On the face of it, there does not seem to be much difference between warehousing and distribution.
For a start, they often end up being used in an interchangeable way when describing a storage and retrieval operation.
Warehouses and distribution centres both accept, store and despatch products in similar spacious buildings located in areas close to transport hubs and networks.
However, this is where the similarities end as key differences exist in the way that warehouses and distribution centres operate that reflect the distinct roles they each have in the supply chain.
The Purpose of a Warehouse
Warehouses store large volumes of similar materials or products over the longer-term. They are used by manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and exporters who may also be the site owner-operator.
Operations can be as sophisticated as a distribution centre in terms of automation but the period that products are kept is greater because warehouses store rather than distribute.
The Purpose of a Distribution Centre
Distribution centres work at a fast pace in terms of receiving, storing, pulling and dispatching products.
They are more likely to be used in a customer fulfilment function, either sending products to supply the retail outlet or dispatching directly to the retailer’s customer.
In effect, they can serve as the bricks and mortar operation for online and ecommerce businesses.
The technology and in-house organisation at a distribution centre will differ from a warehouse in terms of shelving systems, pallet racking, floor layout, or warehouse automation systems, such as vertical lift modules.
Distribution centres can be an entirely mechanised process within minimal human involvement, handling individualised items rather than products in bulk.
Data Now Dictates Storage and Distribution
This distinction between warehousing and distribution has come about through the fact that there is more data available than ever before about patterns of demand.
Planning and strategy are more sophisticated. Gone are the days when products were stored in warehouses with little knowledge about when they might be needed and in what quantities.
Automation and fulfilment management itself within storage spaces have also become more intelligence-led.
That means receiving, pulling and dispatching is quicker and therefore more useful to particular retail sectors such as those that are internet-based.
Warehouse vs Distribution Centre: Which is Right for Your Organisation?
Making a decision about establishing a warehousing operation or setting up a distribution centre would be based entirely on the function required and the nature of the business.
The storage of products or raw materials where timescales are less crucial point to a warehouse function, whereas the need for speedy order fulfilment would suggest a Distribution Centre.
But it might be that the two are not mutually exclusive in terms of operation and function.
There is a case for considering tthere could be distinct stages in the same supply chain, where a warehouse may feed a distribution centre.
Building Efficient Warehouses and Distribution Centres
One thing for certain is that, at Quickline, we are here to help you make an informed decision about the best way to manage your storage and distribution needs.
Not only do we have a vast experience of the warehousing industry, but we are also able to develop a wide range of bespoke solutions that meet your commercial requirements.
All you need to do is contact us, and we will take it from there.