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How to define a layout to optimize operations

To develop a lean flow and to optimize productivity from different areas or processes that take place in a warehouse, operations layout takes an important role in the game.

A good process implemented in an inappropriate layout can cause problems in both the area and in the overall operation of the warehouse:

  • Bottlenecks
  • Slow down the productivity
  • More mistakes
  • Product losses
  • Disorganization

Where do I start?

  • Analysis of the current process in the area

To define a good layout, it is necessary, on one hand, to know the global process of the warehouse, to ensure the operation of the area to be defined is coherent and adapted to the global process, and on the other hand, to know the specific and detailed activities of  the area where the layout is going to be defined.

Before starting to study the plant distribution, it is important to analyse the defined process and evaluate if it is the appropriate one:

  • Review that all the steps of the process are necessary for its objective.
  • Check if there are tasks without added value.
  • Verify if there are tasks where quality and performance can be improved.

In all cases, the process must be redefined by removing and modifying all those aspects that are required to ensure the final process.

  • Minimum movements

It is very common that the process of an area in a warehouse consists of several steps, it could be seen as a chain of tasks to be performed to achieve the overall objective of the activity. For this reason, the product and the operators must be moved several times to reach the next step. These movements do not provide real value, but are necessary to bring goods from one station to another. Therefore, the objective is to reduce them as much as possible.

The less movements, both in number and in distance, the less time will be invested in this necessary task, but with no added value.

  • Optimal number of people for the work station

When defining the plan of a warehouse area, we must know what equipment will be used to work on it, in terms of volume. For this reason, the workload of the zone must be known to define the team. The space for 4 people for one task is not the same that the required one for 10 people for the same task. It is possible to leave additional place for possible workload peaks, but the use of more staff than required in a task may be unproductive for the defined process. Furthermore, it is known that performing in a man/hour ratio, work performed by more people in fewer hours is less productive than its equivalent with the original number of people working additional hours, because the flow will be continuous.

Additionally, using more space for one workspace means less available space for other areas or tasks that are part of the overall process.

  • Access to the product to be used in the area and its replenishment

All material used, whether part of the product or auxiliary material, must have its place in the work area. The fact that some material don´t have a defined place in the map will mean that this material can be found in different places, making it difficult for the operator to find it easily and, therefore, its search delays that part of the process.

One of our clients, a 3PL, achieved a reduction in 66% of workforce required to operate their main logistics platform after we modified the lay-out and processes, without introducing any automation or changes in the information system. That’s why we help and support companies to improve and develop new layouts to reach their operational goals.

Author: Inmaculada Battaglia
Publication date: 1 October 2020