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.
I was recently consulted by the manager of a boxed meat wholesaler that ships 30,000 cases a week through a 32’ deep dock equipped with 5 doors. For this very high turn business, persistent congestion at the dock had become a real nightmare.
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. To achieve that goal, he increased storage space at the expense of dock space so that he would stay within budget.
The new operator is now doing an amazing job of growing sales. That growth was however hindered by severe operating penalties due to dock congestion. Temporary solutions were put in place to alleviate the problem, but that came with additional operating costs. It also did not eliminate the risk of not getting orders out the door on time, which 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. We instead transferred the meat processing operation to another facility (their foodservice meat division), which enabled them to convert an entire room into an order staging area. They were then able to use 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. Had the warehouse design accounted for the importance of a deeper dock from the very beginning, the transfer of some of their operations to a different facility would have been avoided, and so too would have the related costs.
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
In ambient storage, you can often 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.
In a DC with 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. Whatever you decide to do about it, just remember that adequately sizing your dock should always be part of the plan in designing a warehouse that meets your capacity needs.