Putting off investing in storage systems can compromise efficiency – so is it time for a rethink on storage strategy?
When times are tough there are good reasons to work on the principal of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. Nowhere is that more true that in storage and racking – but perhaps it is time for a rethink.
Steve Richmond, director of Jungheinrich’s Systems and Projects Division, certainly thinks so: “Companies have now reached the point where they can no longer put-off investing in their systems and processes. The lack of investment in recent years means that, in many cases productivity and efficiency are not being maximised and, for many firms, operational costs remain higher than they need to be.
“In short, failing to invest in updated intra-logistics systems is at odds with accepted business drivers,” he says.
And Howard Gillard, managing director of Dynamic Storage Systems, points out that despite the current difficult climate, forward-looking companies are willing to invest to improve their efficiencies.
Where companies are looking at change, to focus seems to be on using existing space better to put off an expensive move. “As everybody knows, the construction industry is currently in the doldrums so the bulk of our day-to-day business is kitting out existing premises – what we call ‘tuning’ – rather than installation of storage systems into new premises,” says Edward Hutchison, managing director of BITO.
“Many orders that we have fulfilled of late have been to provide systems to meet the particular needs of online retail fulfilment. But overall, the same reasons still exist: to reduce costs using better storage equipment and that requires fewer staff and other costs.”
Russell Smith, business development manager of Goplasticpallets.com, agrees: “As we all know, these are not the easiest times for many companies and the pressure is on to be more responsive and provide ‘clever’ solutions that meet our clients’ objectives while working with shorter lead times and smaller budgets. Companies are increasingly looking at ways to save space, fuel and packaging materials and we’re responding with solutions like nestable plastic pallets and plastic crates that nest, stack and fold.”
The development of e-commerce is having a significant impact on how the warehouse is used. “The continuing growth in e-commerce is undoubtedly driving the need for multi-channel distribution centres where clients can pick in a multitude of ways,” says Craig Rollason, head of sales and marketing for Knapp UK. “They need to serve their retail stores, their home-delivery customers and possibly also resellers. A shuttle-based, automated storage system is able to meet these various needs in a flexible way.”
Many companies are looking to consolidate warehousing. Mark Cummings, sales manager at Dexion, says: “As companies consider consolidating warehouses, either to reduce costs or footprint, the options available to them often involve a trade-off. Wide aisle adjustable pallet racking becomes a less feasible option when looking to consolidate, because of the space the wide aisle racking requires. In comparison, double deep racking can partly overcome this as it allows pallets to be stored two deep.
Drive-in racking systems, on the other hand, deliver very efficient storage, particularly for fragile goods, as rails take the weight of the pallet. Only one aisle is required, allowing high-density storage, which is also ideal for high volume storage of similar goods.
“Mobile pallet racking offers the density of drive-in racking, with the accessibility of wide aisle racking and the ability to use standard forklifts. However, the trade-off is cost of installation in relation to the smaller footprint required. While space savings can be made with this approach, the compromise is the need to invest in specialised handling equipment.
“Technology can play an important role when consolidating your warehouse. By using a logistics optimisation software system to analyse methods, goods’ flow and locations, warehouse operations can be enhanced and efficiency improved.
Free and impartial
Gillard says: “Companies typically search for racking and shelving on the internet but, unless it’s a bay of simple garage shelving, it’s worth getting free and impartial advice from an expert warehouse designer. The racking solutions available are numerous. For example, the food and drink industry will often justify the extra cost of a dynamic storage solution in pallet live or push-back systems because they can reduce overheads in plant and equipment or just by the improved speed of throughput and guaranteed FIFO (first in, first out). However, the dangers of not using live storage correctly can lead to expensive mistakes.”
And Hutchison points out: “When warehouse activities are consolidated, storage density becomes the key issue. Automated storage, drive-in and mobile racking offer storage density by removing aisles. When order picking is involved, live storage systems have proved their success at accommodating a greater number of items and pick locations within a picking zone at a much lower investment than automated order picking.”
CI Logistics may be best known for conveyors but is also involved in this market, supplying garment installations to companies such as Dimensions, River Island and Peacocks. Stephen Perriton points out that this sector of the market has been reasonably buoyant as companies have reconfigured their warehousing.
He highlights the work it has done with Dimensions, which supplies corporate clothing from a site at Long Eaton. Dimensions clothes over 3 million people every year, despatching over 14 million garments throughout the UK, Europe and across the world.
A lot of the products are very seasonal, Perriton points out and the task has been to increase the storage density at the warehouses on the site and a key element of the revamped system has been the use of mobile shelving up to 6m high.
Specifying the correct equipment is critical to any company investing in storage equipment. Although frequently seen merely as a racking requirement, the implications are enormous for any warehouse design. Gillard says: “Consideration needs to be given to the correct size of racking to suit the number of warehouse staff, types of pallet, MHE, environment, space, SKU profile and fire protection. These issues are in addition to the basic need to choose the right storage solution to meet the capacity and throughput required.”
Steve Richmond takes up the point: “Racking is one of the keys to optimising efficiency within the warehouse. We believe that when it comes to specifying racking and shelving, consideration must be given to the whole life costs of the solution. Systems that are robustly designed, built and installed will be resilient to damage and offer the best return on investment and the lowest costs over their lifetime. The method of financing the investment in the racking system will also have a considerable impact on its cost efficiency.
