Successful companies have survived the economic slump by thinking outside of the box, so what are the options when it comes to storage, flooring and loading bays? Lucy Tesseras reports.
Companies are more willing to put money into the warehouse now as they can make more money from it.
The recession may have put a bit of a dampener of things over the past two years, but if nothing else, at least it made companies think a little more cleverly. Those that did have turned under used space into an asset with the introduction of mezzanine floors, storage structures and other efficiency enhancing systems – in some cases enabling them to consolidate two or more sites into one unit.
“Companies don’t want to move right now as it’s too expensive,” says Derek Scott, sales director of mezzanine and storage specialist DMF Projects. “Instead, many are looking at their existing warehouses and realising that over the docks or goods in/goods out there is generally empty space. A mezzanine can utilise that space creating room for added value processes such as hanging products or labelling meaning it can now be done in-house, rather than at a second location down the road. It reduces costs.”
Scott reckons companies are starting to view warehouses in a different way, fuelled in part by the increase in online retail. “It’s not just a space to store stuff anymore, it’s a means of selling. The advent of internet shopping has meant there is more need for a picking area and pick, pack, dispatch. Companies are more willing to put money into the warehouse now as they can make more money from it.”
Ed Hutchison, managing director of BITO Storage Systems, agrees that one of the ways companies are doing this is by using dead space.
“The racking [in a warehouse]often comes to a stop at the marshalling area, leaving a large and empty airspace over the pallets or roll cages waiting to go on the delivery vehicles. A number of companies are now using this airspace and fully optimising the warehouse cube by locating a multi-storey mezzanine over the marshalling area.
“With a long span structural design, the mezzanine will allow marshalling below while providing space for a picking centre in the levels above, incorporating live storage along with the appropriate warehouse management and the integration of suitable conveying equipment, such as powered vertical conveyors or lifts.”
For companies that have no choice but to move to a new facility, Scott suggests mezzanine floors can also be used to increase the warehouse footprint. “When looking at the cost of the lease on a new warehouse it is based on the floor space it has, but by adding a three tier mezzanine floor a company can increase the actual floor space it gets by 400 per cent in some cases, while still paying a lower rent. And at the end of the lease they can take the structure down.”
Martin Elliott, UK sales director at Savoye, says it is important for clients to consider new ways of sweating their assets and that the recession has encouraged more open thinking: “While capital expenditure budgets have been generally cut, logistics managers have sometimes been faced with the unenviable task of accommodating greater throughput (as we emerge from recession) without the finance available for large scale extensions to sites.”
To solve one such problem, Savoye created an area to wash and store totes for a supermarket, making full use of the six metre high bay area. He says: “Reusable, washable totes are a big trend in retail now, but we needed to devise a way of facilitating the cleaning and storage of thousands of these trays within an existing warehouse space. By using our existing storage system, we were able to use the full height of the warehouse facility, thus providing a flexible solution to this challenge.”
However, he points out that enhancing a mezzanine area is not always the most suitable option. He points to a furniture retailer which had been using a mezzanine area above dispatch to manually store returns, but while this worked well during quiet periods the system struggled when demand increased. Instead Savoye introduced a pallet storage system to automate the area.
“Clearly, using previously under-used areas of the warehouse such as the mezzanine floor is not for everyone as the increased rateable value of the facility needs to be considered as much as the investment needed to automate. However, for those with existing shuttle equipment and the clear business need, thinking outside the box can pay dividends.”
No matter what the solution, Ed Hutchison, believes that in the current climate flexibility and resilience are key. Companies want a system that can accommodate forecast growth, including peaks, and any increase in SKUs over a five to ten year period. “They will also be looking for the flexibility that will allow them to contract in the event of business changes or as a result of leaner supply chain practice,” he adds.
Hutchison reckons this is why many companies are opting for live storage systems as more product can be stored in a smaller footprint and picker travel distance is reduced, plus the investment compared to an automated system is far less.
Automated storage and retrieval systems can provide dense storage with reliable throughputs and minimal personnel, he admits, but the high initial investment required means a solid business case is essential to justify it as an option. “A live storage system can be installed at a fraction of the investment, delivering a payback in a period measured in months rather than years, which isn’t the case for automation. If you are reconfiguring your existing facility and cash flow is restricted, the principal of keeping things simple can certainly pay.”
