Stacking up the challenges

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Storage systems are being pushed to new heights, but balancing demands of individual customer requirements is key, says Johanna Parsons.

The growth of e-retailing is pushing storage and retrieval systems to new heights, demanding ever faster and more efficient performance. But it’s not just retail that’s demanding better systems, and with sectors like automotive and manufacturing experiencing growth, investors in new technologies are coming from far and wide.

Batch picking is of course still a huge area where efficiency can drive profits, but one particular effect of the rise of e-retail in particular is the surge of smaller orders. The millions of online shoppers fuelling the growth of this market all tend to order individual items, which means millions more single picks.

Picking systems such as pick-to-light and voice picking have done well in this new environment, but it’s also given rise to new racking configurations. As well as narrow aisles and higher racks, there are also modular and retrofit systems emerging to adapt existing systems to often unpredictable online flows.

For example Nene’s Shelf Partition System which adapts racking to create smaller storage locations. Designed to fit any standard pallet racking or long span shelving, the system is suitable for use with all types of decking including wire mesh, galvanised steel, timber and chipboard.

It has two channel tracks fitted to the back panel of the system which act as runners, enabling individual dividers to be positioned according to the customer’s specific product requirements. “This flexibility maximises the volume within the Shelf Partition System thereby avoiding the wasted space that occurs with fixed divider systems,” says the firm.

Similarly Link 51 has launched a new trackless mobile shelving system. This design removes the need for fixed tracks, allowing unobstructed aisles and easy access for trolleys or steps, as well as removing trip hazards for pedestrian users.

Featuring just a single guide rail attached to the floor along the wall to keep the shelving unit aligned, this design feature means the floor can be reinstated with minimum effort if the shelving needs to be relocated.

The versatility of adjustable shelving systems is widely acknowledged throughout the retail industry as these systems offer very flexible solutions to overcoming the restrictions of limited space and the demand for lean operation.

Mike Alibone of SSI Schaefer says that he is seeing that for retailers, this is a challenge that goes beyond the warehouse, and the back of store has assumed greater importance in terms of being able to hold increasing volumes of stock for rapid access for shop floor replenishment.

“Maximising holding capacity in this area has become a prerequisite for many store managers,” he says. And that increasingly means a requirement for a flexible system.

“These systems are available in a range of sizes, including long-span, to accommodate almost all products from food items to non-perishable goods and they provide benefits in terms of simple and fast assembly and can be disassembled, rebuilt and expanded at any time.

“Add to this the mobility aspect with wheel-mounted standard shelving, or dedicated mobile shelving, then the challenges posed by back of store space restrictions become more manageable,” says Alibone.

He gives the example of one retailer, Bournemouth-based Consortium which organised and planned its own back of store layout and has recently purchased shelving from SSI Schaefer’s R3000 range, subsequently installing it as a self-assembly project.

Storage capacity right up to the roof can be achieved through multi-tier shelving where the design of the upright supports allows not only shelves to be hung from them, but also elevated walkways, which allow access to shelving at higher levels.

Edward Hutchison, managing director at BITO Storage Systems, highlights the problems at the other end of the scale, where because of online retailing, bulky goods requiring two-man delivery are now subject to end-user expectations for excellent delivery service and speed. This is putting extra pressure on storage operations, and some established working methods need revision, he says. “Despite the density that block stacking can provide, racking will lead to a greater space saving – perhaps by up to 30 per cent – because it optimises the warehouse cube more effectively.

“Giving each stillage its own location within racking allows stock to be mixed in random stock locations, which leads to much better use of the total space. With the racking taking over the load bearing (and thus height limiting) duties from block-stacked stillages, the full height of a warehouse can be used, enabling more than three levels high, provided there is sufficient roof space.”

Hutchison says that when designing racking to accommodate large storage units such as stillages, an experienced supplier can also make the most of any space by looking at the unit itself.

“This would involve calculating the possible volumes given by different heights to determine the stillage height that gives the desired number of levels and the optimum volume capacity. Making a small adjustment to the height of the stillages themselves (by shortening the legs) can contribute more space saving towards that extra level of locations,” says Hutchison.

And there are plenty of new offerings entering the market aimed at maximising storage and picking efficiency. Jungheinrich is launching two carousel-based storage and retrieval products: Jungheinrich Lift Racking and Jungheinrich Paternoster Racking.

Both the LRK and PRK systems are based on the goods-to-man principle and have been developed to offer space saving storage and efficient order picking.

Steve Richmond, director of Jungheinrich UK’s systems and projects division, says: “These new storage solutions complement our existing portfolio of intra-logistics products and services perfectly and can be integrated with equipment within our extensive intra-logistics systems range.”

And Snorkel has re-introduction its TM12 model name to mark the launch of the latest version of the popular 3.6m self-propelled telescopic mast lift, which now features an 0.5m roll-out extension deck as standard.

The Snorkel TM12 has a reverse concentric mast design to give a lift capacity of 227kg and an extremely stable work platform, even when fully elevated. Powered by dual front-mounted hydraulic motors, it also has a high amp hour rating, ensuring a long operating life between battery charges.

The roll-out deck, which has previously been available as an option, provides extra reach, which is ideal when working in retail and warehousing environments, allowing the operator to safely access areas above low level obstacles, such as shelving.

These changes brought on by new retailing models include at least one trend that’s influenced other sectors beyond retail. Automotive manufacturers are experiencing a shift towards customisation, with seemingly every car requiring bespoke elements. This of course increasingly requires automated access to a huge range of parts and components.

