3 looks at specialized storage

From cramped quarters to consumer demands, these case histories highlight how the right mix of storage systems can prove critical to overcoming business challenges.

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Homogeneous storage systems are a thing of the past. It’s the rare instance when all of an operation’s inventory handling needs are well served by endless rows of selective rack or shelving from a catalog. As other technologies improve picking, slotting and productivity in warehousing and distribution applications, specialized support structures play a central role in boosting throughput, safety and efficiency.

“What we have found is that over the years warehousing has been viewed as a difficult necessity for those who manufacture,” says Lawrence Eastman, president of Twinlode. “Their focus has always been on how rapidly they can manufacture, package and get product out to the warehouse and out the door. It turns out that the right choice of rack or shelves can have a big impact on each of those goals.”

Cory Hypes, executive vice president for Power Automation Systems, agrees, adding that the problem was particularly bad in cold storage applications. The considerably larger expenses of warehousing in these environments drove many to third-party logistics providers (3PL). Whether client or consumer, each wants lower costs and greater services. “Those services include more frequent deliveries, from truckloads to half truckloads, or maybe just a few pallets once a week,” says Hypes. “Those pressures impact the warehousing component, which is now the focus.”

Here is a look at how three companies, from retail to manufacturing, solved their storage needs with a customized rack and shelving solution.

Repurposed and customized rack systems boost each-handling capabilities
Retailer serves new channel with narrow aisles capable of pallet storage or broken-case picking.
A traditional retailer’s warehouse was accustomed to the push model, exercising near total control over store locations’ inventory while storing and shipping primarily pallets. To support 800 retail stores as well as new direct-to-consumer shipments—a dramatic shift in the organization’s business model—the facility deployed a series of dense yet flexible rack and shelving systems.

Previously, the 700,000-square-foot facility had used traditional beams and frames in wider aisles, pulling pallets with lift trucks and picking with pallet jacks. Although some new specialty rack and shelving equipment was installed, many of the existing structures were able to be repurposed. Some of the new, very narrow 60-inch aisles were configured with beams with wire decks for each picking with man-up order selectors.

“Moving from standard to narrow aisles like this is a common shift,” says Jim Johnson, president of Speedrack Products Group. “They can get more out of the cube, but the main goal is changing the product flow.”

This facility still features a traditional area of reserve storage that only moves and stores unit loads. When pallets arrive at the new case-picking areas, Johnson says, some of the repurposed conventional racking functions more like shelving or a specialized pick module. In places, a hybrid cantilever solution allows people to pick from shelves with no front column to break up the continuity. The shelving can now accommodate pallets, partial pallets or individual cartons.

“This allows the retailer to configure an aisle any way they like,” Johnson says. “Dynamic slotting is absolutely impacting rack design, and not just at this facility. It’s driven by the customer’s desire to have the fewest amount of restrictions to putting SKUs wherever they want.”

Dynamic slotting and storage configuration is paired with the rack equipment’s ability to transition from pallet rack to shelving and back again, Johnson says, whereas “shelving will always be shelving.” The customer can now convert the bottom two rows to shelving while placing reserve storage above, for instance. Because the environment includes narrow aisles and much more piece picking, subtle changes to the racking have improved the effectiveness of rack labels. Johnson says a curved front bar allows labels to be placed facing upward or downward depending on the picker’s eye level. Slight recessions in these curved faces also keep the labels protected from damage.

“They have changed the way they do business,” says Johnson, “and they’re not the only ones. We’ve been trying to customize and specialize our products to meet a shifting mentality in the market.” Johnson says that mentality is centered on dynamic systems needed to address challenges like multi-channel fulfillment.

In all, about 30% of the building’s pallet storage and picking areas were converted to unit-level storage. Productivity for size-level replenishment his since doubled.

Rack-supported AGVs mean zero touches from production to shipping
Food and beverage manufacturer sees one-year ROI with automated system built around conventional racking.
A natural foods manufacturer’s California warehouse once stored food and beverage products and ingredients in standard aisles, using a fleet of forklifts to move pallet loads. In the summer of 2013, the company broke ground on a new automated warehouse using a unique storage system that requires no lift trucks until product is loaded onto outbound trailers.

