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Anyone can store goods – but it’s retrieving them efficiently that sets the gold standard, says Johanna Parsons.

The world is getting smaller for producers, retailers and consumers alike, and that means storage systems have to get bigger, or smarter. E-commerce is just one factor taking firms into new frontiers. As manufacturers look to shift between far and near shore suppliers, and as distribution models flex to meet international demand storage spaces and systems have to serve more people and in more ways than ever.

Across all sectors the pressure is always to do more faster, and for providing fast access to goods it’s impossible to ignore automated systems.

The German supplier of industrial tools and materials, Adolf Würth, recently invested 60 million euros in a new distribution centre with an automated system from KNAPP including two OSR Shuttle systems. This automated store features 252 shuttles operating in nine aisles and storing containers two-deep.

And when Bentley relocated its parts centre at Crewe in Cheshire, it decided on a system from TGW with five automated storage and retrieval machines to service the five aisles of warehousing and 60,800 storage locations within the new parts centre. The five 9m high Mustang mini-load ASR machines have rigid masts and telescopic handlers that can reach double deep into the storage rack maximising the use of space within the footprint.

Every warehouse operation involves storing goods, but traditionally, it was only certain sectors that could afford to treat storage and retrieval as an exact science. However, the advent of e-commerce has changed the face of retail, requiring a new degree of precision and wider stock profiles than ever before. So now, along with the pharma industry and manufacturing, it is retail that is fuelling developments.

One of the biggest sites being built at the moment in the UK is John Lewis’ second site in Magna Park. This constitutes 675,000 sq ft dedicated to fashion goods and the contract to design and install an automated system went to Dürkopp Fördertechnik, a member of the Knapp Group that specialises in the high speed sortation of single units for fashion e-commerce fulfilment.

Another firm taking heed of the significance of fashion retailing, is SDI Group, which has just launched a new hanging pouch sortation system in the UK, the MonaLisa, following a successful roll-out in Germany.

SDI won a £2 million, three-year contract with ASDA at the end of last year to maintain all three of its George at Asda’s UK automated distribution centres, in Brackmills, Washington, and the fashion focused site at Lymedale. At the Brackmills site the group will install a mezzanine floor extension, system modifications, LS900 Tilt-Tray Sorter and two additional ASRS cranes with modifications. As a result of that project, Asda has nominated the group for the service provider of the year in its in-house awards. Ant Everett, Asda’s head of network development, says: “As a retail business our focus is not engineering. Outsourcing maintenance to SDI Group allows us to focus on our core business, confident in the knowledge that our automated fulfilment operations will be run to close-on 100 per cent efficiency levels.”

Asda also chose BITO Storage Systems to install a Smart Slide shelving at its clothing depot in Lymedale, which is estimated to provide a 30 per cent saving on floor space. Efficiency and profit is the focus of any storage or distribution facility, but there’s one other factor that all operators must constantly bear in mind, and that’s safety. Of course a safe operation is an efficient operation, and no-one wants to put workers’ health and safety at risk. But how safe is safe? And how far should we go in protecting stock?

Currently there is some controversy over fire protection standards. There are calls for a review of the law that only warehouses over 20,000 square metres in size legally need to have sprinklers fitted. But operators will have a hard time weighing up the cost of such installations against the benefits.

Roger Williams, chief executive of UKWA, says: “There have long been demands for the mandatory installation of sprinkler devices within all new warehouses and, in some cases, for warehouse operators to be compelled to add them to existing facilities.

“Among the third party warehousing and logistics industry which UKWA represents, the words ‘sprinklers in warehouses’ usually raise eyebrows and any talk of ‘retrospective fitting of sprinklers in warehouses’ is guaranteed to get warehouse operators’ blood pressure creeping up.”

Williams reckons that more emphasis will be placed on preventing the escalation of a fire, and suppression systems will be used more widely because, as he points out, the Fire Service’s policy is to allow warehouse fires to extinguish naturally if the blaze does not present a threat to human life.

