Today’s commerce world demands agility from manufacturers and distributors. Products typically aren’t made and delivered from the plant as customers need them, so they must be made in advance and stored closer to the customer. With this inventory approach, warehousing has become an important component of supply chains and logistics.

Types of Warehouses

Warehouses mainly consist of two types of facilities – storage warehouses and distribution warehouses – but additional warehouse approaches fill any gaps in the logistics and inventory process. Each warehouse has a unique function, allowing businesses to space out their operations efficiently.

Storage Warehouses

Storage warehouses often house slow-moving goods, providing a place to safely store them without cluttering production and distribution warehouses, and usually contain pallets of slow-moving goods for transportation to distribution centers and sorting facilities. Fork trucks, mezzanines, vertical and horizontal carousels, pallet racks, and cantilevers are very common in these warehouses.

Distribution Warehouses

Distribution warehouses are generally responsible for order fulfillment and house fast-moving goods. They are particularly common for the fulfillment of consumer packaged goods and other products.

Distribution centers frequently experience high demand which makes full-pallet picking a generally ineffective approach to order fulfillment. To keep up with demand, fulfillment centers frequently use “broken case” picking, or picking items from an opened pallet. Sorting centers can assist with ensuring that products are placed in the appropriate containers for distribution.

In recent years, the distribution warehouse market has been disrupted by e-commerce, which has created specific challenges for both the size and location of distribution centers. As such, distribution centers have been popping up in non-traditional places, such as urban areas.

Sorting Warehouses

Sorting warehouses are used specifically for collecting large bulk shipments and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks for distribution warehouses to ship.

Climate-Controlled Warehouses

Climate-controlled warehouses are used primarily in the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and electronics industries. These warehouses control all aspects of the storage environment in order to maintain the integrity of the products being stored within. Types of climate-control warehouses include cold storage and cleanroom facilities.

Automated Warehouses

Automated warehouses are highly advanced facilities that use automated technologies such as robotics and specialized software to optimize warehouse operations. Common technologies include conveyors, automated storage and retrieval systems, and programmable logic controllers. With Industry 4.0, technologies such as AI and drones are also being incorporated more broadly across warehousing applications.

Warehouses are now adapting to automated machines for picking and order fulfillment, helping to remove human error potential, but less than 20% of warehouses are fully automated even if many use conveyors and other automation technology.

Private vs. Public Warehouse Ownership

In terms of ownership, warehouses are generally either private or public. Private warehouses are owned by individual companies that use the warehouse for their own activities and tend to be located close to either the production or the selling site.

Public warehouses are owned by the government and can be rented. These warehouses are typically used for when a company needs additional, short-term storage space, or by companies who are not in the financial position to own and operate their own private warehouse.

The Rise of Warehouse Management Systems

Implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) can help with monitoring, accountability, and operational efficiency. WMS requires staff training and a warehouse management staff who is familiar with the system in order to succeed. Without sufficient training, WMS will not deliver maximum value.

WMS also assists with space optimization and accurate inventory in real-time; when picking a WMS, choose one with the right features and interoperability. A WMS with inventory auto-refill may not be necessary for a sorting warehouse, but is often a necessity for distribution centers.

Perhaps the most important factor to remember in warehouse operation is that warehouses are not static operations. They are in a constant state of flux. If the consistent changes in a warehouse are not kept up, they can quickly become problematic. Incorrect shipments are among a few more minor issues which can crop up as a result of poor inventory tracking.

However, WMS can help improve warehouse efficiency, while also remaining agile enough to grow and change with the constantly evolving demands of the ever-changing market.

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