Improve staff productivity and efficiency by implementing a 5S warehouse layout to help streamline your workflow and processes. When a warehouse layout is optimized, the order fulfillment process can be completed without unnecessary inventory movements or double-handling. Keep these steps of 5S in mind when maximizing your warehouse layout.

Types of Warehouse Layouts

Basic warehouse layouts often include five main areas—a receiving dock, storage aisles for inventory and picking locations, packing stations, a shipping area reserved for courier pickup, and management offices.

There are four main types of warehouse layouts:

  • U-Shaped warehouse layouts are the most efficient warehouse design and because it allows for fast, slow, and medium-moving product zones, it is also one of the most popular.
  • I-Shaped warehouse layouts are ideal for products that move in and out at a uniform, high-volume flow.
  • L-Shaped warehouse designs support variable shipping and receipt rates and offer some cross-docking opportunities.
  • V-Shaped or Fishbone layouts combine vertical and horizontal picking rows that cut down on travel times and make forklift travel easier.

While there are similarities from warehouse to warehouse, not every facility is laid out the same. An efficient layout takes advantage of the available space, providing appropriate storage modes and operational areas based on the unique products and needs of the location.

Sorting Warehouse Inventory and Equipment

Sorting products using 5S methodologies means evaluating every item to determine what should stay and what can be moved or discarded. The 5S step “sort” can help clear excess and create valuable space.

Begin by identifying any unused equipment or miscellaneous items that people must work around. Pay attention to cluttered or disorganized supply shelves. Broken pallets, old computers or printers, and expired products or equipment are examples of items that can be disposed of when sorting a warehouse. 

Product inventory should also be reviewed for items with little or no annual movement or low margins. Such items may be moved elsewhere, or removed from inventory, to make room for high-selling products and fast-moving items. Having low-demand products stored out of the way helps reduce obstructions and clutter.

Complete a Red Tag Kaizen Event

Packing stations, dock receipt areas, and other work areas can be sorted through an organized kaizen event. To complete a warehouse organization kaizen event, employees should review their regular work areas and tag items by how frequently they’re used—for example, often, rarely, never. Other criteria could include whether employees understand the purpose of the item, whether it’s in the correct area, or if there is a tool that provides the same purpose that’s used more often. Everything tagged as low-to-no use or unknown use should be marked for disposal or redistribution. 

Create a holding area for the tagged items using 5S warehouse floor tape that’s easily removable. Place the red-tagged items in the holding area where they’re available for employees to retrieve should they find them necessary. Choose an expiration date—usually one month. If an item is required during this timeframe, incorporate it back into the work area. Otherwise, dispose of or reallocate items that are not deemed necessary after the expiration date. Red tag areas may be temporary, or you may choose to implement a continual red tag process.

Setting a Warehouse in Order

Set in Order is a 5S principle meant to organize processes and eliminate backtracking, excess handling, and wasted movement. This step is sometimes referred to as “straighten” because it gives everything a storage location so nothing is out of place. Labeling designated storage using a warehouse labeling system throughout helps material handlers and employees correctly find—and put away—items.

Organizing Workstations

Arranging work areas for efficiency and convenience is a principle of Set in Order. Adjust storage for carts, pallet jacks, pallets, and other equipment near the areas they are used most, and mark each with a durable 5S floor sign. Packing station tools can also be arranged in the order they’re needed so employees can assemble a carton, fill with goods, tape the box shut, and attach a label without backtracking. Organizing these supplies ergonomically in work areas prevents physical injuries due to stretching or bending.

Arranging and Labeling Warehouse Locations

Employees who navigate inventory aisles benefit from warehouse location markers—and some floor lines are required by OSHA. When deciding how to label shelves in a warehouse, alphanumeric identifiers are logical and easy to follow; whichever method you choose should coordinate with the order-picking path to reduce excess movement when retrieving top-selling inventory and hand-picked items. Color-coded floor marking tape can identify aisles or create picking zones by category to boost picking efficiency. 

Shining the Warehouse

Shine, the third step of 5s, helps ensure your warehouse location is clean and clutter-free. When a distribution center is deep-cleaned—including scheduled upkeep on machines and equipment that helps prevent breakdowns—irregularities, such as a forklift leaking fluid or a tripping hazard, are easier to notice and correct. Mark storage and Keep Clear areas using floor signs and tape designed to withstand floor cleaning machines so they last through daily upkeep.

Standardizing Warehouse Processes

Standardize, the fourth step of 5S, ensures employees can understand markings and processes from one area to the next—no matter which department they work in. Visual management tools, such as warehouse line marking tape and floor signs, are key to achieving uniform process flows and standardized navigation.

Mark Task Sequences

Items received on the dock often follow a specific sequence for quality control inspections, internal labeling, or product counts. Floor signs or tape can mark staging areas numerically by task or by color to account for the steps in the receipt process. Similar markings can be used in picking and packing for staging international or domestic packages or storing shipments that require additional inspections or approval before courier pickup.

Create Uniform Walkways

Outlining walkways with warehouse safety line markings keeps pedestrian paths and machine traffic routes clear and uniform. Warehouse safety floor markings designating pedestrian crossings or forklift zones help organize traffic. Dashed lines or arrows and numbered aisles mark efficient paths for picking or restocking.

Maintain Consistency in Work Areas

Setting receiving docks and packaging stations to standard layouts allows any employee to walk into his or her shift and begin working without troubleshooting or searching for items. Visual aids help remind employees to maintain consistent arrangements at workstations for easier changeovers.

Floor markings that help standardize packing and receiving stations include:

  • Corner floor markers showing where empty pallets should be stored
  • Labels in staging areas for orders ready to pack and shipments on hold
  • Floor signs showing locations for tools storage, such as pallet jacks and carts
  • Custom floor signs with reminders for clean-up routines

Sustaining Warehouse Improvements

These 5S methods can only have a long-term impact if the improvements are maintained. While visuals help keep 5S top-of-mind to build good work habits, extra monitoring of the system can help make sure employees aren’t slipping into old habits.

Consider these tips for sustaining 5S in a warehouse:

  • Schedule 5S audits to look for areas lacking in organization and cleanliness
  • Review signage and floor tape frequently and replace any that is damaged or that no longer supports current processes
  • Initiate continuous improvements to promote safety and efficiency with incremental changes
  • Invest in additional signage and training to show employees that the warehouse leadership is committed to 5S
  • Update your methods if current requirements or steps no longer apply or suit your facility’s needs

Maintain facility-wide improvements with consistent, clear floor markings. Our floor tape and signs provide reminders for employees to keep the warehouse order up to standards. To find more ideas to improve the organization or navigation in a warehouse, visit our Resource Center.