Bigger, heavier, faster

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The drive to manage inventory more actively is having a dramatic effect on the traditional status of the warehouse. It’s no longer an oasis of calm – a place for quiet reflection. Space is at a premium as pressure mounts to get more goods in the same footprint.

At the same time goods move in and out more quickly than ever before, and more processing of goods takes place. The demands on the warehouse equipment are increasing all the time.

Andy Barrie of Apex Linvar says: “Pallets are becoming heavier; MHE equipment can go taller – for instance man-up very narrow aisle trucks can go up some 11m+; material flow and storage solutions are combining multiple operations; integrated structural steel frames which accommodate various operational and storage requirements, provide challenges for the traditional concrete by using large clear spans and high point loads.”

There is no doubt that the growth of online retailing is having a significant impact.

Ed Hutchison, managing director at BITO Storage Systems, says: “The complexities in offering online customers a full choice can lead to a great deal of specialty around picking operations for an online retail business, which makes it very different from traditional retail store replenishment. The main difference lies in picking singles rather than pallets and case loads.

“Hit rates at pick slots are much slower and the average web order is a single item, though this of course varies depending on the retailer, so there is a lot of travel involved and the cost of that is quite significant.

“There’s also complexity associated with mixed products going to the same consumer, so as the online retailer’s SKU range diversifies then a wider range of locations will be required.

Factor in the huge peaks that are a key characteristic of online retail and it becomes clear why companies are seeking flexible picking systems that can be scaled up or down to accommodate large variances in volumes, SKU range and SKU profile – not only for fulfilment of online orders but, in many cases, handling the returns also,” he says.

“The picking systems also need to adapt to the rapid growth that is part of the online retail story – it’s not unheard of for retailers to be experiencing compound growth rates of 70 per cent. In a sector that demands accurate order fulfilment or risk losing customers, it is essential that order picking systems can be adapted to facilitate this growth.”

A key issue for many companies in the current economic climate is whether to move to a new site or refurbish an existing warehouse.

It was a choice NFT had to make recently in the North West where its Whitefield depot required investment but had limited room for expansion. In the end it chose to move to a refurbished site at Middleton.

NFT’s Dale Fiddy says: “We believe that where possible, it can make sense both economically and environmentally to invest in and improve upon existing infrastructure to enhance capacity.

That being said, new build projects incorporate the latest innovation and environmental design which can be difficult to achieve with a refurbishment project.

Understanding your customers’ markets, culture, and needs is a key factor in deciding to opt for a new build.”

Dave Acton from Logistex points out that refurbishment and upgrade provides many of the advantages of a new installation but at a fraction of the cost.

“Refurbishment and upgrading may improve performance and add years of productive life to automated materials handling systems.”

And, he says: “Work can generally be carried out while the business continues to operate, which is rarely possible when replacing an entire system.”

Ed Hutchison highlights the challenge of using every square and cubic metre in the best possible way – for both new and existing warehouses.

“Mezzanines, multi-tier shelving and narrow aisle installations are some of the techniques for optimising storage volume.

“Solutions to improve existing systems include using conveyors to support simultaneous working in zones, which results in a reduced throughput time; barcode scanning of products or locations in combination with a unique picking bin identification and paperless picking technologies such as pick-to-light or pick-by-voice.”

Hutchison argues that improvements can also be made by reducing the number of steps in a picking process to provide a more efficient solution; the more times a product is handled, the greater the risk of mistakes.

“Moreover, adding more steps in a process will inevitably take more time and management. Every instance of repetitive handling should be examined to see if it can be done faster or easier, or even be avoided.

“We are increasingly finding that companies want to convert the lower levels of their existing pallet racking to improve order picking operations.

This offers a lower investment dense storage picking system than an automated system, that requires a solid business case to ensure benefits deliver a return on investment,” he says.

Of course, safety is a critical issue in the warehouse – and particularly in the loading bay.

John Meale, managing director of loading equipment specialist Thorworld believes a positive commitment to safety in and around the loading bay can help firms save money.

“As soon as a loading dock door is opened, and a trailer pushed towards the dock, the scope for accidents increases exponentially,” says Meale who believes that before any investment is made a company should perform a health and safety audit to identify potential hazards in their specific loading and unloading or warehouse area.

He points out that The European Materials Handling Federation has produced a new guide entitled “Guidance On Safety On / Around A Vehicle Loading Area”.
Loading bays are increasingly being called on to handle double-deck trailers – a factor that has led Transdek to call for the introduction of a new loading bay height at distribution centres handling high volumes of deliveries through fixed double-deck trailers.

