Vivin Imports is one of Australia’s largest furniture wholesalers supplying major furniture retailers and independents. With recent growth in residential home construction and renovations, Vivin has experienced increased demand for its products across the country.
To accommodate this business growth, the company had to elevate its logistics capability to retain and build on its competitive advantage. The distribution centre was identified as a crucial contributor to supply chain efficiency and effectiveness. The Vivin management felt a critical change was required and committed to a new purpose-built 23,300m² distribution centre.
The next step was to decide how this distribution centre should be fitted out.
Vivin knew that it had capacity constraints in the existing warehouse, and adding to the complication was the regulatory compliance for fire safety coverage, particularly for foam products and mattresses. The new warehouse required a storage fitout to accommodate oversized products and ensure appropriate safety compliance.
The initial layout
Dexion Solutions was invited to put forward a proposal for the new distribution centre based on an existing pallet racking configuration supplied. This consisted of standard selective pallet racking with 2,600mm clear entry bays arranged to 3,420mm aisles throughout the warehouse. Half of this layout was to be fitted with in-rack fire sprinklers.
Experience has shown that this was an industry that adopted a ‘default’ layout, where there was no in-depth operational qualification of client operations undertaken. Based on the understanding that not all products have the same dimensional characteristics and demand profile, it is questionable why many businesses accept this ‘uniform’ arrangement.
It could be that there is a lack of understanding of warehouse operations among many suppliers. This results in them often taking a lowest ‘cost-only’ approach, which drives the design to what is often seen – a ‘default selective rack layout’. Likewise, many clients have a very good understanding of the price and product specifications, but not the value of the total fitout. That’s because this value can be difficult to explain in sufficient detail by those selling the equipment and as a result, both supplier and customer often agree on a ‘default’ layout.
To demonstrate the limitations of this default layout, the supplied 2D drawing was turned it into a 3D render. This gave Vivin a better perspective and understanding of the system with which they would end up, and also allowed the supplier team to highlight any potential shortfalls of the design.
Dexion Solutions go the extra mile to fully analyse the space and develop 3D renders where appropriate to ensure the customer has a thorough understanding of what can be achieved – adding so much more value and insight to the project. This additional stage in planning can also be recognised in ROI well into the future.
Developing a complete system
The team requested design-relevant data, which included a snapshot of inventory, transaction table and the item master. This was then backed up with operational site observation and development of a process logic to support the design. The purpose of this study was to retain what was being done well, as well as engineer out any existing limitations, risks and difficulties where possible.
This is what was found:
- Standard 2,600mm clear entry bays did not provide optimised storage density for the range of products, so the design was altered to include a calculated combination of 2,600mm and 3,850mm clear entry bays.
- To account for product overhang and a 100mm longitudinal flue in accordance with fire engineering and AS 4084:2012, this directed the design towards the specification of customised double entry frame depths of 2,106mm and 2,303mm respectively. The basic design only had a single double entry 2,106mm arrangement, which would have restricted the storage of oversized products like sofas.
- Finally, no elevations were provided in the original design so these had to be calculated. Twelve (12) differing elevations were designed to accommodate the 100mm transverse flue space as per criteria specified in FM8-9.
Now that the storage profiles had been determined, it was time to develop a fully optimised warehouse layout. The storage system had to accommodate non-standard product sizes, all the while balancing productivity with storage.
To achieve this, the layout developed by Dexion Solutions comprised of 1,500 bays of selective Speedlock racking, with different frame depths and bay widths to accommodate variations in product dimensions.
The original default design had 3,420mm aisles rack to rack, but was this adequate? Let’s consider how the space will be used.
2,100mm width pallets are put away and retrieved at ground level and at height. While the aisles are certainly wider than the pallet, the space doesn’t consider the materials handling equipment that will be used to manoeuvre the pallets. As shown in the diagram, the resulting sweep arc of a forklift turning towards the racking is not considered in the conforming design.
