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New design promises to optimise storage efficiency

By Sean Roach , 10-Aug-2006

A new layout for processing and factory warehouses could save 20.4 per cent in costs when compared to the traditional warehouse designs, claim researchers.

There is a market for more rapid and efficient ways to distribute products as processors and suppliers streamline their delivery systems to cut costs.

Engineers at University of Arkansas and Auburn University keyed into findings that rack configurations within warehouses have remained unchanged for years despite changing efficiency demands. This is largely because warehouses are, and continue to be, focused on maximum storage capacity, which ignores the operational costs incurred in retrieving items.

Researchers found that conventional warehouse layout, which is basically formatted in a system of rows, actually limits efficiency and productivity. This is because workers have to travel longer distances along less-direct routes to retrieve products, said Russell Meller, a professor at the University of Arkansas.

"Our results suggest that for unit-load warehouses, radically new designs could lead to faster retrieval rates and significantly reduced costs for operating distribution centers," said Meller. "A properly designed distribution center can provide a competitive advantage to firms in retail and industrial distribution."

The solution developed by the engineers is a system that incorporates two diagonal cross aisles. These aisles originate at the same pickup-and-deposit point creating a V-shape that connects to the far corners of the warehouse floor.

This modification gives workers a straight-line advantage when travelling to and from some of the pick locations. The design was replicated in a computer program and researchers found that optimal efficiency was raised 11.2 per cent. Transition from a conventional layout to the V-method would decrease storage by only 3 per cent.

Another more promising design uses the V-shape and a system of horizontal and vertical rows. The horizontal rows occupy the two sections outside the V-aisle, while the vertical rows are enclosed by the V-aisle. Researchers dubbed this design "Fishbone".

A computer-simulated fishbone warehouse would reduce costs by 20.4 per cent, claimed researchers.

"We're comfortable saying that although the fishbone design may not be the best possible design, it garners nearly all of the possible improvement," said Meller.

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