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Warehouse Size: How Large Does Your Warehouse Need to Be?

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When it comes to building a new warehouse or distribution center for your order fulfillment or materials handling operation, there are a number of factors that must be considered. Location (where in the country you should build your new facility) is one of the factors that get the most attention.

But settling on location before settling on how big your new facility needs to be is a little like putting the cart before the horse: It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Because the size of your warehouse or DC will inform countless parts of your design build strategy (including the types of technology you ultimately use, how much inventory you can realistically have on hand, the cost of land, etc.) it should realistically be one of the first things that you settle once you have decided to move ahead with a design build.

It is essential to make sure that you’re building the new facility to the appropriate size: Building too large can be a waste of capital that could potentially be put to better use; too small, and you risk quickly outgrowing the facility, prompting a costly redesign or expansion just a few years down the road.

Below, we offer some guidelines for how operations can appropriately choose a size for their next warehouse or DC.

How big is your current facility?

When you are determining the size of your new facility, it makes sense to use the size of your current facility as a starting point for the discussion. How much space do you currently have? Are you putting that space to use efficiently, or do you think there are optimizations that could be put in place to make better use of the space? Do you believe that your current facility has too much space, too little space, or just enough?

By understanding the successes or limitations of your current facility, you can extrapolate (roughly) whether your new facility should be of similar or different size. If you are constantly running out of space in your current facility, and your new facility will encounter similar throughputs and demand, then it makes sense to go larger; if you have a lot of wasted or empty space, it is possible that your new facility can be smaller and still be just as productive, saving you money in the form of taxes, property costs, utilities, etc.

It is important to keep in mind that this quick-and-dirty approach is not enough to settle on a final size—it should simply be used to ballpark the answer at the beginning of your discussions and planning.

How does product flow through your operation, and what processes are required for that?

In every operation, goods and product flow through a unique set of processes from the moment they arrive in the warehouse to when they are shipped as a part of an order to a customer. No operation handles its products in exactly the same way. But these processes will determine how a large portion of your new facility’s footprint is put to use (because it will determine which technologies such as conveyors and sorters are put in place) and for that reason, it is critical to understand flow before you settle on a layout or building size.

By firmly understanding your current flow of product, when designing your new facility it is possible that you can find more efficient ways of doing things that can reduce your total order cycle time and even the space that is required for your facility.

How much inventory so you typically have on hand at any given time? Is this inventory being stored efficiently?

This point is critical for obvious reasons. The amount of inventory that your operation must have on hand to stay in business will dictate how a large portion of your new facility’s space will be used.

Once you understand your current inventory needs, determine whether or not there are ways that you can make better use of the space that you have dedicated to inventory compared to what you are currently doing.

Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) paired with a rack-supported structure, for example, may offer substantial space savings. Another example might be implementing a system of drop-shipping larger items so that you do not need to keep them in long-term inventory, reducing the amount of inventory space necessary to keep your operation moving.

How much do you plan to grow?

Chances are good that you are opening a new warehouse or DC to accommodate an increase in demand: Your business is growing, and you need another facility to deliver what your customers want.

It is important to keep business growth in mind when building your new facility, because if you aren’t careful, you may find yourself quickly outgrowing the new space, leading you to a costly redesign, expansion, or to build another new facility.

If there are strong indications that growth will be rapid, it may be in your best interest to preemptively build out the capacity of your facility. If growth will be slower, it may make more sense to do so incrementally as the increased demand arises.

The Bottom Line

When building a new DC or warehouse, settling on the size of your new facility is one of the most crucial steps in the process, as it will inform much of what comes later (the systems and technologies you put in place; the plot of land that you purchase and build on, how large of a workforce you can hire, etc.).

The questions above can be used to help you determine what an appropriate size will be for your current needs and future growth but is not by any means a complete list of factors. The size of your new facility will ultimately be determined by these large notions as well as specifics, such as pallet size, aisle width, load-bearing capacity, and more. 

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Researchers to Develop Solid Lubricant Coatings for Conveyor Systems

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A research and development team led by Min Zou, professor of mechanical engineering and an Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow, has received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop low-friction, durable, graphite-lubricant coatings for industrial conveyor systems.

Belt conveyors comprise about a quarter of the $7.65 billion global conveyor market, which has expanded significantly in recent years because of e-commerce. However, an enormous amount of energy is wasted in these systems. High sliding friction between conveyor belts and slider bed materials is responsible for more than half of the total energy losses in a flat conveyor system.

The researchers will develop novel graphite coatings that will significantly reduce energy consumption and equipment failure in conveyor systems. The research will also deepen a fundamental understanding of the novel coating technology to enable applications in other fields, which could lead to significant savings in many U.S. industries.

The technology is based on a unique, patented bonding approach, developed by Zou’s group, in which graphite coatings adhere tightly to a substrate material.

After developing and optimizing fast-coating deposition processes for conveyor materials, the researchers will build scalable coating processes for full-sized belt conveyors. They will then build a prototype for evaluating the coating performance and demonstrate the feasibility of the coatings for industrial applications.

The new project is a collaboration between university researchers and industry leaders. Zou’s team at the U of A will partner with researchers at Arkansas State University and Hytrol Conveyor Company Inc., the largest conveyor manufacturer in the U.S.

