions; plus our accurate modelling ensures optimal warehouse design and maximises benefits. We support clients from the development of a robust business case through to managing the implementation, to de-risk the change and increase the achievement of the forecasted benefits.

For more information visit http://www.total-logistics.com or call Total Logistics the complete supply chain consultancy on +44 (0)118 977 3027

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