One of the Most Common Flaws in Warehouse Design

March 21, 2017 BY David Beaudet

If you’re expanding or building a new distribution center and think that maximizing storage density in every possible way will give you the biggest bang for your buck, you need to think again!

One of the most common warehouse layout flaws I see is shallow docks.

Usually, a shortage in fronts (pick slots) or storage capacity drives the need for more space.  But if that extra capacity comes at the expense of a warehouse’s dock space, it can end up being more costly than you’d expect.

A recent example was when I consulted for a boxed meat wholesaler that ships 30,000 cases a week through a 32’ deep dock equipped with 5 doors.  It was a real nightmare for this very high turn business.

The previous owner was heavily involved in the design of the facility and wanted to make sure there was enough space to handle opportunistic buys in a highly volatile beef market.  Fair enough.  But he increased storage space at the expense of dock space in order to stay within budget.

The new operator is now doing an amazing job of growing sales but this came with severe operating penalties due to dock congestion.  Not only did this incur additional costs, but the risk of not getting orders out the door threatened service levels.

When we evaluated a range of alternatives for this client, expanding the warehouse was out of the question and extending the dock internally was not a viable option due to capacity constraints.  So we transferred the meat processing operation to another facility (their foodservice meat division), which enable them to convert an entire room into an order staging area.  They were then able to reuse space on the dock that had been devoted previously to order staging.

While not ideal, these changes freed up the dock and alleviated the gridlock that was hampering their operations.

What is the ideal dock depth?

While different operations will have different needs, following these tips will help your warehouse planning and design:

  • You should be able to unload and stage your largest inbound load without spilling over to adjacent doors
  • The space between each staged pallet should be sufficient so that receivers can access all sides
  • Allow room for a two-way travel aisle between dock staging and storage racks
  • If specific requirements warrant additional space (e.g. reverse line picking), incorporate it

Keep in mind the dock depth in high volume environments to ensure an efficient warehouse design.It is now common practice to design for an 80 to 100’ deep dock in high volume environments such as food distribution.

In ambient storage, you can address this problem relatively easily by removing rack bays – given that capacity is not an issue.  This might expose columns so make sure this constraint is integrated into the warehouse design and have adequate safety measures in place to ensure those columns are visible to traffic.

For refrigerated space, where walls might separate the dock from storage areas, extending the depth of your dock might be more difficult and costly.  This requires a feasibility and cost/benefit analysis.

That overhead space is not all lost!

What about all that empty space above the dock?  If you’re designing a new facility, office space represents the obvious choice.  Otherwise, you can store empty pallets in racks hanging from the ceiling.

And if these options do not suit you, then there is plenty of room to store the boss’ winter tires! Does your facility lack enough dock space?  What workarounds have you put in place to deal with it?  Drop me a comment below, I’d love to hear your ideas.