An Introduction to the Fishbone Layout for Warehouses and Distribution Centers
We all know the typical warehouse layout which is characterized by the alignment of straight, parallel aisles, sometimes coupled by one or multiple cross aisles in the center. It is a straightforward and fairly simple approach to warehouse configuration that fosters S-shape picking routes while travelling the alleys. However, other non-traditional, more innovative, layout designs exist, perhaps one of the most common being the fishbone layout, introduced in 2009 by engineering professors and logistics experts Meller & Gue.
What’s in it for my Warehouse?
The fishbone layout combines the vertical picking rows of a traditional warehouse with a second set of horizontal picking rows, divided by a V-shaped diagonal alley crossing the entire warehouse. This simple modification to the typical warehouse design allows employees (e.g. a forklift driver) to increase travel speed between picking locations. Efficiency gains achieved through a layout reconfiguration would reduce picking cost up to 23% (1) compared to an equivalent warehouse using a traditional configuration.
“Fishbone picking aisles allow pickers to closely approximate direct ‘travel-by-flight’ to the pickup-and-deposit point.”
– Kevin Gue, Professor, Industrial Engineering; Duthie Chair of Engineering Logistics (2)
These savings are realized by cutting down the travel distances between the picking destinations closer to the Euclidian distance, or “as the crow flies”. Because of the diagonal aisles that cut across the picking aisles, forklift operators can travel faster from one aisle to another as they can execute smooth 45-degree turns instead of the conventional 90-degree angle turn imposed by most parallel warehouse alleys.
One Step Closer to Warehouse Optimization
As a result, orders are shipped and delivered faster to the clients, increasing customer satisfaction and retention, which ultimately boosts the business’ revenues. Plus, achieving operational excellence in the warehouse allows for better margins while offering a better service and a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.
“For many years, companies treated warehouses almost exclusively as cost centers. This led to restrictive design rules that focused on storage density to maximize utilization of space. Unfortunately, designing a storage area exclusively to maximize storage density ignores the operational cost of retrieving items from the space.”
– Dr. Russell Meller, former professor & director of the Center for Engineering Logistics and Distribution at the University of Arkansas (3)
The Critical Role of the Supply Chain for Small and Medium Businesses
Smart SMBs know that a streamlined supply chain plays a critical role in remaining competitive in an ever-changing environment against major industry players. Nothing must be left to chance. This is why the LISA WMS team is made of several warehouse consultants and professionals entirely dedicated to warehouse management system deployment. We are not warehouse designers per se, nor are we selling forklifts or racking. However, our team has the knowledge and experience to understand the supply chain ecosystem and to advise you on the various aspects to consider, guiding you along the process.
(1) Gue, K.R., and Meller, R.D. (2009), Aisle configurations for unit-load warehouses, IIE Transactions 41, 171-182.
(2) Gue, Fishbone Aisles Appear to Speed Distribution, University of Arkansas NEWS July 27, 2006.
(3) Dr. Russell D. Meller, now working in the private sector as Vice President, Solution Design and Research & Development at Fortna.
(4) Image source: Kevin Gue’s website.