“The acquisition of all capital equipment is a major commitment and how that acquisition is funded requires careful planning. Buyers should ensure that their supplier has access to the widest range of financial options if they are to get the best value for money for their business.”
Craig Rollason points out that an OSR Shuttle system can save space in the distribution centre. “In comparison to traditional racking, there are gains both in terms of storage capacity and footprint that can be liberated for other uses. With the system being modular, there is always the potential to expand the storage, either by going higher or by adding modules laterally. A key bonus is that the OSR Shuttle system can be installed on a mezzanine, freeing up vital space on the ground floor for operations such as marshalling and loading. This mezzanine option was used in the solution Knapp supplied earlier this year at Boots’ new £50m facility in Burton-upon-Trent.”
Hutchison says: “If we consider small parts storage then moving to a carton live system will give a company much greater density to save space. You also dramatically increase pick speeds because there are a greater number of pick faces within a smaller area so staff walk shorter distances.”
Other options include installing a mezzanine. Gillard points out that a mezzanine can optimise the use of available headroom to accommodate offices, extra storage capacity or alternative racking solutions providing higher density or throughput.
Case study- Cantilever racking for kitchen manufacturer
Two cantilever racking installations from Pro-Dek Storage Systems have allowed a manufacturer of kitchen and bedroom carcase and fascia panels to stock raw materials more efficiently at a new factory in West Yorkshire.
The 175,000 sq m manufacturing and distribution facility has been built by Decorative Panels Components at a cost of £10m. Output capacity is now 600,000 panels a week.
The racking is in two sections with capacity for over 500 tonnes of chipboard and thin-board. It allows every pack to have a separate location and bar-code.
Pro-Dek used heavy-duty Pro-Bolt cantilever racking, which allows arm positions to be adjusted in 150mm increments. The chipboard racking is single-sided, 6650mm high, with six arm levels. Each arm is rated to carry 900kg. The thin-board racking is six metres high and has a mix of arm levels to suit different pack sizes.
Case study- Live storage system for Maco
Maco, the manufacturer of door and window hardware, called SSI Schaefer to modify an existing pallet racking installation to include live storage.
The high bay warehouse at Sittingbourne houses over £2 million worth of stock using a system installed by SSI Schaefer in 2000. This was originally installed for selling bulk quantities, but Maco wanted to offer flexibility to a larger number of customers. This meant a higher density storage system for box picked items (hardware for windows and doors), previously picked by the pallet. As a result, a revised operation was needed to fulfil the orders.
The new system uses KDR live storage shelving. The flow beds can be modified quickly and without screws using adjustable hooks. The KDR flow beds were easily incorporated into the existing pallet racking system allowing the previous ground floor bulk pallet locations to be used as push back storage. The number of ground floor manual picking locations has increased with a greater depth of stock for each. Full pallet locations are still maintained at higher levels.
Maco managing director Kevin Whiting said: “Having used SSI Schaefer to supply the original pallet racking, we were confident of their known expertise in this area. We urgently needed a solution that continued to cater for our bulk pick orders while managing our smaller orders efficiently – the KDR system, attached directly to the pallet racking allows us to effectively pick and pack one or two boxes only from a particular storage location without having to enter the bulk storage high bay area.”
– Komori UK achieved a 50 per cent reduction in pallet racking floor space by using a mobile system designed by SSI Schaefer. Komori, a small to medium sized manufacturer and supplier of printing production equipment, installed the system at its Leeds site. The change resulted in a reduction in the footprint of the racking from 372 sq m to 195 sq m a saving of 180 sq m. It meant that Komori was able to reduce its required spend when looking at new premises to move its operational facility into.
– The growing insistence of insurance companies is having an impact on the design of shelves. BITO’s Hutchison says: “This has led to a trend towards ‘ventilated’ or ‘punched’ shelves that will allow sprinklers to be more effective by allowing water to drain through. Removing 50 per cent of the metal from a shelf will however affect its load capacity. For example, a 200 kg shelf would derate to about 120 kg once you take all of that metal out. The shelf must therefore have a stiff shell to help maintain load capacity.”
– Dynamic Storage Systems has developed new carton live system called Versi Flow which features a robust bed of rollers compared to the conventional carton live tracks. This can be retrofitted into existing pallet racking to simplify the handling of large or heavy cardboard cartons or boxes.
– Warehouse Partners reckons that Rack Nets will change the face of racking design. The back of rack netting is fixed to the rear of single runs of pallet racking to form a protective barrier that prevents loads stored within the pallet bays from falling into the aisles during the pallet put-away and retrieval process. Metal mesh guards have traditionally been used to fulfil a similar function. However, Warehouse Partners argues that Rack Nets netting does not buckle or become misshaped if subjected to the force that can be exerted by a displaced pallet. Made from high strength polypropylene and available in a choice of colours, Rack Nets netting is strong enough to hold a 1,000kg palletized load.
– BITO will be releasing a innovation for pallet live systems later this year. One of the big issues with pallet live is that the separators, which hold the pallets in place in the flow lanes, often have to be customised to suit different pallets. BITO has designed a new separator that offers a standardised and reliable system that will reduce the cost and lead times for producing pallet live storage systems. The new separator works like a single-sided saloon swing door: when a pallet flows down the live storage lane and passes through the door, it opens it and up pops the stop to keep the pallet in place. Once the empty pallet is removed the door swings back and releases the separator for the next pallet to flow down the lane and take its place.