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Logistics managers, on many occasions, have the enormous challenge of finding the best options to implement a distribution center or warehouse tailored to the needs of the market. However, it is very common to find some doubts or questions to solve before embarking on the titanic project of implementing a distribution center that meets the following characteristics:

  • Increase the number of transactions and activities within the warehouse using the least amount of resources.
  • Make the largest number of transactions and activities within the warehouse, using the least amount of m2.
  • Reduce errors and reprocessing of all the activities of the distribution center.
  • Have the greatest integration, traceability and visibility along the entire chain (from the entry of the product to the delivery thereof).
  • Maintain scalability with the new technologies that are developed in the market.

The most common doubts or questions we encountered when starting the project are: where should I start ?, what steps should I follow ?, what information do I need to analyze ?, how can I optimize the processes within the distribution center? type of technology should I implement ?, etc. In this sense I proceed to detail the steps that are recommended to follow in order to design and implement a distribution center / warehouse and answer the questions mentioned.

1.- Information for the analysis

To be able to make an adequate design we need the necessary information that allows us to determine the type of warehouse, the location of it, the material handling equipment to be used, the management systems, etc. Remember that if the information we use for the analysis is not correct, the result that will be obtained after the analysis will be incorrect, therefore we emphasize the accuracy of the information to be processed. Preferably the information, as a minimum, must have 6 months of history and 1 year of projection into the future. Below is the information to analyze:

  1. Entry orders to the distribution center or various warehouses (at least 6 months of information).
  2. Volumetry of the products (height, length, width, units per box, boxes per pallet, etc).
  3. Technical specifications of the products (to determine the type and condition of storage). At least 6 months of information
  4. Departure orders to various customers or warehouses (at least 6 months of information)
  5. Monthly stock (at least 6 months of information)
  6. Delivery considerations to customers (time windows, vehicle restrictions, etc.).

2.- Analysis and sizing of the processes within the distribution center – physical configuration of the warehouse.

With the information indicated in the previous point (Nº1), all the processes of the warehouse, the necessary space (m2), the flow of information, materials, labor requirements and equipment will be designed; even the time horizon that will support the capacity of the warehouse will be determined. To achieve all of the above, it is recommended to use some kind of methodology that allows us to design and dimension the processes within the warehouse, such as:

  • Methodology of design of Rouwenhorst warehouses.
  • Goetschalckx warehouse design methodology.
  • Bakery and Canessa warehouse design methodology.
  • Frazelle Warehouse Design Methodology (warehouse activity profiling).

The determination of profiles should help us determine the following processes within the warehouse or distribution center:

  • Reception and putaway
  • Picking and dispatch
  • Slotting
  • Sizing of the warehouse
  • Movement of materials
  • Layout and flows
  • Automation and endowment

It also helps us to determine the type of infrastructure to be used in the distribution center, therefore we must differentiate two types of infrastructure that support or enable the activities within the distribution center or warehouse, one of which is oriented to distinguish the different types of infrastructure. structure with which the warehouse should be designed (height, type of floor to use, cross dock or front dock configuration, self-supported warehouse, conventional warehouse, etc.), and the other is aimed at defining and classifying the type of shelving and equipment carry that should be used inside the warehouse (selective Rack, cumulative, push back, cantilever, AS / RS systems, PAS HD / HT systems, pick to voice, pick to light, etc.).

The tendency of the market is to build / rent warehouses or distribution centers with heights ranging between 15 and 30 meters, super flat floors so that the hauling equipment can reach the mentioned heights, corridors that range between 1.8 and 2.4 meters wide , with leveling ramps in the docks and with all considerations for compliance with local regulations.

The trend in haulage equipment for storage and fractionation / picking of goods is to use semi-automated or automated technology. Making the clarification that the semi-automated technology considers the movement of the operator towards the merchandise supported by technological devices (PDAs, PDTs, voice picking, etc.), whereas the automated technology considers the movement of the merchandise towards the operator ( vertical carrousel, horizontal carrousel, miniload, etc.)

The benefits of implementing the aforementioned technology are the following:

  • Less movement of the workers and increase in productivity.
  • Maximizing the use of warehouse spaces by increasing the height and decreasing the spaces between corridors. The density (pallets / m2) can be doubled using the appropriate height and the appropriate hauling / extraction equipment.
  • If the warehouse has completely automated sectors, it is possible to work without using lighting, thus generating savings in electricity consumption.

It must be taken into consideration that the selection of the appropriate technology for each process must be done taking as parameter the analysis of the following variables:

  • Cost / Benefit ratio of the technology to be implemented.
  • Scalability of technology, referred to the ability of the technological system to manage and adapt to the continuous growth of work without losing quality.
  • Flexibility of the system, related to the capacity of use before various contingencies in the process (lack of electricity, problems with the software, others).
  • Capacity to integrate the system with other complementary systems that do not necessarily correspond to the same manufacturer or origin. In general, technology providers often sell “canned solution” systems.
  • Certification of connectivity with the best WMS in the market.

3.- Selection of the location of the warehouse

After designing the distribution center, we must select the ideal place where the warehouse should be located. In this regard, the following variables must be taken into account:

  • Easy and quick access to major roads and important communication routes.
  • Availability of skilled labor in the area.
  • Validate that the place to be selected is not classified as a “red zone” or a high crime rate.
  • That it has proximity to ports, airports and main places from where it receives or supplies products.

4.- Automation and Warehouse Management Systems.

It is essential to have a support system to the operation that allows us to control all activities and have an effective traceability throughout the chain which is known as “shield the processes”. The system used by excellence in most distribution centers is the “Warehouse Management System” or WMS (Warehouse Management System for its acronym in English). This type of systems is becoming a mandatory requirement for distribution centers and warehouses that wish to operate with good practices of world class, since they have all the good practices that have been collected during a hard work of research by dedicated companies. to the design and development. The main benefits of implementing a WMS correctly are:

  • Facilitate the control of productivity and monitoring of warehouse activity in real time. It is important to take into consideration that in order to achieve this benefit it is necessary that the implementation of the WMS be done hand in hand with the corresponding “on-line” technology (radio frequency, PDAs, RFID, others)
  • Allow to increase the productivity in ranges between 15% and 25%, through the elimination of supervision, decrease of routes and optimization in the assignment of works.
  • Help control the traceability throughout the process: control of batches, series, other
  • Decrease the possibility of errors in the operation.
  • Improve the control of incidents.
  • Allow the planning of warehouse activities.
  • Facilitate the optimization of the use of warehouse spaces (Slotting).
  • If all the activities in the WMS are recorded and configured correctly and connected to the ERP, the actual costs can be obtained.
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