Optimizing a warehouse layout for efficient operations is often not as easy as it sounds. There are many competing issues that need to be taken into account. Typically:
- The physical restrictions of your warehouse, such as its shape, access points, power, lighting or wifi cover
- Limitations of your racking or storage systems, and of the inventory to be stored
- Fast and slow moving items and out of season storage
- Secure or controlled storage environments
- The need to cross dock from receipt to dispatch locations
- Space to handle large deliveries or to prepare shipments
- Plans for expansion or contraction
- Team productivity and organization
Depending on the nature of your organization, the main body of your warehouse is probably given over to storing inventory. WMS interacts with this part of your warehouse through:
- The process of receiving goods and putting them away
- Picking inventory from storage
- Stock taking. Reviewing what inventory you actually have.
In some instances the accurate monitoring of every inventory item is not necessary - for instance when only a few SKUs are being handled, or in a bricks-and-mortar store. However, for most dedicated warehousing operations location management improves productivity, and as SKU count and volumes increase the use of location management becomes vital.
Here are some ideas that you may find helpful when implementing or redesigning your location plan.
- High throughput products should be located nearer to the Goods In and Goods Out areas to reduce footfall.
- Placing Items that are typically sold together near to one another will also help to reduce footfall. Remember that a single product may be stored in multiple locations.
- WMS will guide pickers around the warehouse in order of location. Organizing your locations with this in mind can help to reduce footfall. You might wish to consider:
- ‘Snaking’ - having location names ascend in such a way that the locations in one aisle begin at the same end that the last aisle finished
- Alternating bay ID’s between left and right, meaning that the picker only needs to travel each aisle in one direction.
- Heavy or bulky items require different picking methods and therefore equipment to small or lightweight items. You might choose to have a dedicated warehouse zone for different item types.
- You might wish to leave a few empty locations to allow for new lines or temporary swells in inventory levels.
- One SKU per location may not always be practical, but try to keep few enough SKUs in each location for a picker to sort and find what they need quickly.
- Relocate out of season or low throughput inventory to more remote warehouse locations.
Location naming & labelling
Brightpearl, and therefore WMS, supports a location naming hierarchy to to four levels - Aisle, Bay, Shelf and Bin. Locations can also be grouped together into Zones to represent general areas, rooms, or other subdivisions of your warehouse.
Try to keep location names short and logical to allow them to be clearly legible and easy to understand. Location labels featuring the location name will help staff navigate the warehouse. Remember that long location names will have to be printed in a smaller typeface than a short name would to allow them to appear in a label of the same size.
We recommend that if you decide to use just part of the hierarchy (eg, just Aisle, bay and Shelf), that you give the value 0 or 1 to unused levels in case you wish to begin using that level in the future.
Several processing screens throughout WMS will be sorted by location in order to guide the user on a logical path around the warehouse. The location name fields are alphanumeric, so will be sorted alphabetically rather than numerically. The upshot is that you might see certain locations appearing in what appears to be the wrong order. If you named your locations x.x.x.1 to x.x.x.12, they would be sorted into the following order:
… and so on. We therefore recommend using a leading zero on lower denominations to keep the numbers in order. Replacing x.x.x.1 with x.x.x.01 will maintain the sequence from x.x.x.01 to x.x.x.10 and onwards.
Location barcodes and labels
You can also add barcodes to the labels for scanning during picking, stock take or put away.
Your warehouse locations are synchronized from Brightpearl to WMS and will therefore support your warehouse location layout. Location labels can be generated and printed direct from Brightpearl, or by using third party software.
WMS supports different workflows to manage your incoming goods:
- Receive inventory in to a temporary Goods In area
- Put Away inventory into its storage location
- Optionally, receive inventory directly into its storage location.
The incoming delivery records can be associated to Purchase Orders or Sales Credits in Brightpearl, or can be used to create a new Sales Credit for stock returned against a Sales Order.
Depending on the nature of their businesses, WMS customers typically create a receiving area where received items can be held prior to being put away. It can be helpful to use racking in Goods In to stage Put Away runs or to satisfy customer orders or transfers awaiting fulfilment (often known as cross docking).
The block layout below supports the core WMS goods in process, the green arrows. In doing so, WMS minimises handling and thus mistakes, minimises time between goods in and goods out and provides an orderly means to put away inventory balances.
Inventory for goods out is sourced from warehouse storage areas and distribution racking, the yellow arrows. For inventory assigned to goods out from storage areas, this is a two stage process. Picking goods from storage then packing for customer delivery or transfer. Where WMS batches are used for picking and packing, pickers are assigned batches to process. They select an empty cart and go around the warehouse picking the goods required for the batch. On completion, pick carts may be left in the ‘ready to pack’ area for the packing team. Of course, the picker may also immediately pack the batch in which case he/she will take the cart directly to the packing area. Inventory in the distribution racking area may need boxing up or caging ready for shipping. If already caged or boxed then there is no need for this inventory to pass through the packing area.
Packing station arrangements are largely dictated by your goods out process. In particular, the point at which you print packing labels (if you do). Normally, packers print at the point the goods out note or the last product in the consignment is scanned. In which case, fixed workstations are likely to be most appropriate.