Warehouse Expansion Often Means Looking Up

Naïve or new ecommerce business owners often assume rapid growth requires additional warehouse space; not necessarily.

It is true that lack of adequate space often leads to poorly organized inventory, picking, packing, and shipping… overall inefficiency. This is problematic with both productivity and profitability suffering; successful ecommerce businesses rely directly on the functionality of the warehouse operations.

Due to the rapid growth of ecommerce businesses, demand for new plants and warehouses are at an all-time high. Demand is high, while supply is low, driving expensive expansions. Dependent on available space and upfront capital, many businesses can simply make better use of existing space, which proves to be both more affordable and practical, driving lean manufacturing, bottom-line impacts, and results.

Going Up

From a horizontal perspective many warehouses are filled to capacity. Every space is utilized and aisles are crowded, introducing safety concerns. Often vertical expansion, using elevated work platforms, multi-level racking systems, and automated storage and picking solutions, allow manufacturers to remain in the current warehouse and increase space utilization by upwards of 85 percent.

Mezzanine floor systems are semi-permanent floor systems, typically installed within buildings, that are built between two permanent original stories. These structures are usually free standing and can be dismantled and relocated. Industrial mezzanine structures are structural, roll formed, rack-supported, or shelf-supported, allowing high-density storage within the mezzanine structure.

Automated and multi-level pick modules are often integrated into facilities to improve order fulfillment efficiency. According to Christina Dube of Kardex Remstar, a dynamic storage and retrieval solutions company, with which Hoj Engineering has an important relationship, “By delivering items directly to the operator, travel and search time commonly associated with shelving is drastically reduced. Companies can save up to 85 percent of floor space. Eliminating the aisle space required for standard shelving and using the complete floor to ceiling height, provides the organization with a smaller footprint.”

Safety Considerations

When expanding a facility vertically, safety considerations need to be addressed. Some vertical expansions can raise up to 50 feet from ground level. With people working and product being delivered on or near the edges of these work areas, it is critical that proper protection is considered to prevent personnel falls and products being pushed to the lower levels causing injury.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the most common cause of serious work-related injuries and deaths, and account for 14 percent of fatal work injuries. Because dangerous falls are so prevalent in industrial settings, OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have many regulations and standards in place to protect workers. These standards encompass all elevated work platforms and should be researched thoroughly before implementing a vertical expansion plan.

Warehouses are usually built and equipped initially to handle projected volumes, SKUs, and unit loads. Suddenly, rapid grow places excessive demands on the warehouse capacity. Growth in sales and revenue is good news if the fast-changing storage requirements (change in product mix) and rapid customer demands can be met.  Sadly, warehouses lack of space utilization is a common occurrence.

Value Stream Mapping the Warehouse

Hoj Engineering’s deep-dive kaizen assessment evaluates both the current state and future state in a Value Stream Map.

This methodology ensures that the warehouse customization steps maximize valuable floor space and labor from primary warehouse functions. Expansion to a larger warehouse facility may be needed at some point in the operation to achieve new levels of productivity and efficiency. In the meantime, consideration of a vertical option often provides a short-term (six month) ROI and capacity to store a wide range of part sizes in safe storage environment.  These efficiencies create new revenue by reclaiming otherwise wasted space and labor.