Building or reconfiguring a warehouse is a major infrastructural investment that requires a sound plan for design. The cost of designing the optimal warehouse can be significant – hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes more. However, by using intuitive warehouse simulation software, you can get your model right before ever breaking ground.
It’s surprising to find out many warehouse operators don’t know warehouse design tools exist. They often believe they must hire a third-party vendor to provide the ideal warehouse design scenario – one that might have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate larger amounts of smaller direct-to-home eCommerce orders, for instance.
By using simulation software, you can easily and accurately create a virtual computer model of your warehouse. The simulation software includes everything you need to allow you to create the warehouse of your dreams and test different operating scenarios from layout to workers to forklifts to material handling equipment before starting the build. This includes in- and outbound workflows, picking strategies, staffing requirements, material handling, vehicle movements and yard requirements.
Curious how this works? Take a look at how John Lewis, the United Kingdom’s largest department store retailer used a warehouse design application to create a new distribution center (DC) to better respond to and fulfill omnichannel shopping experiences.
Warehouse simulation software use case in action
Before building a new 600,000 square-foot DC in Milton Keynes, which would work alongside two existing DCs, John Lewis chose a warehouse design application that enabled the company to accomplish four objectives:
- Enable fast replication of architect’s blueprints to 2D/3D models.
- Fit floor area with storage zones to ensure planned throughput achieved.
- Replicate warehouse product processing to optimize resource levels and material handling equipment (MHE) requirements.
- Identify the most operationally efficient warehouse design, with ideas from John Lewis Partners.
The goal was to ensure predictions of labor requirements, equipment needed and the throughput capacity of the DC were accurate.
“Using CLASS (the company’s chosen computer simulation tool), we have been able to provide a visual model of the new DC, which allowed communication with stakeholders, provided capacity and performance analysis to support the business case, gave insight into future performance and offered a valuable means to fine-tune or design,” said Richard Ife, Admin and Systems manager at John Lewis. “The simulation models showed real productivity improvements and lower congestion across parts of the warehouse.”
Perhaps, you, too, are interested in updating your warehouse or building a new one. Trying before buying is always a good idea, so here are our top 10 tips to create the best warehouse design.
1. Know your business requirements
Gather and understand your data, including the number of orders and returns you process during a typical weekly distribution cycle. Do you anticipate orders will be the same as today or 20% larger in the next five years? Analyzing and knowing your data is key to determining overall warehouse size, which includes the number of loading and unloading docks and capacity requirements in areas like storage.
2. Consider external factors
Are you designing a stand-alone warehouse or a building that’s part of a larger storage and distribution network? Computer simulation at the network and warehouse level are equally important. Is it better to extend an existing warehouse or build a new one? Total capacity available in your network affects transportation costs, which, in turn, influences the price you’ll pay to serve your customers.
3. Get your product types right
Storage needs depend upon your product characteristics, including dimensions and weight. Storage methods impact the cost of running your warehouse, such as what kinds of equipment you’ll need, pick efficiency and replenishments required. Running “what-if” analyses through simulation software enables you “try before you buy” and determine the best choices for your warehouse.
4. Identify peak requirements
Your peak input and output requirements are determined by daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal patterns. Is back-to-school, the holidays or another season your busiest time? Knowing peak requirements enables you to size pick faces, determine shift patterns, stage capacity and choose the number of dock doors needed. A warehouse simulation tool enables you to try a wide variety of situations to determine what’s best.
5. Make sure your yard can support the warehouse
Congestion in the yard can affect activities within the building – poor design in the positioning of parking and loading bays can increase the time to complete shipments. A simulation tool can help you understand yard capacity and constraints and avoid potential bottlenecks so you can optimize deliveries and collections. 6. Bring your 2D warehouse to life in 3D 3D modeling brings your 2D model to life. By dropping in workers, equipment and so on, you gain virtual tour of your warehouse. This makes it easier to make necessary changes before breaking ground, which, in turn, enables greater likelihood of stakeholder buy-in.
7. Prove your concept
Spreadsheets and/or computer aided design (CAD) packages cannot sufficiently represent how storage, access to goods, staging, employees, equipment, order profiles, deliveries and collections are interrelated – but warehouse simulation software can. Such an application optimizes the entire warehouse system and helps you balance business requirements, budget and space restrictions. Getting your warehouse design right through simulation eliminates the guesswork out of a 2D design and prevents costly mistakes.
8. Simplify, simplify
Computer simulation helps you simplify seemingly complex material flows by working through and ironing out different scenarios. It allows you to design for today’s needs while enabling flexibility for changes that could come tomorrow, accommodating increased eCommerce orders. Since customer demand fluctuates, design software can ensure redundancy and flexibility to help you change with order profiles.
9. Maximize your WMS through optimal warehouse design
Your warehouse management system (WMS) is only as good as the warehouse design. The best WMS on the market can only operate within the restrictions of the facility. Therefore, consider the equipment you plan to use – voice-directed work, palletizing solutions or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), for instance – and layer them into your simulation model to ensure your WMS is optimized.
10. Choose warehouse simulation software supported by an experienced provider
Since warehouse simulation tools are not created equal, choose one specifically designed for warehousing that encourages both novice and proficient warehouse designers to bring multiple scenarios to life. The application should include libraries of rack and equipment types, be able to import CAD drawings and run various operating procedures.
Before buying, make sure help will be available when needed. Some providers are more consultative in nature and through experience, can help you determine what designs will work best depending on your needs. You’ll want a solution provider that’s there for the long-haul rather than one that will sell you a package and expect you to go it alone.
Take advantage of all 10 steps
A warehouse simulation tool enables you to test a concept long before building a warehouse or reconfiguring an existing one. It allows you to stand up a 3D warehouse, try different equipment, test various spaces and drop in employees to see how the new structure could work. It helps you try before you buy and prevent costly mistakes.
Given all these benefits and others listed above, why would you build a warehouse before testing it out first through a best-in-class simulation tool backed by an experienced, reputable provider?
Learn more about how warehouse simulation can help you transform your supply chain here.