The new automated warehouse was built in an empty lot on the other side of a two-lane highway. This new warehouse was connected to a campus housing a production facility, with a conventional warehouse that had run out of space, by a bridge. Despite the highway separating the two facilities, the 90-foot, rack-supported addition enabled a connection to the production facility the existing warehouse could not, according to Cory Hypes, executive vice president for Power Automation Systems, which designed and built the new automated system.

“It took about a quarter of the square footage to achieve the same number of storage locations as a traditional warehouse,” Hypes says. Before the addition, the existing methodology was floor stacking with no racking. Double stacking often resulted in damage, and there were significant transportation costs associated with moving product from production to the outside warehouses. As business grew, the facility installed selective racking then experimented with pallet flow and pushback racking. “As time went on,” says Hypes, “the space was not sufficient even with those technologies.”

An automated system using automatic robotic carts serves as transportation across the covered, enclosed bridge between the production and automated storage facilities. An operator does not touch the product after production, at which time it is automatically wrapped, transported over the bridge and stored across the street, says Hypes. There, one employee manages automation controlling 8,900 pallet positions.

The new facility uses a variety of customized racking materials (Steel King, steelking.com) to interface with the automation technologies. With automatic vehicles transporting unit loads, some changes were required in the rack technology, which typically works with forklift operators capable of making small adjustments when pulling and putting pallets. Now the automation needs to make those minute adjustments and position itself to avoid damaging product or racking.

“The connection of production to the storage system offers a lot of benefits, but taking the investment in the bridge aside, the storage itself had a high enough return on investment to justify the project,” says Hypes, who suggests the system would have provided an ROI even if the customer still had to manually load, unload and transport product.

“The customer used to pre-stage orders and get them ready several hours before a truck arrived,” Hypes says. “Now they wait until the truck arrives, and it’s gone in 30 minutes. They’ve seen space savings, improved accuracy, boosted service levels—all with an ROI in less than 12 months.”

Pallet rack system designed for double handling eases the pressure
Manufacturer prevents warehouse congestion from shutting down production.
Inside a food and beverage manufacturer’s warehouse, pallets of product used to be floor-stacked four high. The company noted an increase in product damage amid a sudden reduction in the strength of product packaging—a problem made worse by the need to handle pallet loads multiple times. At first, the company attempted to stack “2.5” high, with one pallet bridging two columns of two. The reduction in capacity congested the warehouse to a point that would occasionally shut down the manufacturing line, the pattern was not the best usage of double pallet handlers, and there was no meaningful reduction in product damage.

Because the 30-foot tall facility was landlocked, the company considered an outside warehouse and the associated logistics costs. Instead, it installed four rows of double-wide, drive-in pallet racking. The new system is designed for first-in, first-out (FIFO) storage and retrieval with 14,000 pallet positions and fewer aisles. Because the system eliminates an upright for every pallet position, there is less damage to the rack and approximately 35% more storage space.

“The new system makes for much denser storage, but the best part is the customer’s ability to get pallets in and out of the warehouse as fast as possible,” says Lawrence Eastman, president of Twinlode. “Before, if they were not able to store product quickly, they would shut down production. When you have hundreds of bottles filled per minute, that’s costly downtime. It’s as big a problem as you can get.”

Throughout the facility, the racking varies from five to 13 pallets deep. With additional space and selectivity, the company was able to eliminate a staging and buffering area at the dock. Products now move two at a time straight from storage to the truck. Eastman says it now takes about half the time it once did to load a truck.

The project also included approximately 700 pallet locations of single-width rack for packaging and other materials stored and consumed in-house. The new racking systems replaced less organized floor stacking to turn a cramped environment into one with capacity to spare.

The racking also now includes components (Hannibal Industries, hannibalrack.com) that are lift truck impact-resistant and rated for seismic zones. Eastman says the rack system’s modular construction saved significant transportation costs, simplified installation and repair and will be less complicated to reconfigure in the future.

Companies mentioned in this article
Hannibal Industries: hannibalrack.com
Power Automation Systems: powerautomationsystems.com
Speedrack: speedrack.net
Steel King: steelking.com
Twinlode Corporation: twinlode.com

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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