Since the pandemic showed manufacturers, distributors and retailers how supply chain disruptions can cause dramatic shortages of products and materials, many are seeking to increase inventory to avoid similar problems in the future. However, warehouse space is in short supply, particularly around coastal seaports and distribution centers, with prices rising, as leased properties are quickly snapped up.
With storage, logistics and distribution facilities strained to the limit today, managers are now looking to cost effectively optimize operations without leasing more space or expanding the building with new construction when they have essentially run out of space.
Fortunately, versatile options are available in the industry that can help to make the most of facility vertical space and storage density. The cumulative effect of taking advantage of some, or all, of these offerings can substantially improve supply shock resilience in preparation for the next pandemic surge, natural disaster, war, political dispute or other black swan event.
Leveraging Vertical Cubic Space
As floor space has become increasingly scarce, going up – not out – is an increasingly popular strategy. Companies are evolving from thinking about a storage in square foot space, in favor of cubic space.
- Extend the use of existing square footage is with free-standing elevated work platforms, which can essentially double the space in the same square footage.
- Elevated work platforms can be utilized to create additional workspace for small parts storage, picking and sorting operations, archiving, in-plant office space and more.
- NexCaliber Structures, by Steel King Industries, focuses solely on supplying turnkey solutions for engineered elevated work platforms. The business unit accelerates engineered work platform project while minimizing risk through 3D design visualization software to determine the most successful solution for the operation, reviewing costs and determining efficient alternatives to the warehouse footprint and workflow.
- Using precious existing warehouse floor or rack space to store empty pallets can also waste valuable square footage.
Above the Doors
In this regard, putting unused space to use above the warehouse dock door may be the answer. As a solution to empty pallet storage problems, the Over-Dock Pallet Storage Rack can help warehouse/logistics managers and shipping/receiving supervisors put more product in their warehouse without a bigger building while improving operational efficiency.
- The racking keeps empty pallets safely out of the way until needed, when they are conveniently at hand in a specially designed over the loading dock storage rack that will accommodate empty pallets, skids or returnable shipping containers.
- With typically two shelves installed above an average 12-foot wide dock door, almost 100 sq. ft of additional storage space can be added above each dock door. This frees up floor or rack space for storing higher value items than empty pallets.
Ultimately, however, to get significantly more effective use out of an existing warehouse or distribution center, increasing the density of storage may be required.
Increasing Storage Density
Warehouse managers are increasingly turning to advanced methods for increasing storage density.
A pushback rack system offers up to 90% more product storage than selective rack systems and up to 400% more selectivity than drive-in racks.
- It allows for storing pallets two to five deep, while providing easy access to a variety of different SKUs.
- Pallets are stored behind each other in a series of nested carts and are loaded from the same side of the system, eliminating separate aisles for each function.
- Composed of a stable rack along with a series of inclined carts and rails, when one pallet is pulled, the one behind it rolls forward.
A warehouse pallet flow storage system can be the answer, for maximum pallet rack use in a minimum footprint, along with inventory management capability. In a pallet flow storage system:
- dynamic flow rails are inclined in a static rack structure. This allows loads placed on one end to move by gravity on rollers to the unloading end, with speed controllers acting as gentle brakes.
- As a load is removed, the loads behind it move forward automatically.
- Once loaded, FIFO product rotation is automatic and the rack eliminates labor, and fork truck operation, to arrange loads.
- Forklifts are required only for the initial and final unloading.
- Compared to traditional selective pallet rack use, aisle space can be reduced by 75%, and up to 100%, more product can be stored.
Realistically, not every logistics firm, manufacturer, distributor or retailer has the resources to sign deals for new space before ground is broken. So, when reimagining the warehouse space becomes the priority, implementing one or several of the options discussed can free up significant storage space in an existing facility. The net effect of reclaiming this underutilized space can not only improve operational efficiency today, but also help to accommodate the inevitable supply chain shocks of the future, whatever the cause.