The initial investment cost of a live storage system compared to static pallet racking and shelving is obviously greater, but Hutchison says this will be more than compensated for with improvements in working efficiency.
“Greater density of pick locations for small parts in carton live storage, for example, can save up to 20 per cent floor space and travel time for pickers can be improved by two thirds. And because the goods move unassisted into the picking position, pickers have constant availability of SKUs.”
Live storage is also particularly good at dealing with peaks. “Rather than set up new pick locations to deal with peaks that will be underutilised for most of the year, there is a significant advantage to be gained from optimising existing pallet racking by retro fitting live storage flow shelves in the lower bays of the racking to provide carton live storage. This can be carried out quickly using flow storage modules that simply use the beams available in the existing racking.”
This can be particularly useful for seasonal trends, if for example, the racking used during eight months of the year for bulk storage is switched to create live storage picking locations to serve the Christmas peak over four months. “The drop on modules can be quickly reconfigured where necessary or removed to restore the static racking back to its original state when or if required,” says Hutchison.
Saving money is probably top of the agenda for most companies right now, but saving energy comes fairly high on the list too – not least because the two are linked.
Alan Jenkins, commercial director of door and loading bay specialist Hormann believes that for those companies that are unable to move to newer warehouses with lower running costs built in, investment in more efficient equipment is an option that can provide long-term savings.
Hormann has launched two new thermally efficient products for loading bays. The patented ThermoFrame provides a thermal break between a sectional loading bay door and the fabric of the building, which is designed to increase thermal efficiency by as much as 20 per cent. This can be increased to a 40 per cent improvement in cold store operations if the ThermoFrame is used with Hormann’s double insulated DPU door fitted with new uPVC location and lintel profiles.
Hormann’s high speed spiral door was developed as a more energy efficient option for level access loading bays to replace the traditional two door system of a high speed curtain door for daytime use and a sectional outer door for security at night.
Asda chose these doors for its Didcot distribution centre. The supermarket’s consultants estimated that the energy saved would pay for the doors within two years. A new, insulated version of this door is now available to further enhance the energy saving potential. The new door has 42mm thick, CFC free, rigid PU foam insulation and is also available with scratch resistant vision panels.
To improve loading bay safety, Sara Loading Bay Specialists has launched the Rapid Protect 300, which forms part of its range of machinery protection doors for internal and external use. They are designed to enable a rapid switch from complete isolation of a production stage to easy access in seconds. Rapid Protect doors have a switch in the door column which detects when the door is fully closed and prevents the machine from operating when the door is open.
Ed Wilks, operations manager at Sara LBS, says: “There are many environments in the workplace where certain areas need protection. This could be down to the operations that take place within them being potentially hazardous to passers-by or machinery that needs to be sheltered from external environments. The Rapid Protect series provides the required protection while also delivering high operating speeds and reliability to make access as un-halted as possible.”
When it comes to flooring, one thing is true, the flatter the surface the more successful the operation. It’s an area that often gets over looked, but without the right surface any equipment, whether it’s racking, storage or a forklift, is not going to perform as well as it should.
Alan Dean, sales director at flooring company Flowcrete, says: “Flooring in warehouse environments needs to be the level best – offering a solid platform underfoot that provides the correct type of surface for high technology equipment to function – and provide a safe environment for operatives and wheeled traffic.”
He reckons that to ensure a successful installation, warehouse flooring needs to solve a number of challenges, such as being durable enough to withstand constant wheel-traffic from forklift trucks, trolleys and other machinery. And, says Dean, dependant on what is stored in such areas, chemical resistance and the ability to cope with extremes of temperatures might need to be considered.
“Furthermore, due to stacking systems and AVG equipment, warehouse floors generally need to be completely level, to pinpoint accuracy,” emphasises Dean.
The importance of which Steve Richmond, general manager of Jungheinrich’s systems and projects division, concurs. “Effects from the floor can cause trucks to move from side to side or in a front to back ‘nodding’ motion as they travel along the length of the aisle. In some scenarios the movement of the trucks may be so significant that there is a potential for them to come into contact with the rack structure.
