A warehouse is a commercial building for storage of goods. Warehouses are used by manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, transport businesses, customs, etc. They are usually large plain buildings in industrial areas of cities and towns. They come equipped with loading docks to load and unload trucks; or sometimes are loaded directly from railways, airports, or seaports. They also often have cranes and forklifts for moving goods, which are usually placed on ISO standard pallets loaded into pallet racks.
Some warehouses are completely automated, with no workers working inside. The pallets and product are moved with a system of automated conveyors and automated storage and retrieval machines coordinated by programmable logic controllers and computers running logistics automation software. These systems are often installed in refrigerated warehouses where temperatures are kept very cold to keep the product from spoiling, and also where land is expensive, as automated storage systems can use vertical space efficiently. These high-bay storage areas are often more than 10 meters high, with some over 20 meters high.
The direction and tracking of materials in the warehouse is coordinated by the WMS, or Warehouse Management System, a database driven computer program. The WMS is used by logistics personnel to improve the efficiency of the warehouse by directing putaways and to maintain accurate inventory by recording warehouse transactions.
Traditional warehousing has been declining since the last decades of the 20th century with the gradual introduction of Just In Time (JIT) techniques designed to improve the return on investment of a business by reducing in-process inventory. The JIT system promotes the delivery of product directly from the factory to the retail merchant, or from parts manufacturers directly to a large scale factory such as an automobile assembly plant, without the use of warehouses. However, with the gradual implementation of offshore outsourcing and offshoring in about the same time period, the distance between the manufacturer and the retailer (or the parts manufacturer and the industrial plant) grew considerably in many domains, necessitating at least one warehouse per country or per region in any typical supply chain for a given range of products.
Recent developments in marketing have also led to the development of warehouse-style retail stores with extremely high ceilings where decorative shelving is replaced by tall heavy duty industrial racks, with the items ready for sale being placed in the bottom parts of the racks and the crated or palletized and wrapped inventory items being usually placed in the top parts. In this way the same building is used both as a retail store and a warehouse.
Types of Warehouses
The warehouse is the most common type of storage though other forms do exist (e.g., storage tanks, computer server farms). Some warehouses are massive structures that simultaneously support the unloading of numerous in-bound trucks and railroad cars containing suppliers’ products while at the same time loading multiple trucks for shipment to customers.
Private Warehouse:This type of warehouse is owned and operated by a company that is also involved in other aspects of the distribution channel. For instance, a major retail chain may have several regional warehouses supplying their stores or a wholesaler will operate a warehouse at which it receives and distributes products.
Public Warehouse:The public warehouse is essentially space that can be leased to solve short-term distribution needs. Retailers that operate their own private warehouses may occasionally seek additional storage space if their facilities have reached capacity or if they are making a special, large purchase of products. For example, retailers may order extra merchandise to prepare for in-store sales or order a large volume of a product that is offered at a low promotional price by a supplier.
Automated Warehouse:With advances in computer and robotics technology many warehouses now have automated capabilities. The level of automation ranges from a small conveyor belt transporting products in a small area all the way up to a fully automated facility where only a few people are needed to handle storage activity for thousands of pounds/kilograms of product. In fact, many warehouses use machines to handle nearly all physical distribution activities such as moving product-filled pallets (i.e., platforms that hold large amounts of product) around buildings that may be several stories tall and the length of two or more football fields.
Climate-Controlled Warehouse:Warehouses handle storage of many types of products including those that need special handling conditions such as freezers for storing frozen products, humidity-controlled environments for delicate products, such as produce or flowers, and dirt-free facilities for handling highly sensitive computer products.
Distribution Center:There are some warehouses where product storage is considered a very temporary activity. These warehouses serve as points in the distribution system at which products are received from many suppliers and quickly shipped out to many customers. In some cases, such as with distribution centers handling perishable food (e.g., produce), most of the product enters in the early morning and is distributed by the end of the day.