Material Handling

White Papers 


TriFactor's White Papers are a knowledge base of best practices associated with material handling systems design.  These White Papers writeen by the TriFactor's staff have been featured in 100's of industry publications and web sites.


Critical Factors when Choosing an Order Picking System


The Five Most Common Mistakes When Planning a Distribution Center  


More White Papers





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Warehouse and Distribution Center Design

Are you planning or designing a new distribution center?  During this process, please keep in mind that you have an opportunity to work with a clean slate. You can design your facility so that it allows your operations to run the most efficient as possible so that the return on investment is justifiable and within your available budget.  The quality of your distribution will improve customer satisfaction because customers will receive what they ordered when they where told they would get it.  All of this is possible if you are willing to follow a structured planning process.   The following represents some of the major steps associated with this process:

Define goals and objectives. These should be closely aligned with the overall strategy for the new facility.  They can be defined as minimizing warehousing operating costs, maximizing picking productivity, or simply providing the best customer service. 

Document the process. Review the existing or proposed methodology and process by conducting personal interviews with the staff dedicated to all major functional areas within the process. This is an opportunity to draw from their experience and to address issues associated with your current operating procedures.

Collect information and data. Collect any and all information specific to the following:

  • Facility.  If the facility is an existing building, it is imperative that you work with accurate drawings of the facility.  If you are fortunate enough to be building a new facility, I would suggest that you design your storage and handling system first, and then design the building around the operation.  
  • Product Stored and Distributed.  It is important to collect all relevant product information pertaining to the number of stock keeping units (SKUs) to be stored and picked within the facility. Additionally, collecting SKU dimensional measurements, weights, order history, and velocity data is required. You need to consider the two sources of information associated with product information.  The easier of the two is the data associated with product that you already distribute.  The most difficult is to forecast the future growth of your existing products as well as any new product that will be distributed at this facility. 

Analysis. Once information about the building and the inventory has been collected, a thorough analysis should be performed in order to determine if the goals and objectives can be obtained.  Since effective slotting brings improved space utilization, reduced replenishment requirements and increased picking productivity and throughput, slotting should not be overlooked or taken lightly when planning a distribution center.  Operating efficiency and throughput can be improved by identifying the fastest moving products and providing for a forward, or fast, pick area instead of utilizing general storage and picking areas. This allows for an appropriate balance between storage and picking functions and the necessary labor requirements.

Facility Layout.  Armed with all of the above information you have what is needed to start designing layouts of the different operations to be located in the facility.  While doing the layouts you should be asking yourself and others some of the following questions in order to keep you on the road of having a successful design:

  • How well does the product flow into, within, and out of the facility?
  • Does the forward pick area (pick modules) hold sufficient inventory to avoid excessive replenishment requirements?
  • Is the storage system and area large enough to accommodate the inventory including any required safety stock?
  • What type of conveying and sortation equipment will be used?
  • What are the staffing requirements?
  • Does the operating budget include staffing, maintenance, utilities and the cost of the information system?
  • How well will the facility adapt to a change in operating requirements?
  • How effectively will the warehouse management system work with the automated material handling system

If the analysis determines the goals and objectives can be met, the detailed solution and project plan can then be developed. If they cannot be met, then management should determine an alternate plan of action such as modifying the goals and objectives or making substantial changes to the building design.

Create a detailed project plan. This plan should identify all the steps required to fulfill the warehouse or distribution center layout, including the overall goals and objectives, and the results of the information and data analysis used in developing the plan. The project plan should contain the major tasks to be undertaken, the resources needed to achieve each task, and how much time should be allotted to accomplish the tasks successfully. 

Implementation. The implementation phase of the project is when the "rubber meets the road." It's during this phase that the layout is transformed from concept to reality.  All resources within the new facility need to work together to ensure the project plan's goals are met.  Since there is a set order in which components of the system should be installed, delivery of all products is carefully coordinated so as to arrive at the time when it is needed.

There's no room for mistakes in today's economy, and that includes building or re-engineering distribution centers.  More than ever the "measure twice, cut once" rule applies, since having to tack on additional capital outlays five, six, seven years down the road is costly. The projection of inventory and how it is to be stored and moved are the driving factors, as a 20% deviation on a 200,000 square foot storage area can result in a 40,000 square foot shortfall or surplus.

In most cases companies will design and install a system that can accommodate the projected future growth.  If the budget doesn’t allow for you to design a facility to handle as much growth as you would like, it then becomes important to have a design that will accommodate a phased approach.

If you need help in facility layout or distribution center design TriFactor has a proven structured solution process for more information call JJ Phelan at 800-507-4209.

This page contains portion of TriFactor's Craig Bertorello's White Paper entitled Seven Critical Steps to Planning Your Warehouse or Distribution Center