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The maximum aisle width for a warehouse depends on what the material handling equipment requires to safely navigate the corridors and efficiently pick products. The aisle width also depends on the products placed and the type of pallets in use. There is no precise measurement. Widths are entirely relevant to how the overall warehouse functions.
There are, however, specific parameters and guidelines you need to consider when designing efficient and highly productive warehouses. It begins by appreciating how much additional space you can gain by narrowing your aisle widths. For instance, reducing your aisle width from 12 feet to eight feet gives you an extra 15 to 20 percent of storage area. That, in itself, is a significant saving and an excellent method of increasing warehouse capacity without physically expanding your building.
If you’re considering redesigning your warehouse to a narrow aisle configuration, it’s worthwhile reviewing the different forklift types that work with varying widths of aisles. While lift trucks designed for narrow aisles will operate well in wide aisles, the opposite certainly isn’t true. Here are the common forklift designs on today’s material handling equipment market and the minimum aisle widths they need to function.
- Sit-down counterbalanced forklift: By far, this is the most common forklift in American warehouses. The sit-down counterbalanced lift truck may be the most popular material handler in the world, but it takes up a lot of space. Most of these designs have elongated chassis to accommodate the heavy, rear-mounted counterweight that balances the load in the mast and carriage. As a rule, sit-down counterbalanced forklifts need aisles at least 12 feet wide to handle standard 48-inch pallets.
- Stand-up deep-reach forklift: These material movers are made for narrower aisle work than conventional sit-down machines. They still work on a counterbalancing principle that offsets the load, whether in a raised or lowered position. Operators stand up in deep-reach forklift designs, which save space from the operator area decreasing to accommodate a vertical driver profile rather than the more space-consuming semi-horizontal position. Deep-reach stand-up machines need an approximate minimum aisle width of nine to 11 feet, depending on the manufacturer’s design.
- Stand-up single-reach forklift: Single-reach forklifts designed for standing drivers use less aisle room than their deep-reach cousins. That is because the fork extensions aren’t designed to pick from double pallet racks. They’re only capable of operating in single pallet racking environments. Single-reach forklifts have a smaller footprint due to reduced tine extension length. Depending on the particular forklift model, a single-reach design might be a foot shorter than a deep-reach machine. That can reduce the minimum aisle width required for a single-reach stand-up forklift to eight feet.
- Turret or swing-mast narrow aisle forklift: Turret forklifts operate in tight and confined aisles. They have a unique design in that the mast swivels or turns 90 degrees from the forklift body to let the driver move the machine through a tight corridor. When ready to pick, the operator swings the mast to either side. The forks then extend and deal with the product. Once placed or pulled, the turret returns to its regular axis to the forklift’s centerline, and the driver can continue navigating in a narrow space. Swing-mast or turret lifts need between four feet six inches and five feet six inches of aisle width.
- Narrow aisle order picker: These mini-forklifts work well in very narrow warehouse aisles. Where space is a premium concern, there’s nothing more efficient than a narrow aisle order picker. These highly compact material tools get in and out of confined spaces easily. Most narrow aisle designs have walk-behind controls, rather than operators sitting or standing on them. Many modern warehouses opt for narrow aisle order pickers, as they save a tremendous amount of valuable floor space. Narrow aisle forklifts work in aisles as tight as four to five feet.
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