Researchers at Auburn, Arkansas announce first-ever implementation of new warehouse design

Published: Mar 5, 2008 8:47:02 AM
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Kevin Gue

Kevin Gue

Kevin Gue, faculty member in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Russell Meller of the University of Arkansas have been an integral part of Generac Power Systems' newly designed warehouse. "To our knowledge, this is the first implementation of non-traditional diagonal aisles anywhere. We are very excited," said Meller.

In a traditional warehouse layout, storage is laid out to create parallel picking aisles and perhaps one or more cross aisles in the middle, similar to the layout found in many grocery stores. In a paper to appear in IIE Transactions, Gue and Meller proposed two new designs, both with cross aisles that cut diagonally into the picking space. The layout at Generac is almost a direct implementation of one of those designs.

Brian Randleman, Logistics Manager at Generac, was lead on the project. "We had a clean-slate opportunity for our warehouse in Whitewater [Wisconsin], and I had just learned of their work in Modern Materials Handling magazine. I contacted our Director of Operations, and he was positive on the idea. His team ran some numbers to prove the benefit, and three months later we had drawings in our hands."

Gue and Meller went public with their designs a little over a year ago, and have been working with potential adopters since then. "For most managers in the logistics industry implementing this kind of design is a little scary," says Gue. Everyone wants someone else to be the first adopter."

Generac warehouse - long view of rowsThe warehouse in Whitewater, Wis., stores finished electrical generators and transfer switches before they are shipped to customers all over the country. Randleman said the decision to implement diagonal aisles was part of a broader strategy to make some bold changes in logistics at Generac. "My approach was to say, `Let's break some things, and put them back together in a better way.' The layout was one piece of that.

"For what we do, the layout really works well. We have racking in the middle section, between the diagonal aisles, and floor storage below the diagonals. That gives us the flexibility to adjust to changing operating conditions in the future."

Workers have responded positively to the new design. Meller said, "When we first proposed these designs, we met with numerous objections from practitioners. Some of those involved `the way we've always done it,' but some were related to safety, which is obviously an important consideration. Generac installed safety mirrors at key intersection points to help workers navigate the layout safely, and the combination of their product and racking allows excellent visibility."

Generac warehouse - side view of rowsIn addition to improved material flow and reduced travel distances, Generac has realized some unexpected benefits. For example, workers no longer turn 90 degrees to enter the picking aisles. The 45-degree turns are easier to make. According to one worker, "I'm able to make the 45-degree turns at full throttle. I feel like I'm moving more quickly in the warehouse." Another worker summed it up this way, "It's great to be part of something cool like this."

Gue and Meller say that announcements of other implementations and new research results are on the way. Says Gue, "The research continues at full pace, while we try to interest companies in implementing the designs we have released. The implementation at Generac is a real boon for us. Now we can point to them and say, `See, this really can be done!'"

Headquartered in Waukesha, Wis., Generac Power Systems is a leading manufacturer of diesel and gaseous-fueled engine-driven power generation equipment, modular paralleling systems, automatic transfer switches, and small engines for recreational, residential, commercial, communication, and industrial applications. Generac's backup power systems range in output from 7 to 9,000 kilowatts.