11 Design Principles of Ecommerce Fulfillment Center Layout – Multichannel Merchant

There are several basic principles that apply to warehouse layout and design, and the operation of an efficient e-commerce distribution center. Without them, regardless of the square footage, you will face capacity issues, decreased productivity, and insufficient storage.

In this blog, we will discuss 11 key principles to consider for the design and productivity of the FC layout.

Trends in facility design

Whether you are looking to acquire an existing center or build a new one, it is important to understand how trends in warehouse design have changed. New centers built over the past decade or so typically have a clear span – the vertical distance of usable space throughout the facility – of 24 to 34 feet. Larger automated centers with very narrow aisles and order picking systems are now being built up to 54 feet of clear span.

Older centers often have less than 24 feet of clear span. The trade-off is that they have larger footprints but lower ceiling clearance versus larger free span and higher clearance for storage space in new facilities.

As real estate becomes more expensive and the market for existing warehouses remains at full capacity, it is important to calculate the total storage capacity and the racking, automation and handling equipment needed to take advantage of the space. higher free.

E-commerce fulfillment center installation costs

In our consultations with e-commerce fulfillment center operators, total costs for installations typically range between 15% and 20% of the total cost per order. Costs include building leases or ownership, total occupancy, material handling, and depreciation and amortization of systems. With respect to systems and automation, how will increasing asset depreciation and amortization reduce labor expenditure, increase capacity and throughput of assets? orders ?

The cost of labor

Efficient building layout can significantly increase labor productivity. Direct and indirect labor represents over 50% of the cost per order, excluding outbound shipping. The minimum wage in many states is expected to rise to $ 15 an hour over the next five years; we already have several clients at $ 20 an hour.

One of your primary design considerations should be how man hours can be saved through efficient use of layout and design, along with system and process improvements.

Storage space and cube

Make sure you are using potential storage space / cube of your distribution center. Make sure that the vertical space, as well as the cubic capacity of the individual location, is fully utilized. Maximize cubic and ground level area.

The square footage requirements for storage are directly affected by shelving design and aisle widths. Most ecommerce fulfillment centers work with one of the following shelving designs:

12 foot standard aisle width uses a traditional seated / counterbalanced forklift

Narrow aisle width of 8 to 9 feet uses a reach truck for narrow aisles and can improve pallet storage capacity by up to 33% on 12ft aisles

Very narrow aisle width of 6 feet Uses a turret or swing arm cart design and can improve pallet storage capacity by up to 66% on 12 foot aisles.

The configuration and layout of the rack affects these potential improvements.

One way for ecommerce fulfillment centers to better utilize the Total Cube is to install mezzanines on work areas and departments that don’t require higher clearance. In large centers, order preparation modules can be installed at higher levels.

Flexibility in operations and layout

From your company’s strategic planning process, understanding potential future changes in the business or execution model is essential to avoid unnecessary costs associated with unanticipated changes. These include changes to the product line that make some automation solutions inefficient, unit sales volume and on-hand inventory requirements, business acquisitions under discussion, and consolidation or consolidation. expansion of centers. Don’t develop a layout or process that is rigid or cannot scale.

Location of storage media

Use a variety of slot storage media for location and reserve depending on the cubic speed of the item. The “one size fits all” approach seldom works to maximize space efficiency and workforce performance.

Slot procedures

Some customers have shown that pickers can walk 14 miles per day in a large e-commerce distribution center, which is up to 75% of their working hours.. Maintaining positioning procedures is essential for an effective center.

Try to provide a primary selection space for the average weekly unit sales for each SKU. Focus on the top-selling 10% of SKUs to make sure they’re positioned correctly. Make sure that positioning is maintained as a dynamic and continuous process.

Conveyors for horizontal product transport

Using a simple transfer conveyor system can improve operational efficiency by reducing handling and running time. Make sure the cost of the equipment is justified. Conveyor selection should be based on the size and weight of the product and your throughput volume. The package accumulation line must be included in any conveyor design.

Number of platform doors

The expense of providing a sufficient number of platform doors, platforms and in / out transit areas is relatively low during the initial design and construction of the building. However, the impact of not having enough doors is huge as cardboard boxes on docks and transit areas create congestion and flow problems. This is a recurring problem every time your center has reached its shipping and receiving capacity, which can take half the year.

Available space

Keep 10% of your locations open and available. This may not be possible all the time, but having space available to store inventory in the pick and reserve locations is a key factor.

Product volume

Move as many products as possible at once. Maximizing the product carried per trip will reduce the total number of trips and the time required. The applications of this principle can be applied to the functions of picking, putting away and replenishment.


When designing an ecommerce fulfillment center, physical characteristics are only one aspect. Workflow, processes, and how the workforce will be used are all important factors in achieving an effective design.

Brian Barry is President of F. Curtis Barry & Co.

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