Warehouses are changing faster than ever, driven by the growth of e-commerce, automation and even robotics. And that is changing the way racking and shelving is used.
Racking is such a common feature of warehousing that it is all too easy to take it for granted. But the choice of racking will have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of warehouse operations, so getting it right is critical.
Steve Richmond, director of logistics systems at Jungheinrich, says: “There is a vast choice, but the right solution for any particular business will be affected by a number of considerations. First and foremost, safety should be central to all warehouse design, and an optimised layout is vital to minimising the risk of on-site accidents.”
Edward Hutchison, managing director of BITO Storage Systems, points out that adjustable pallet racking (APR) is the most common form of racking, and offers a suitable solution for companies seeking a standard pallet storage system.
“You will often see these being used today to store pallets in bulk to replenish pick shelves. To maximise the footprint, drive-in racking would probably be double the cost of APR per pallet but increases the density of storage. Mobile racking would increase storage density further at a cost of up to about four times that of drive-in. Push back racking would fall between the two in cost terms. Pallet live racking, which offers dense storage at a pick face for efficient order picking would also require a fourfold increase over APR investment but, of course, offers vast improvements in terms of order picking efficiency,” says Hutchison.
Richmond points out that for many organisations, the warehouse is coming under pressure from growing consumer demand since the e-commerce boom. “This has triggered a greater need for warehouse increased space and flexibility which, coupled with increasing land costs, has made expanding vertically a very viable solution. Narrow aisle racking systems have long been a popular alternative among many retailers and 3PLs; the warehouse can be built up rather than out, while less floor space is required for aisles.”
The role of shelving in the warehouse is highlighted by Luke Simons, sales manager at Storeganizer. “Shelving is selected based on the storage environment as well as size, load and velocity of stock keeping units held in the inventory. A typical warehouse environment is suited to pallets and pallet racking, however, with the rise in e-commerce and rapid fulfilment, invariably they also require smaller pick faces to satisfy smaller and single-item orders.
“In this environment, Storeganizer saves large amounts of floor space which, in turn greatly increases operational efficiency by providing a dense array of easily accessible pick faces while reducing the pick path, picking errors and under-use space,” says Simons.
The growth of automation is also having an impact on storage decisions. Dagan Hyde, spokesperson for SEMA’s technical committee, says: “ Automation is currently playing a large part in the logistics process, it is essential that current and future requirements are considered in this process as the lack of flexibility can be very unforgiving in the long run.”
Richmond takes up the point: “With expanding SKU profiles and demands for the reduction in fulfilment times, “future proofing” a design to possibly include some form of automation in future should always be considered.
“Such advancements in technology are very much underpinning the opportunity to build racking higher and unlock even more vertical space, with lift ability of very narrow aisle trucks continuing to rise.”
And Hutchison highlights the fact that when installing any kind of automation, it is important to pay attention to the design of the racking. The racking will require uprights in a range of widths to allow optimum adaptation to different load requirements and building constraints. Beams that can be adjusted in small increments will allow, with careful design, the maximum utilisation of the full building height.
“If the performance benefit of an automated system is to be realised, it will require racking that can meet the fine tolerances required, both in the manufacture and installation, for a stacker crane to run smoothly, with trouble-free operation and maximum safety. The bins and racking should be designed fit snugly into the bays without wasting space yet still move smoothly during put-away or retrieval,” says Hutchison.
“Sourcing bins and racking separately can increase the risk of jams, causing disruption to operations. A single source supplier, which manufactures shelving and racking systems as well as bins and trays will be able to supply specially designed bins and trays that have been perfectly adapted to automated racking and stacker crane conditions and meet the requirements of the system. For example, BITO XL series stacker containers, KLT small parts containers, and trays made from steel sheet or polypropylene, all meet the requirements of automated bin storage and are suited for any application,” says Hutchison.
However, points out Dagan Hyde: “Automation is great as long as it works. Quality installation, regular maintenance and the ability to sort out stoppages quickly without a full shutdown of the system is key. This applies to the racking and shelving support structures as well as the mechanicals and electricals fitted to it.”