Most conventional loading bays are constructed with a raised floor height of 1,200mm.

Leon Butler, operations director at Transdek, says: “In the case of fixed double-deck trailers we believe new distribution centres should be built with dedicated double-deck loading bays with a descending gradient to around 900mm.

This way vehicle fill time can be significantly reduced, which drives down costs, speeds up turnaround and with less handling, improves safety.”

Case Studies: loading bay

Innovative loading bays for Tesco

Easilift has played a key role in the design of the loading bays at Tesco’s new 800,000 sq ft distribution centre at Daventry.

The £6.5m project is reckoned to be the largest single order ever placed in the UK for loading bay equipment.

Duncan Robertson, project manager at Tesco said: “We didn’t want an off-the-shelf loading bay solution but something that would complement and respond to our exact needs.

Easilift worked closely with Tesco, our architects and the main contractor Volker Fitzpatrick to deliver a precise, perfectly optimised installation.”

Tesco wanted an increased ratio of bays to floor space compared to a traditional distribution centre.

This challenge was met by Easilift with an arrangement of paired scissor lift dock pods across a central walkway.

The dock leveller pods were resized to match the height of scissor lift pods ensuring a uniform roof line along the building’s length which aids functionality.
Easilift devised the design interface to reflect spatial restrictions at yard level.

By constructing the double-deck bays in pairs, Easilift created a tandem pod around a single walkway to ensure safe and easy operator access.

Atex Zone 2 equipment for Valspar

Coating supplier Valspar chose Stertil Stokvis for the loading bay equipment in the Atex Zone 2 area at its manufacturing and distribution site at Deeside.

Atex Zones are areas which must be protected from effective sources of ignition and Atex Zone 2 classification relates to the installation of equipment and machinery.
The Deeside operation sees an average of 25 trailers and container vehicles a week arriving to load and unload palletised drums and IBCs.

Stertil Stokvis supplied a six-tonne capacity telescopic lip dock leveller – type XP22-21, a WI fully-inflatable dock shelter, a roller shutter door, specially-extended PE dock bumpers and a Combilok vehicle restraint system.

Environment: Minimising the carbon footprint

Companies are increasingly looking at the carbon footprint of their warehouses and developers like ProLogis and Gazeley have been developing buildings that minimise carbon emissions.

Many warehouses traditionally operated an “open door” policy. With energy costs soaring this is not a sensible option.

One solution has been to fit a fast action curtain door for daytime use and a sectional door for night-time security.

Hörmann developed a high speed spiral door with the benefits of both.

Asda calculated that the energy saved would pay for these doors within two years and subsequently fitted them at its Didcot distribution centre.

Hörmann has worked on several significant projects with ProLogis.

Hörmann project engineers contributed to the development of Marks & Spencer’s 1.1 million sq ft distribution centre at Bradford.

The ProLogis design was created with the option to add further loading bays, if required, at any time in the future.

Hörmann suggested fitting manually operated loading bay doors instead of fitting exterior cladding over the future openings.

This proved to be less costly and with no build – tear down – build process saves time, materials and vehicle movements for the future development.

The development of a Sainsbury’s distribution centre at ProLogis Park Pineham was a carbon positive build.

The 22,000 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions were offset by 110 per cent through a carbon offsetting scheme.

Case Study: Flooring

Greek strategy for grinding

The floor at a very narrow aisle warehouse in Greece was recently completed by Eurolit Industrial Flooring which represents Concrete Grinding in Greece.

The floor of the distribution centre, belonging to supermarket chain Masoutis, was built by Eurolit using Laser Screed construction to meet at least with Line 4 of the DIN 18202 – the strictest DIN free movement specification.

CG uses its Laser Grinder technology to grind the narrow aisles to a tolerance suitable for the VNA trucks to operate safely and efficiently.

A Profileograph survey showed that 46 per cent of the floor within the truck’s outer wheel tracks and 8.5 per cent of the centre wheel track required Laser Grinding to meet the specification.

CG aims to minimise the amount of grinding, as only the areas out of specification needed grinding rather than the full length of every aisle.

After grinding, a second Profileograph survey was carried out in every aisle and Face Consultants issued a report to the client to confirm compliance with the DIN 15185 >6m specification.

Logistics Manager, December 2011

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