“Even relatively small differences in the floor level within a racking aisle can have a significant impact when the truck is operating at heights often in excess of 15 metres. The higher the mast height, the more pronounced the lean from uneven floors and the greater the potential problem.”
Even if a company invests in the best materials handling equipment on the market, he says it will never be able to operate at its top speed or at optimum efficiency if the floor is not up to scratch.
Static is also an issue, particularly in areas where electrical goods are in place, but Flowcrete’s Dean says “flooring systems with anti-static capabilities can be installed such as Flowcrete’s Peran ESD, which delivers a safer working environment, yet still has the qualities needed for warehouse environments, such as durability and a level surface.”
To get the correct floor companies need to pay close attention to the design, product and installation, including ground preparation. If this is done correctly it is more likely that the right product will be specified for the right environment.
As an example, Dean says that in oily areas, a high anti-slip grade should be used, while flexible flooring might be needed in areas where heavy machinery operates to cope with movement.
“Requirements such as these all need to be identified at the outset and built into the project at the design stage to ensure the right floor for the job. Attention to the design process will identify the right product for a particular environment.”
He warns: “If a floor goes wrong, the end result can be catastrophic, with whole areas out of bounds while repairs are carried out.”
Pure and simple storage
Purity Soft Drinks needed to boost production of its fruit juices and smoothies quickly following the launch of a new product, but required additional storage space to do so.
After searching the web for temporary warehouse space, Purity rented a large canopy structure from temporary building specialist Spaciotempo to stack and store cases of plastic bottles ready for the production line.
The 10m x 25m x 6m canopy is located adjacent to the main factory so that bottles can be transported by forklift on a just in time basis.
The aluminium structure is clad with uPVC panels and a roof covering to provide the building with wind tolerances to BSI standards, and it has six metre unobstructed eaves height which allows for high level racking.
The whole structure is anchored to the existing ground by a locked pine mechanism.
Mike Cox, production director at Purity, says: “We needed to ramp up production quickly following the highly successful launch of a new range of fruit juices. It is very important to us that our processes are meticulous and that includes storing all bottles in a clean environment, away from the elements.
“We were able to identify, procure and install a temporary building solution extremely quickly from Spaciotempo.”
Tesco targets loading bay safety
Tesco is targeting loading bay safety at all its distribution centres with trials of both Castell and Easilift drive away prevention systems at its Hinckley depot.
The Easilift Dock Management System, which was jointly developed by Traka, will be installed at goods in, while Castell’s Salvo system will be implemented at goods out to prevent premature departure of vehicles from the loading bay.
The goods in system combines Easilift’s dock door and associated control equipment with Traka’s electronic key control system.
When a driver arrives at the goods in office the ignition keys are clipped to an iFob which is inserted into the main Traka control panel, allowing a corresponding iFob to be removed and handed to the driver. The bay door will only open when an authorised operative inserts their personal iFob into a secondary control panel located adjacent to each door.
Once loading/unloading is complete, the operative closes the door, which sends a message to the goods in control box, permitting the removal of the driver’s keys – but only after the deposit iFob is inserted back into the box.
Joe Carthy, Tesco Distributions’ health & safety manager, says: “This was a limited trial, but the results were fantastic. The system was easy to operate and to understand, and it took a huge amount of human element out of the process.”
Castell’s Salvo system works in a similar way at goods out. When a trailer is in position at the loading bay door the Salvo Susie lock is fitted to the emergency air brake line coupling. Once fitted, a uniquely-coded key is released from the Salvo, locking the unit onto the coupling.
The key can only be released once the Salvo has been fitted to the brake coupling, at which point the key is then taken to the corresponding loading bay and used to switch the power on to the door. Without a locked trailer, there can be no power to open the door.
Once the loading bay door is opened, the key cannot be removed to release the trailer until the door is closed.
The system was trialled for three months on 46 loading bays.
“With Salvo, you cannot open the warehouse door unless the trailer is immobilised on the bay outside. More importantly, you cannot remove a trailer while the loading bay door is open. This removes the risk of bay drive-offs,” adds Carthy.