It’s what you do with it

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Enhanced systems installed with an eye on strategy are changing the rules for storage, racking and shelving, says Johanna Parsons.

The key functions of any warehousing operation are to sort, store and send products as speedily, cheaply and safely as possible. The materials handling equipment, IT and of course people involved all influence the process, but the architecture of the operation often defines the parameters of success. And being some of the first, and most permanent installations, shelving and racking is what you can least afford to get wrong.

Of course these structural foundations have very basic functions. But they are absolutely critical, and there is considerable scope for pushing basic systems further.

“Shelving is shelving, and racking is still racking,” says Bob Jane, dynamic storage sales manager of SSI Schaefer. But he points out that with such simplicity, modular upgrades offer advantages, particularly for the operator with a more modest budget, “if clients can’t invest in a fully automated system, it’s a halfway house… a first step.”

Modular offerings are often cost effective, and can be added to as budget becomes available. SSI Schaefer’s dynamic systems are a good example. Using gravity to power movements involves not only a smaller outlay, but also considerably less energy costs.


“We’re enhancing these systems with accessories like containers, pull out drawer systems and hanging systems,” says Jane.

As always, determining which is the right kit will depend on many variables, and what each business’s priority is.

But it’s also what you do with it that counts. Competitive advantage is increasingly sought from the different ways to configure and install storage systems.

Speaking on behalf of SEMA, Mike Savage and Andy Barrie, both also of Apex Linvar, have plenty of advice on how to decide on the appropriate system: “Specifying storage systems is much more than choosing the right products for the job. How the system is designed, installed and managed in use is equally relevant.

“In terms of space requirements, once you’ve analysed all your forecasts and historical data, and factored in any projected changes, an analysis will enable you to determine the site and shape of your requirements.”

They say that this initial analysis should then be matched to the three, main order picking profiles of your business model across pallet, case and piece operations.

For example, more space is required for a pallet picking operation than simply for open floor storage.

Case picking operations need more ground-floor pick faces and less full-pallet picking faces and possibly, a case to pallet consolidation floor area as well.

Piece picking also requires more ground level pick faces and possibly a separate storage area to the main bulk storage area. These processes also require both packing and pallet consolidation areas on the warehouse floor.

Flexible mix

Getting the mix right is often the challenge, and that mix also has to be adaptable. “Our e-commerce clients have a requirement to pick and dispatch single items to individual customers – rather than store full pallet loads, so clearly the design of storage systems has to offer this flexibility while, at the same time, retaining elements of bulk storage,” says Tim Judge of RediRack.
E-commerce is defying all of its growth expectations, and pressure is mounting on supply chains to become lean and responsive, which all means that speed is a huge concern.

To that end, Bito has released a new modular pallet live system to complement its PRO pallet racking, which allows more pallets to be placed directly at the pick location, allowing different types of pallet in the same flow, and faster throughput times using a new pallet separator called M Stop.

With pallet live systems it is necessary to separate the pick face pallet from the rest of the line when retrieving pallets. This usually involves a spring loaded end stop at the pick face position connected to a pallet separator stop, which is designed to create a gap between the pallet at the pick face and the rest of the loads in the lane. This holds the pressure as the load lane fills and minimises pallet damage. When the pick face pallet is removed the separator automatically releases the second pallet and captures the third as the line moves forward.

With PRO Flow, the new M-Stop separator works like a single sided saloon swing door: when a pallet flows down the live storage lane it opens the door and up pops the stop behind the pallet to keep the next pallet in place. With the PRO Flow Stop it doesn’t matter what length the actual pallet is.

Multi-depth storage can be very effective, especially for a low SKU to storage volume ratio. And as an alternative to pallet live storage or drive in racking, Jungheinrich is offering Under Pallet Carrier and In Pallet Carrier systems which aim to give high density storage and good control.

