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Rapidly changing supply chain strategies are having their impact on how companies plan their storage requirements. With demands for higher throughputs at the same time as higher capacities, the pressures have never been greater to get the racking right, reports MALORY DAVIES.

Warehouses are changing to meet the needs of modern supply chains and as a result, storage and racking systems are having to change as well. On the one hand there is a move towards faster throughput reducing the amount of time goods are stored in a warehouse. But there is a countervailing demand to maximise storage space at the same time as minimising floor space.

Edward Hutchison, managing director of BITO Storage Systems, says: “Of the general developments in the storage industry, and the shelving and racking sector in particular, the trend towards compact higher racking stands out. Warehouse floor space is becoming increasingly expensive while optimum availability of goods, fast access and on-time delivery within the shortest possible lead time have become decisive competitive factors.”

In many applications conventional storage will struggle to meet the growing demands, which is leading customers to opt for multi-functional racking systems such as carton and pallet-live storage based on pallet racking that has been adapted and enhanced by specific components.

Carton-live storage, for example, gives, within a short distance, a greater density of pick locations for small parts, with a saving on floor space in the region of 15-20 per cent being a reasonable assumption. Time is saved also; depending on the application, travel times for order pickers can be improved by up to 66 per cent. Another trend with tried and tested results is direct order picking from small parts storage installations to increase picking performance.

For this purpose, flow levels are integrated at operator reach height into a small parts storage block, which is equipped with a pick-to-light system connected to the warehouse management system. BITO also sees a growing demand for random storage of cardboard boxes of all sizes as well as for multi-position storage on panel-decked levels.

Steve Richmond, general manager of Jungheinrich’s systems & projects division, says: “One of the major trends in the industry is the drive towards standardising storage system design to a European norm, based on FEM (European Federation of Materials Handling) guidelines. This means that when customers source their industry standard compliant racking they will do so in the knowledge that it will conform to the highest standards, no matter which country it was sourced from.

“When the provisional European standard comes into force in 12-18 months it will become the common standard for design across Europe rather than individual countries having their own individual standards, for instance SEMA (Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association) guidelines in the UK.

“Customers with a longer term view should take this into account when purchasing racking. At Jungheinrich we already design all of our equipment to FEM standards in readiness for the move to the European norm.”

Looking at the racking itself, systems are set to get higher as MHE products such as reach trucks and stacker cranes are constantly pushing the boundaries of engineering, lifting heavier capacities to higher heights.

Nick Tyler, managing director of The Live Storage Company, says: “There is definitely a trend towards faster throughput and lower dwell times in the warehouse. While there are many “hi tech” options to support these changes, converting existing racking into dynamic live storage and picking faces offers an affordable and relatively “low tech” solution that can be deployed by small and large companies to achieve performance improvement.

“Indeed, hi tech solutions that involve computerisation may be beyond the scope of many businesses because of the initial investment required and the potential ROI timeframe.

“Switching to live storage requires less initial investment, offers immediate improvement to performance, quicker return on investment and allows low cost modifications to be made when operational requirements change.”

Health and safety is a vital issue in the warehouse and planning is an essential element in eliminating risk. Implementing a storage concept within a given time frame requires precise planning and co-ordination, taking into account warehousing dimensions, flooring qualities, quirks in the building’s construction such as pillars, sloping roofs, and ventilation tubing to ensure that assembly can be carried out without interruptions. Hutchinson says BITO uses specially trained staff who provide important information to our engineers and technicians in the project department to ensure that all details are fully considered.

“Project planning, production and assembly must be co-ordinated with utmost precision, particularly when the project involves working with and around several partners and other sub-contractors involved in a new warehouse or refit.

“For this reason the racking company’s project management team needs to calculate time schedules, accompany all the order fulfilment processes and constantly monitor and co-ordinate deadlines to provide the client with a strong comfort factor and a smooth, therefore safe installation.”

And Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond says: “Installations are often on sites covered under the Construction Design & Management regulations and on green field sites where building work is still in progress. That’s why competent companies with recognised site and project management capabilities should be used for installing the racking systems.”

Maximising storage capacity in the warehouse is the holy grail for many operations but Richmond warns that it is important that the supplier understands and can analyse the operation. “One size does not fit all; every application will have its idiosyncrasies.

“Often the storage solution will comprise a combination of storage types, each one best suited to the operation in a particular area or product profile in a given part of the warehouse or distribution centre. This requires potential suppliers to be able to provide systems from a wide range of storage solutions: from high density, to small parts to high bay or even clad rack buildings to optimise the proposition.

“Wherever possible, storage system designers should be involved before the building is finalised so factors such as column positions can be optimised and thereby make maximum utilisation of the cube. But racking systems rarely exist in isolation and therefore the suppliers need to understand and build into the design various aspects such as sprinklers, floor specification and MHE interfaces to provide a completely optimised solution. The MHE used is critical to the design of the racking because it will often determine the overall layout.”

While suppliers should be able to produce standard specifications where appropriate, they should also to be able to use design tools and software to design and engineer customer specific profiles if required to optimise the system.

Tyler says: “Many warehouses can increase overall capacity by matching storage facilities to the size and shape of the items being stored. With live storage racking, for example, the width of the roller track and the vertical spacing of track units can be matched to the specific size of the items being stored and handled. The overall density of the pick face is maximised and this can mean, for example, that more items can be made available for immediate picking than might otherwise be available with standardised or uniform storage environments.”

And Hutchison points out that dynamic or ‘live’ storage systems are increasingly seen as a solution to maximise storage density within a warehouse. Live storage for both cartons and pallets is on the increase, particularly for operative to goods order picking situations.

“Higher investment costs are more than compensated by improvements in working efficiency: within a short distance, a greater density of pick locations for small parts, with a saving on floor space in the region of 15-20 per cent being a reasonable assum
ption. Time is saved also; depending on the application, travel times for order pickers can be improved by up to 66 per cent. Furthermore, order pickers can rely on a constant availability of goods.


“System flexibility is enhanced by boltless live storage systems. Because these systems use a safety clip rather than a bolt it is easier to lower a beam level, making the system easy to configure – not just during installation but also throughout its use – and allows the user to simply change the height of the shelf to suit.

“At BITO we are converting a lot of traditional racking installations into carton live at the bottom level and introducing push back racks for the pallet buffer storage to help ensure replenishment is separated from picking.

“Where you have combined carton and pallet live systems, the pallet lanes – for fast moving goods – are located on the bottom level with the carton lanes above. This allows combined order picking of small and large SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) or fast and slow moving SKUs in the same area and creates a balanced work load in each storage area.”

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