A more immediate threat to workers is the disturbing fact from SEMA that in the UK there is, on average, a racking collapse every week. “Fortunately most collapses don’t cause serious injury or fatality but prosecution under corporate manslaughter legislation remains a distinct possibility,” warns Jonathan Bennett, chairman of the SEMA Distributor Group. Bennett explains how even the most secure racking can become compromised over time by corrosion and seemingly incidental damage. So vigilant maintenance is essential.

“Staff need to be ‘safety aware’ and a protocol [needs to be]in place to report damage immediately, inspections weekly or monthly by a suitably qualified individual and to employ an external qualified rack inspector to undertake a six monthly or annual audit.”

On-going care and attention can seem a lot to ask on top of the challenges of running a busy warehouse. But considering the damage that can be done, and the value of a smooth running operation, taking care of your storage system is surely a small price to pay.

Case study: Making more space, in the same space

German tool manufacturer Mafell has carried out a retrofit project to expand storage capacity to accommodate a substantial increase in SKUs.

“In 2007 Mafell implemented a TGW automated mini-load warehouse with two aisles. Since then there have been a lot of changes at Mafell. The production stock is composed differently, the revenue of finished products has increased and processes in production and assembly have been adapted,” said Andrea Heinzelmann, project manager at Mafell.

The existing automated mini-load warehouse consisted of two aisles and was connected to the picking workstations via a conveyor loop.

An additional aisle created a further 8,000 tote storage positions on 20 levels along with an additional Mustang mini-load automated storage and retrieval machine with a Combi Telescope load handler, to prevent bottleneck situations in the warehouse.

In the new mini-load aisle, more than 50 double cycles are possible per hour, allowing 100 totes per hour along with a retrieval performance of 100 totes per hour and 50 relocations per hour.

This enables the expansion to fit within Mafell’s existing footprint.

Mafell’s picking system follows the “goods-to-person” principle. The first picking workstation is designated for the picking of distribution orders, the second picking workstation as a backup workstation or for storage “house-keeping” procedures and the third picking station for internal orders and replenishment.

Case study: Deep freeze for Orbiter pallet shuttle

Spalding-based T F Bowman and Son offers cold storage and recently with growing demand for improved service, responsiveness and availability seven days a week, it embarked upon a two-year programme of construction.

It became the first UK company to take on a tempering and blast freezing facility equipped with SSI Schaefer’s Orbiter pallet shuttle system.

SSI Schaefer recently completed a year-long project to design, manufacture and install automated pallet handling and storage systems for the firm.

T F Bowman and Son handles flowers, fruit, meat and other foods in ambient, chilled, blast-frozen, frozen and tempered conditions.

It worked with SSI Schaefer on designing facilities which would maximise storage capacity as well as providing safe freezer access.

There are three tempering chambers. One has been designed to work as a blast freezing chamber at -25oC. Each chamber is able to accommodate 52 pallet locations in four channels across two levels.

The pallets are automatically put away and retrieved using Schaefer’s Orbiter system, which makes human access to the chamber unnecessary.

SSI Schaefer also installed mobile pallet racking which provided high density storage for frozen products in 9,270 pallet locations.

In the end, the installation of the project was completed within 12 weeks.

The company now has 29 temperature-controlled stores capable of achieving -2°C to +20°C plus three freezer stores. The stores are accessed via 46 covered loading bays. They also have three ambient areas.

Managing partner Peter Bowman explains: “Thanks to SSI Schaefer we are now able to cater for long or short term frozen storage, as well as providing automated tempering facilities. This added to our existing services of temperature controlled storage, order collation and independent QA inspection of fresh produce.”

Safety: The SEMA quality assurance checklist

Are the HSE’s correct health and safety measures in place? Are risk assessments and method statements (RAMS) issued on every job?

Is the distributor company using only SEIRS trained and qualified installers?

Are projects correctly designed to the SEMA Code of Practice? Will the project be able to display a SEMA load notice?

Are you sure your racking is brand new?

Does the company have appropriate insurance policies and work to up to date industry standards and legislation?

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