“In simple terms, the UPC and IPC systems feature a ‘shuttle’ that travels along channels within the racking which is fitted with guide rails. The systems can operate in both LIFO and FIFO modes and also accommodate functionality that allows entire rack channels to be emptied with the simple push of a button,” says Craig Johnson, marketing manager at Jungheinrich.

Size matters

This reflects the importance of manoeuvrability, and the idea that as well as speed, space is the other major factor driving the market today.

The fastest system in the world will be no good unless it can handle the volumes, and the size of the building is the number one factor when considering the best system to go for, according to Jane. “I know it sounds obvious, but it does happen that people fill a building before they’ve even moved in.”

Demand is outstripping supply for industrial property and the continually changing market place is presenting a real puzzle for businesses who have to adapt. We no longer live in a world where we can buy buildings to suit our plans at the drop of a hat.

“There is an ever increasing demand especially in today’s economic climate to save and use space getting a return on their investment rather than incurring additional cost through purchasing larger premises,” according to Chris Moody, managing director of Advanced Handling and Storage.

And Leon Butler, general manager at Transdek UK, says: “For a wide range of businesses, from manufacturers and self storage companies to logistics operators and leading retailers, making the most effective use of storage space and ensuring easy, safe and cost effective access to these areas can deliver a significant ROI.”

But there are many different configuration options. Mezzanine floors for example, effectively extend a site’s footprint with no real estate spend.

Transdek, for example, is working alongside a home furnishing retail chain with a programme of refurbishment including extensive plans for mezzanine floors accessed via Transdek lifts.
Another retailer currently looking at its storage systems is John Lewis, which has just started constructing a second 675,000 sq ft build to suit DC which will be linked to its adjacent 650,000 sq ft shed at Gazeley’s Magna Park.

Dino Rocos, operations director of John Lewis explains that the two buildings are intended to act as a fully integrated facility serving stores, online orders and click and collect fulfilment.
The contract for kitting out the new site should have been agreed last month, but Rocos reveals that the final two contenders were offering very different storage solutions to addressing the same brief, in the same shell.

One involved a lot of high bay racking, conventional racking and a dynamic sorter, whereas the other option had no high bay racking, but a much larger dynamic sorter.

The first John Lewis site at Magna Park was fitted out by Knapp, with a predominantly bin-able system. It is also modular, with the retailer still commissioning equipment for this year’s peak, in which it will be processing some 200,000 orders each day from a range of 80,000 SKUs.

“With an ASRS of 30 aisles, we knew it’d be a challenge,” says Rocos about first putting that site into operation. But he says the solution was to be incredibly thorough with testing the kit before it went live.

“Every single motor, engine and gearbox was scrutinised… and we tested the conveyors for months with dummy runs, using stock levels as predicted for peak 2017.”

This is testing to a whole new level, factoring historical data and predictions for volumes, along with forecasts of demand for online and click and collect services.

With ever shorter lead times and tighter margins, some might see such extensive testing as an extravagance. But the real danger lies in when the unthinkable happens, and some disaster grinds activity to halt. However quickly it can be remedied, downtime is the ultimate disaster and testing against every eventuality is surely the safest route.

But it is also a realistic route. Sales volumes and demands for service are skyrocketing, and the economy is forcing ever tighter control of stock. So as the leading retailers demonstrate, it’s worth exploring all the options, and taking storage very seriously indeed.

Case study: Pharma firm automates storage with SSI Schaefer

Generic pharmaceutical manufacturer TEVA enlisted the help of SSI Schaefer when it switched from manual operation to an automotive distribution centre in Castleford, West Yorkshire.

The new site despatches over four million items per day.

It combines low level automation with more efficient smart storage systems, which have increased storage capacity, improved overall picking performance and sharpened efficiency and customer service levels while reducing labour overheads.

An ASRS has three cranes and 3,500 single deep storage locations working with pallet racking of some 21,000 storage locations, a pallet conveyor system, a 78 sort lane tote conveyor system and a pick-by-light system with 13 pick stations and 910 locations.