For example, the Volkswagen Centre in Fulda Germany showcases a range of vehicles from the VW, Skoda and Audi. With sales and after sales services for each brand kept entirely separate a brand new semi-automated parts stores was introduced last May on two levels.

Its warehouse logistics operation features SSI Schaefer’s multi-functional LogiMat storage lift. The parts are stored in modular shelving, cross-beam and mobile racking systems as well as in drawers. The LogiMat lift has 60 trays and is directly integrated with the other systems. It fulfils a range of functions: for example, it serves as a link between the levels, with one service opening at each level and it acts as an interim storage for picked items before they are retrieved. 

Waiting times

Philip Atzert, chief executive at the group’s VW Centre explains: “Because orders are pre-picked and stored in the lift for our employees, we cut waiting times at the collection point. It’s really smart.”

The idea of customisation does not just apply to the end user. Many firms are finding that customers require somewhat bespoke storage systems. For example, Dovecote Park the supplier of British beef to supermarkets required containers for use in its new automated cold store in Stapleton, North Yorkshire.

The firm selected Schoeller Allibert’s 180° Stack Nest trays, but Simon Knights of Schoeller Allibert says that while these are usually made of high density polyethylene, Dovecote Park required them to be manufactured from polypropylene for improved performance on the chilled automated conveyor systems.

The firm supplied an initial 32,000 180° Stack Nest containers to Dovecote Park, all in red PP which also featured the customer logo.

Peter Boyes, technical manager of Dovecote Park, said: “Compatibility with our new automated handling and racking systems were key when selecting containers for the cold store. The trays run well through both the automated system and the tray washing equipment we have installed.”

A decided side effect of the e-commerce boom and the rise of social media is that end users are more clued up as to what they want and what they can demand than ever before. But this increased level of expectation has been cascaded back through the supply chain, so that operators too now want individually tailored systems. Certainly the unprecedented growth of e-retail has put the focus on scalable systems and lean operations which make the right storage configurations more crucial than ever.


CASE STUDY: Installer training is paramount

The Storage Equipment Manufacturer’s Association’s requirement for installer training to be on-going in the storage equipment industry has been backed by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme.

Now in its 15th year, the Storage Equipment Installers’ Registration Scheme, SEIRS, is an ID card and registration system run by the industry’s lead body, SEMA.

Mike Tucker, chairman of SEIRS, says: “SEMA places health and safety at the heart of its agenda. The SEIRS scheme stands out because installers are obliged to keep up to date. That’s why we insist that all CSCS card holders installing storage equipment have current SEIRS qualifications.”


CASE STUDY: Fashion transition for Perry Ellis

Fashion manufacturer Perry Ellis is responsible for brands such as Farah Classic, Farah Vintage and Original Penguin. Its European business is located at Witham in Essex.

The facilities at Witham include a 56,000 sq ft distribution centre which was originally completely fitted out as a garment hanging facility, but had to be converted to take boxed products.

Distribution manager Tom Cole says the transition has been gradual. “It began with switching our incoming product from hanging to boxed ten months ago which helped to make the conversion a smooth process. Last year we changed our mezzanine floor to carton storage and recently the entire ground floor has been altered to flat pack too.”

LB Foster was chosen to install the longspan shelving system which now comprises over 80 per cent of the firm’s total storage capacity.

“The longspan shelving system they have installed maximises the available space in our facility and we can now store 820,000 units. This is an increase of more than 25 per cent on our previous capacity which brings down our overall operating costs,” says Cole.


CASE STUDY: Stylish storage for Sally Salon

Sally Salon Service, SBH UK & Ireland, is a distributor of professional hair and beauty products to both retail consumers and salon professionals. When it moved into a new national distribution centre to keep up with demand, it also required a full kit out, for which it turned to BITO Storage Systems.

BITO provided pallet racking and boltless shelving as well as pallet and carton live storage, integrated with a Dematic conveyor system. The firm also designed a multi-tiered mezzanine to house it.

The new live storage order picking area consists of two multi-tiered mezzanine structures that essentially mirror one another. Running down the width of the warehouse area they are linked at one end by a walkway. This structure gives SBH UK & Ireland three levels of live storage picking.

Between the two mezzanine structures are two pallet racks of bulk storage for replenishing the fastest moving stock on each run.

Each of the picking area’s three storeys features carton live picking on one side and pallet live on the other. The carton live has five levels of lanes that are 2.7m wide between uprights x 2.7m deep.

This gives 30-40 pick locations per bay, depending on the size of product. The roller tracks can be adjusted to suit the needs of capacity and stock profile.

Replenishment aisles either side of the two mezzanine runs allow man up forklifts to replenish the carton live on all three storeys, while reach trucks replenish the pallet live.

The far side of one of the mezzanine runs spreads out to provide an area for standard BITO Boltless Shelving.

Flanking both sides of the order picking mezzanine area are bulk storage areas where 13 aisles of BITO’s PRO Pallet Racking, just over 10m high, provides bulk storage in 2.7m wide x 900mm deep bays to house SBH’s mix of standard Chep and Euro pallets.

Ian Fleming, programme manager at SBH UK & Ireland, says: “This is a carbon copy of a design of the warehouses we run in the USA, although the US warehouses are typically much larger than the one at Walker Park.”

Originally printed in Logistics Manager 09/2014


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