The researchers use a special machine to apply novel graphite coatings that will reduce energy consumption and equipment failure in conveyor systems.

Robert Fleming, assistant professor at Arkansas State; Ty Keller, Hytrol’s manager of product innovation; and Boyce Bonham, Hytrol’s chief engineer, will serve as co-principal investigators.

The project will support a doctoral student at the U of A, who will serve as the entrepreneurial lead, a master’s student at Arkansas State, and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups. They have benefited from site and national NSF I-Corps training and Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation support and training, as well as mentoring by Cynthia Sides, assistant vice chancellor for research and innovation at the U of A, and Douglas Hutchings, director of the Arkansas Research Alliance Academy.

Zou’s research focuses on nanoscale materials and manufacturing. She is an international expert on surface engineering and tribology — the study of friction, wear and lubrication in the design of bearings and interacting surfaces in motion. Zou has designed, refined and tested solid lubricant coatings for various applications. The coatings are thinner, more durable and environmentally superior to petroleum-based oil lubricants.

Zou holds the Twenty-First Century Chair of Materials, Manufacturing and Integrated Systems.

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Dematic automates warehouse of kitchen manufacturer Schmidt Groupe

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Dematic has automated the picking warehouse of French kitchen manufacturer Schmidt Groupe S.A.S. at its site in Lièpvre in Alsace. The automation technology provider developed a space-saving solution, featuring a multishuttle system for multiple-deep storage in nearly 6,000 locations as well as special tote conveyor technology. Within the multishuttle system, 12 shuttles control order sequencing. The conveyor system z requested items to various workstations. In this way, the Dematic solution provides complete automation of the previously manual storage and retrieval operation as well as picking goods for the entire material flow.

“The Dematic Multishuttle significantly increases speed, storage density, accuracy, and availability within the picking warehouse,” says Boris Herrmann, Process Manager at Schmidt Groupe S.A.S. “In addition, the overall system enables high throughput rates as well as error-free picking, guaranteeing us efficient and reliable order processing.” As one of the international market leaders for furniture manufacturing and distribution, Schmidt Groupe faced several intralogistics challenges. For example, managing the side panels, doors, fittings, and handles of a customized kitchen required more effective processes, so the company decided to automate the material flow at its Alsace site.

Order picking starts at the small parts workstations. There, operators put required parts into cartons using a pick-by-light system. Cartons are then transported to the subsequent stations by conveyor using special roller and belt conveyor technology that support the logistical processes. If larger items are needed for an order, the small parts carton is loaded onto a tray and stored or buffered in the Dematic Multishuttle, which provides space for 5,760 storage locations on 12 levels. Within the multishuttle system, a dozen shuttles handle automatic order sequencing as well as storage, transfer, and retrieval. The conveyor system then transports the filled totes and trays to the other workstations. A continuous scale checks the weight. When an order is complete, the sequenced totes are checked, cartons are closed, and shipping labels applied.

Dematic has also installed a WMS (Warehouse Management System) that optimally manages stocks and orders according to priority, with the most frequently requested items stored in the most accessible locations. A WinCC process visualization system developed by Siemens was also integrated into the solution for monitoring the technical processes. It enables a simple and clear information flow of all accruing data and provides a user interface. As Thomas Meyer-Jander, Director EMEA and Head of Marketing & Communications at Dematic, explains: “In this way, users have access to the current operation status and can use that data to derive optimizations for improved performance.” The Schmidt Groupe’s assessment is correspondingly positive. Herrmann sums it up, “Our throughput and delivery accuracy goals have been more than met. With Dematic, we have the right supplier – due to their intralogistics know-how and expertise, they have been valuable resource, and our relationship has been characterized by cooperation and partnership.”

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Orion’s Compact RTC Rotary Tower Automatic Wrapper Integrates with Existing Conveyance

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Orion Packaging Systems, a division of ProMach, responded to industry demands by creating a space-saving rotary automatic wrapper that easily integrates with new or existing conveyance.

Orion’s Rotary Tower Automatic (RTC) Stretch Wrapper with Conveyance is the ideal solution for easy integration with 18″ pass-height conveyors due to its compact size, affordability, and the option to expand with additional conveyance.

The RTC is fully automatic and attaches the stretch film at the cycle start, cutting it at the end. The forklift operator simply places the pallet-load on the infeed conveyor and pulls a lanyard switch while moving away to collect the next load. This design increases employee safety by removing them from proximity of the moving rotary arm.

In addition to the compact size, expandability and increased employee safety, the RTC has:

  • 20″ Insta-Thread™ Film Carriage standard with 260% pre-stretch
  • Revo-Logic technology with photo-eye sensor carriage ensuring precise application of programmed wraps and maximizing load containment and film yield
  • Separate up and down film carriage speed control and top and bottom adjustable wrap counts, customizing wrapping for each load
  • Long lasting AC motors and Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) controllers, providing low maintenance
  • Labor saving film tail clamp with cut & wipe that automatically secures film, allowing faster output by reducing per-load wrapping

Orion’s RTC Stretch Wrapper delivers performance and cost-savings to new or existing wrapping systems, providing increased production and output.

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