Reclaiming Warehouse Floor Space

Reclaiming Warehouse Floor Space

Where has all your warehouse floor space gone? It doesn’t migrate or physically move, but it seems to universally shrink.  It seems to be a human condition or habit – fill all available space… quickly. When reclaiming floor space, remember there are three primary factors to focus on:

  1. Optimizing existing shelving and rack.
  2. Identifying & utilizing existing wasted space
  3. Using technology to get value out of every cubic inch


Divide and conquer these factors and you will be able to reclaim 85% of your floor space and more.


  1. Optimizing Existing Shelving & Rack

Let’s start with the basics – optimizing existing equipment. When is the last time you optimized your shelving system? Stop laughing. Most organizations set up their shelving based on how many shelves the manufacturer provided. Luckily for most organizations, the shelving manufacturers provide more than two shelves per section. But seriously, shelving systems often waste up to 70% of its storage capacity or cube.


Yeah up to 70% or more of shelving utilization is wasted air. So what can you do?


First, make sure your inventory is in totes or boxes that eliminate most of the waste. A best practice is to have five to eight “standard” cell or tote sizes within your system for easier management (there are always exceptions, but work hard not to exceed this).  Then organize your inventory by cell or tote height. Yes, use the height as the first level of determining inventory location. Then adjust the shelves in your system accordingly to accommodate these new heights.


To increase throughput and productivity of your system you want to optimize the inventory locations based on velocity. Intelligently storing items is often referred to as slotting. Basic slotting principles tell you to keep items with similar usage profiles together in order to eliminate wasted walking and searching.


If you are concerned about hitting both space utilization and labor and throughput goals (and who isn’t these days), there are additional slotting and technologies that should be applied. Keep on reading…

  1.  Identifying & Utilizing Existing Wasted Space

Review your facility layout. Are you looking at shelving and averaging a height of six to eight foot tall? Chances are your facility has much higher ceilings. When evaluating space usage, obviously you look at the amount of cube that is physically utilized in the shelving, but more importantly look at the amount of space above the top shelf.


Look up. Odds are your facility is 20′ and taller. You heat, light and environmentally control this space, but receive zero benefits. To use this space you can consider mezzanine. This will allow you to physically use the space, but you will now require operators to walk up and down the aisles and some form of mechanization (usually conveyor) to get material up to the second level. So the positive is usable space, the negatives are the cost of the mezzanine, conveyance system plus non-ergonomic operator activity and loss of productivity.


  1. Use Technology to Get Value Out of Every Cubic Inch


After evaluating mezzanine, let’s look at some simple and cost effective automation. There are multiple types of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) to choose from. These range from a simple carousel to fixed aisle ASRS systems. The system that best fits your needs will be determined by the number of SKUs or items, the items physical qualities, the velocity of orders, number of orders, facility specifications and labor characteristics.


75% floor space – Vertical Carousels rotate shelves around a vertical track and brings the right shelf to the operator at a correct ergonomic work height. Vertical carousels are ideal for small items with low weights and ceiling heights up to 15 feet and items that are mission critical. Shelves can be customized with roll out drawers, locks and adjustable shelves.


85% floor space – Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) has a series of trays in the front and rear of a column with an inserter/extractor that runs in the center delivering the trays to a work counter. VLMs are perfect for inventory that varies in heights and weights and ceiling heights up to 50 feet tall. Internal controls allow the system to automatically scan and optimize every tray and to fix each tray’s specific storage height allowance and position in the unit to optimize space and productivity. Every tray can have individual access permissions set for additional security.


70% floor space – Horizontal Carousels with a scissor lift or small amount of mezzanine allows facilities to maximize their floor space while hitting 225 to 550 lines per hour per operator pick rate. The carousels are duel tiered and pre-position independently for the next pick. The carousel’s orders are banded allowing the scissor lift to stop at just a few positions going up or down to complete the entire batch.  Inventory is stored in totes or boxes on each shelf level that can adjust down to 1.5 inches for high density storage. Integrated pick to light system directs the operator.


85% floor space plus – Robotic Carousel Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (ASRS) systems store totes or boxes in triple tiered horizontal carousels. The robotic inserter and extractor device moves up and down the front of the pre-positioning carousels and retrieves or stores the required load and delivers it to awaiting conveyor. The totes are delivered to work stations for either high throughput order picking or JIT sequencing and buffering operations.


85% floor space plus – Fixed Aisle Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (ASRS) such as mini-loads, mid-loads and unit loads can be used when there are larger quantities of items. Each system provides space savings and is designed to handle inventory ranging from small items all the way to pallets and everything in between. These systems use a center crane system moving between shelving or rack to pick and store items and deliver them to a workstation for picking or sequencing.


Reclaim Wasted Floor Space


Look at your current situation and understand what you really need to accomplish. Then, either improve what you have or call an expert to help determine the “best” system for you. The best system will depend on your exact application and requirements. Integrated Systems Design offers a free space and labor survey to help you determine the right path.