The racking is on a footprint of 125m by 53m, and is 12m high.

The whole operation is monitored and managed by SSI Schaefer’s WAMAS C warehouse control system.

John-Paul Bednarek, head of operations and service, said: “The automated storage and distribution facility enabled us to easily reduce our labour overheads by moving from a three-shift operation to two-shifts. Perhaps most importantly, the increased storage capacity allowed us to handle our immediate needs but also accommodates any future growth in the business with ease.”

Case study: Computer recycler racks up with Jungheinrich

IT disposal and recycling firm RDC has hired Jungheinrich to supply a narrow aisle pallet racking system with over 7,200 pallet locations.

The business is based in Witham, Essex, and previously used four different buildings. Moving to a single consolidated 340,000 sq ft facility set on a 22 acre site in Braintree allowed the company to effectively double its pallet storage capacity.

The firm’s racking is used to store a range of computer hardware which has been through the refurbishment process and is awaiting delivery to a new user.

Some 75 per cent of all the units collected by RDC are re-used with the remainder stripped down and recycled as raw materials.

The racking system is six levels high and the aisles are 2,250 mm wide which allows lift trucks to pick from the upper beams at the same time as workers picking faster moving lines from the ground and first floor levels.

The aisles are served by articulated forklift truck technology.

“We sought a racking supplier that could work around our initial design but could also work quickly and efficiently alongside other trades as we refurbished our new store,” explains Chris Garn, RDC’s head of customer services.

Jungheinrich’s racking comes with a two-year warranty against defects in quality and a five-year warranty against the steel structures themselves.

Garn said: “The project was completed on budget and ahead of schedule.”

Case study: Ice lolly savings stack up in automated pallet storage

Ice cream maker Fredericks Dairies makes products under licence for some of the largest brands in the food sector such as Cadbury’s, Del Monte, Vimto, Tate & Lyle, Britvic and Kraft.

Huge seasonal peaks for such a temperature sensitive product require large scale cold storage, and so cost and utilisation of the cube are a principal consideration.

The firm built a new 47,500 sq ft cold store extension at Simonswood and chose a new offering from RediRack’s automation division – RediTechniX – that promised 95 per cent cube utilisation.

An automated pallet storage, retrieval and sequencing system runs with a patented RediLogX pallet buffer and sequencer.

The system has five shuttles and five satellites serving five levels of storage, and can process some 600 pallets during an eight hour shift.

By leveraging the high storage density offered by automated shuttle technology, the RediShuttle system combines with the RediLogX pallet buffer and sequencing device to provide 80 per cent more storage space over a VNA system while reducing annual running costs by a similar amount.

“The RediRack system could give us 13,000 pallets in the same cube and payback would be much faster. The benefits clearly stacked up.

“We could see the high storage density would give us the lowest cost per pallet in terms of energy usage in chilling the cube and being a ‘black box’, with no lighting required, we could see further energy savings. Then, as the system is fully automated, we knew we could run the site on the same staffing levels,” said operations director Terry Haigh.

Safety: Deciphering the code

SEMA, the Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, is producing a comprehensive Code of Practice on Rack Protection which it hopes to publish in early 2014.

It recognises that traditionally guards for uprights were bolted to the floor to resist a single, specific energy but there is currently no defined test procedure. In addition, the market has also changed and a number of guards are now being fitted directly to the racking.

So the new SEMA Code will:

– specify where guarding is to be provided 

– embrace the change in types of guarding now on the market, and define the amount of energy that needs to be resisted. It will state amounts that are specific to varying specific faces and say where on the guard rack protection is to be applied 

– provide a specific test procedure and a method for analysing the results
It is also working on a code of practice for installation procedures which incorporates the changes in legislation such as Work at Height Regulations and Construction Design & Management Regulations, with the blessing of the HSE.


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