Adhering to a 3,420mm aisle would have resulted in a 343mm aisle width deficit! Aisle widths had to be increased to 3,850mm for operational viability, which was independently verified by the MHE provider. With larger aisle widths, the rack orientation was required to change from North to South to East to West due to the building column grid.
This flagged a significant change to the initial layout and it marked a fundamental change from being a storage-centric design to one that was operationally focused.
In-rack fire sprinklers
The initial layout directed that half the site be fitted with in-rack sprinklers. For this qualification, Dexion Solutions used inventory data and item master lookups to identify all the items that needed additional fire coverage. A line-by-line slotting calculation was applied. This was not as easy task!
From this exercise, it was determined that just over a quarter of the site required in-rack sprinkler coverage, quite a difference from half the site. This area allocation also accounted for likely and predicted storage variations. With a reduced area for in-rack sprinkler coverage, a significant cost saving was instantly realised. Combined with all the previous qualifications, this verification just added another layer to the optimised layout that could not be ignored.
Furniture repair zones
To complete the design, a concept of operations was developed, with staging areas and furniture repair zones laid out. The material flow was calculated along with the operational task sequences. This ensured that both the physical and logical designs were complementary to each other.
Warehouse management system integration
The system logic threads that were recommended could be applied to the warehouse management system (WMS) for configuration to achieve balanced task flows. The pertinent points about the operational sequences were the inclusion of batch and discrete order picking based on order profile waving, pick and drop locations for intermediary task staging, and task interleaving. With both the physical and logical designs undertaken in tandem rather than in isolation, a verifiable, auditable and clearly specified result was planned and achieved.
Labels and end-of-aisle signs
The design of the warehouse location map and the subsequent location labelling specification can be crucial to a project’s success. For Vivin, the Dexion Solutions team used 3,850mm beam lengths, which were mapped out and labelled for three locations per bay instead of the average of two locations across a shorter beam length. This will allow for the storage of one OR two non-standard product sizes whilst also allowing for flexibility to use each level for up to three standard pallets.
The labels are made of polyester with a long-term adhesive, making them ultra-durable and resistant to liquids. A unique feature of these labels is that they can be removed and relocated without tearing, offering even further flexibility for the customer.
End-of-aisle signs were also installed as an identification tool to clearly define the aisles amongst the racking bays.
Safety and compliance
Bay profiles were configured to conform with FM Global Fire Engineering transverse flue requirements. 100mm longitudinal flue space maintained between products for oversized products to conform with fire regulations (FM global requirement) and AS 4084: 2012.
“The material flow was calculated along with the operational task sequences.”
To further enhance the safety of the warehouse, Dexion Solutions also provided the following:
- Rack protection
The warehouse storage fitout was further enhanced with rack protection, including specially designed baseplates with heavy duty fixings, front and rear deflection guards, and upright protection. All upright protection used is in safety yellow, as this stands out most prominently against the racking creating a much safer warehouse environment.
- Safe working load signs
Safe working load signs were installed for each bay of racking. This ensures the storage systems does not get overloaded by warehouse operators, and meets Australian Safety Standards.
- Traffic management plan and line markings
A traffic management plan is crucial to creating optimal traffic flow throughout the warehouse and to minimising any risk of collisions. As part of a good traffic management plan, line markings can effectively segregate pedestrian and materials handling equipment, reducing the potential for accident or injury and ultimately improving overall workplace safety.
The design concentrated on the principle of balancing productivity with storage. All the work done was qualified by analysis, observation and logic, all of which are fundamental in any system design. The client’s interests were always in the equation and Dexion Solutions provided a value proposition, not just materials. This is added value that will be realised every day, year on year.
“The Dexion Solutions team really stood out from the start with their knowledge and comprehensive approach to storage systems, said Vivin Imports national logistics manager Mark Redman.
“Not willing to settle for the standard approach, James Hardy and the Dexion Solutions team analysed our operational data and business goals to completely optimise the warehouse space.
“The team was great to work with and through this experience we have gained insights that will be used to enhance our day-to-day warehouse functions. We’re confident this warehouse fitout will provide the business with a competitive advantage well into the future.”