This is not about taking the plunge and getting married like I will be doing later this year. I’m talking about a big decision you need to make regarding the aisles for your lift trucks when considering the layout of your warehouse.
Two major considerations that can help determine aisle requirements are the size of the loads and the type of forklift you will be using. However, should you have the luxury of being able to setup your warehouse from scratch, here is some information to help determine your options:
Wide Aisle – When sit down forklifts were highly popular, this would have been your most typical aisle setup. Today, these ‘counterbalanced’ forklifts require wide aisles, generally 11-12 feet or more. Since counterbalanced forklifts can also be used for loading and unloading trailers, some customers are willing to deal with wider aisles for the versatility. That may make sense for very small operations with low ceilings, but selecting lift trucks based on their primary application usually makes more sense.
Narrow Aisle (NA) – The concept for a ‘narrow aisle’ forklift began within the Raymond Corporation back in 1949. Now known as the “reach truck” or the “deep reach truck,” these operate in an aisle that ranges from 8-10 feet. While the reduction of 2 feet per aisle may not seem like much, it has profound effects on storage capacity as the smaller aisles permit more rows of rack storage. Designed specifically for pallet putaway and retrieval, reach trucks allow customers to store product up to 35 feet or more- particularly with cameras and other visual operator aids.
Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) – Once again, introduced to the North American market by Raymond, this is the most recent addition to the lift truck aisle configuration (albeit in the 1970s!) Within aisles of 6 feet or less, these VNA trucks almost always use some type of guidance system – rail, wire or optical. The two most common VNA lift trucks are order pickers and swing-reach turret trucks, both able to operate in the same aisle. While the order picker is dedicated to less-than-pallet load quantities and individual ‘each’ picks, the turret truck can act as both an order picker and a machine to do full pallet putaways, making it a unique truck. Both can operate at very high heights, with specialized turrets lifting to 60 feet.
Expand Warehouse Capacity
From an actual storage stand point, going from wide aisle to narrow aisle can typically allow you to add 20-25 percent more pallet positions, while going from NA to VNA can sometimes add an additional 25 percent or more. As you can imagine, there are tradeoffs associated with each configuration/truck combination, however the ROI is viewed in the number of pallet positions, productivity, flexibility, etc.
The goal is to determine what would work best given your product, SKU count, pick velocity, building, budget, column centers and more before making any big decisions. Consult with a material handling expert to walk down your warehouse aisles and explain all your options.