The Rubik’s® Cube offers 43 quintillion possible arrangements of its pieces in search of a solution. Another type of 3-D mechanical puzzle is the distribution center “cube” or “box.”
While its permutations do not extend to the nth power, they are nevertheless considerable, as the combination of architecture, mechanical systems, controls and software lead to decision-making conundrums squared and cubed.
Whether addressing the Rubik’s Cube riddle or the distribution center puzzle, the use of mathematical algorithms is key to finding a correct solution. With the latter, however, it requires more than the consistent application of complex calculations.
Unlike the Rubik’s Cube, the distribution center is dynamic, with the need to adapt to changing market opportunities, competitive pressures, product mix, technology and other variables, especially those unforeseen. Data-driven analysis and metrics alone are insufficient. They must be tempered with experience in the day-to-day operation of a distribution center and its all too surprising vagaries.
Is there an optimum distribution center design? Perhaps there is in the theoretical. However, many experts in this field would argue convincingly that the optimum solution is a distribution system fully meeting current operational requirements while offering flexibility and scalability to quickly and relatively inexpensively exploit market opportunities and adapt to customer demands. In other words, a “smart warehouse.”
This paper will review four functional areas — situation assessment; planning and design; workflow considerations; and health, safety and environment (HSE) issues — which are key to smart warehouse design and operation.