And Simons makes the point that automated solutions are expensive to acquire, and “the on-going costs of their maintenance and (sometimes even more expensively) downtime, add up to what can be an eye-watering investment. Storeganizer is kinetic powered, with no maintenance required and therefore also no downtime. Storeganizer solutions are delivered with a ten-year manufacturer guarantee and no associated on-going costs – meaning users see the benefits and returns sooner than when compared to other solutions,” he says.
Richmond advocates a holistic approach.“There is no doubt that incremental gains can be achieved by opting for changes in design or configuration of racking and shelving systems. However, this alone cannot deliver the accuracy, responsiveness and efficiency required today in comparison to those organisations that embrace a holistic and business led approach to their warehouse design.
“Return on Investment is of course an important consideration for companies, which has, until now, driven a trend towards mid-level automation projects that can demonstrate rapid ROI. Many users are also choosing to employ hybrid systems for partial automation. Each warehouse is different, so for some this might be the perfect solution, for which it’s our obligation to offer best practice advice. There have been occasions, for example, when we have consulted to a customer who believed they required a fully automated system but that, after spending some time reviewing and analysing their operational needs, were recommended a manual or semi-automated solution instead,” says Richmond.
“However, risk of significant capital expenditure and ROI over extended periods should no longer be a factor for companies to base this decision on. Recent developments have made automation scalable and flexible and, as a result, return on investment times are cut significantly. This includes pay back of the initial investment in terms of the increased throughput and efficiency gained from a bespoke and integrated materials handling equipment, racking and warehouse management solution, as well as the opportunity it brings for adapting and future proofing processes in the years to come,” says Richmond.
Key factors in keeping workers safe
Safety is an essential consideration in warehouse design and operations. Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond believes that all aspects of the warehouse’s layout, equipment, material flow and the movement and interaction with personnel must be taken into account to ensure safe installation and use of racking and shelving. “Solutions should be designed only after the warehouse has been fully surveyed. The suitability of the floor, for example, will need checking, at which point it may also be appropriate to consult with civil contractors. Likewise, it’s imperative that all employees are provided extensive training for safe use of the racking, shelving and materials handling equipment.”
SEMA’s Dagan Hyde highlights the fact that consideration must be given to how the system needs to operate, who will be using it and their level of competence. “Access, clearances, locations of items required can prevent bottlenecks, congestion and potentially unsafe situations at the drawing stage, rather than after the system has been installed. Achieving the quality and accuracy of build without endangering installation staff or others in the area requires first class training and supervision – Only use SEIRS qualified installers.”
Safety accessories should not be overlooked, says BITO’s Edward Hutchison. “These accessories might include upright protectors, column guards, back stops, back cladding, level decking. Upright protectors are particularly important in the increasingly popular narrow aisle configuration where articulated lift trucks risk contact with racking during manoeuvre within the confined space.”
Luke Simons of Storeganizer says: “One of the key safety issues we find are that loads must be supported by the actual racking and beams. It sounds simple, however sometimes Storeganizer creates over 1000 pick faces in each racking bay, so we ensure that the load capacities are clearly communicated. Load notices are installed with Storeganizer bays to allow easy communication of this point.”
Making the investment pay
It’s hardly surprising that return on investment is a key factor in the decision making process. SEMA’s Dagan Hyde points out that specific storage solutions can reduce warehouse, labour and MHE costs by up to 70 per cent, in many cases ROI can be achieved in less than 12 months. “The key to success is to involve specialists at the earliest possible time to evaluate the business requirements and implement the best total solution.”
BITO’s Edward Hutchison says that for most integrated automated storage and retrieval systems, return on investment remains a matter of years rather than months. “An ROI of months is a more realistic proposition from carton or pallet live storage, which offers a mid-way solution in terms of density and efficiency between standard APR and automated storage systems.”
Storeganizer’s Luke Simons says speed and amount of return on investment are both factors that are considered and measured by customers. “We have seen customers save over 75 per cent of their floor space and 25 per cent of the costs of their picking operation, just by incorporating Storeganizer into their picking environment.”
This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, March 2018