6 Unique Ways to Increase Warehouse Storage Capacity

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Emily NewtonEditor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

Friday, September 2, 2022

Supply chain operations are complex. Making the most of available resources to ensure workflows run as smoothly as possible is far from straightforward, often involving many obstacles. Managing warehouse storage capacity is an increasingly difficult one of these challenges.

Article 5 Minutes
6 Unique Ways to Increase Warehouse Storage Capacity

Holding more inventory in the warehouse can help make supply chains more resilient, but space is often limited. Warehouse managers may have to get creative in light of rising demand and fewer expansion opportunities.

The challenge of expanding warehouse storage capacity

As a company expands, it will naturally fill its warehouses and need more space. However, storage capacity has become a more pressing issue than ever, as a result of recent supply chain disruption. U.S. warehouse vacancy has reached a record low of 3.6% as a surge of backlogged products finally entering the nation.

This limited capacity leaves little room for error and could create more delays and backlogs. Simply building more warehouses or expanding current ones isn’t always a viable option either. Construction is slow and warehouse rents have risen by 40% in some areas.

Amid these challenges, supply chains must create more storage space without increasing physical space. Thankfully, as complex as this problem may seem, several possible solutions exist. Here are six unique ways to increase warehouse storage capacity.

1. Use a warehouse management system

Digital technologies provide some of the most helpful ways around this issue. Warehouse management systems (WMS) are among the best applications warehouses can use to optimize their space.

A WMS platform provides more detailed, easily understandable insight into storage locations and practices. With this information, managers can see how they currently utilize their space — including if they have any overstocked or understocked areas. That makes it easier to understand where things can change for the better.

Using a WMS, warehouse managers can see where they could reorganize storage and operations to reduce inefficiencies. Real-time updates can then ensure they use most of the space as their inventory changes.

2. Capitalize on vertical space

While warehouses may not be able to expand outward, they may have unoccupied upward space. Instead of adding more aisles, they could build taller racks. Flexible fabric coverings can also expand to create more vertical space more easily than creating horizontal space. Because these solutions can light up to 80% of the building with natural light, they can also decrease energy expenses to offset the cost of expansion.

Adding vertical racking comes with some unique considerations. Safely reaching top-shelf items will become more of a challenge, but there are several ways around this. First, warehouses could use automated retrieval systems for the highest-stored products. Alternatively, they could build mezzanines, adding vertical storage while providing firm ground for workers to stand on.

Safety is paramount in this strategy, as falls account for more than 12,000 injuries annually in this sector. Automation is the safest way forward as it removes humans from fall hazards entirely, but mezzanine flooring is a safer alternative to using lifts or ladders.

3. Consider automation

Another technology helping optimize warehouse storage capacity is automation. While automated picking systems may not necessarily create more space, they can help warehouses fit more in the area they have.

Manual picking and material handling processes require more space between racks for people and forklifts to move. Automated systems can move up, down and across shelves without occupying the same area, letting warehouses place storage solutions closer together. As they automate more of the warehouse and reduce space needs, they can fit additional rows of storage.

Implementing these systems is expensive, but the efficiency gains will make up for it over time. In the long run, automation will actually save money, especially when it enables higher storage capacity.

4. Adjust aisle widths

Some facilities may also be able to adjust their horizontal storage space to maximize warehouse storage capacity. It may not seem like a facility has enough space to add another row of racks at first. However, moving the rest of the aisles closer together may create enough space for additional storage.

Many walkways are wider than they technically need to be to ensure forklifts can operate safely and efficiently. But if warehouses switch to an automated retrieval system or employ another strategy to minimize forklift use, they wouldn’t need as much space.

Even relatively small changes can have a significant impact across an entire warehouse. If a facility has ten rows of storage racks and shrinks each aisle by a mere foot, it would create enough space for another row.

5. Refine inventory practices with data analytics

Warehouses can use data analytics technology to rethink how they approach inventory management as a whole. Many facilities carry more of some items than they need, but reducing inventory for a leaner approach requires more visibility into future demand. Data analytics and AI provide that insight.

Predictive analytics can help businesses forecast demand more effectively, revealing which items they need more or less of. Facilities can then order and store less of products with waning demand to free space for more in-demand products.

Warehouses must keep in mind that this strategy involves shifting storage levels over time. That will require regular review and more work, but it’ll maximize capacity and efficiency in the long run.

6. Change packaging

Another seemingly small change that can have a significant impact is packaging and storage media. Most warehouses have room to use less material in packaging or storage systems, reducing the space each item takes on the shelf.

The average North American pallet is 40 by 48 inches, but not every product needs that much floor space. Some items could fit in packages or on platforms taking up less room, especially when considering vertical space. Reviewing item size and how much area current systems take up can reveal if there’s any room for improvement.

Conversely, sometimes switching to a larger medium will save space. If some items come in full-pallet quantities, it can be more space-efficient to use one full-sized pallet instead of two half-pallets.

Final thoughts

These six tips can help businesses make the most of their warehouse storage capacity, avoid delays, reduce operating costs and improve workplace efficiency.

Which strategy will yield the best results depends on the warehouse in question. If possible, applying more than one is likely the best option. Warehouses should review their needs and available options, then consider how each strategy could help them find the best way forward.

Emily Newton

Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

revolutionized.com/

Emily is a tech and industrial journalist with over four years of experience writing articles for the industrial sector. She’s Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online publication exploring innovations in manufacturing, technology and science. 

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02/06/2023 Paula Deen
Hello Emily! Your article provides practical tips on increasing warehouse storage capacity, including vertical space utilization, reevaluating shelving systems, and implementing inventory management strategies. Additionally, I've enjoyed the focus on efficiency and maximizing existing resources.