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Warehouse Layout Design: Storage Options For Small Parts

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In our last two articles, we considered storage equipment selection for warehouse layout design when dealing with palletised goods.

In this article we will look at some of the options for non-palletised storage of smaller items.

For smaller items the stockholding dictated by the company’s inventory policy may amount to a less than pallet quantity.  Alternatively, for small products which are frequently accessed, often it is appropriate to set up a dense pick-face, with replenishments from palletised reserve stock.  Either way, a productive, space efficient solution is needed to put away, store and access the goods.

Often the goods are arriving in cartons, and sometimes there is more than one level of outer packaging e.g. a large transit carton containing smaller cartons, within which are the items for picking.  This can mean a lot of cardboard, and in the interests of pick productivity and a tidy warehouse it is often preferable to remove as much packaging as possible prior to put-away.

If you do decide to store goods in cartons, timber decking of existing pallet racking is one option, or standalone shelving.  Standalone shelving gives you more options around dimensions and loading requirements.  Mezzanine floor levels can be used in higher buildings to make this more space efficient.

The main alternative to storing items in their outer cartons is to store them in ‘totes’, which are re-usable storage boxes.  If you are decanting items into totes on a large scale it is worth spending some time designing ergonomic workstations, which will make this a quick and easy activity.

There is a large range of totes from various suppliers.  These are generally made from plastic although metal totes are also an option and are sometimes used for insurance reasons.  Manufacturers supply shelving units that are designed to fit their totes and these can be a great option for making sure your warehouse layout design is space efficient.

To help select the correct sizes of tote, examine your product range, considering the dimensions of each item and the number you need to store.  Warehouse consultants have established models to make this process easier and consider broader factors such as cube utilisation factor, and the trade-off between pick productivity and replenishment frequency.

Open fronted totes are designed specifically for picking, having a ‘cut-out’ section in the front panel allowing easy access to the items within.

Some larger totes used as pick-faces are directly stackable to produce a ‘pick-wall’ that does not require shelving.  This means nothing is bolted to the floor, which offers great flexibility, particularly helpful for seasonal operations.

For relatively faster moving small items, carton live storage is a system that provides a dense pick-face, while providing FIFO stock rotation and some depth of stock.  Congestion is reduced by separating replenishment activity from picking.  The goods are stored in totes or cartons (if of suitable quality) and are replenished from the rear of the rack.  They then roll forward automatically on rollers.  Carton live bays can be bought on a standalone basis or as kits that fit within the floor level of existing pallet racking bays.

For businesses with a number of very small SKUs within a larger overall SKU range, louvre panels can be a good option to create a dense pick-face within an existing warehouse.  These are slotted panels that can be mounted on walls or aisle ends and on which totes can be mounted.

Further to the ideas given here, there are various automated or semi-automated solutions such as carousels, vertical lifts, mini-loads and shuttle systems that can be employed for storage and picking of small items.  We will address these in a future article.

Selecting the right storage media mix and warehouse layout can have a very significant effect on the amount of space, labour and handling equipment needed for the small items areas in your warehouse and should not be left to chance.

If you have any questions or a more detailed requirement then please contact us and one of our warehouse design consultants will be happy to talk to you.

Warehouse Team

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