Packaging Corner: Metal containers deliver durable automated storage
Metal containers are making inroads into smaller part storage areas where weight becomes a factor. This includes the construction of trays or pans used to organize parts in mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems.
Metal containers have long shown their mettle in bulk storage and processing applications, providing a tough, durable receptacle for heavy, dense parts and hot forgings. But metal is also making inroads into smaller part storage areas where weight becomes a factor. This includes the construction of trays or pans used to organize parts in mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), says Tom Troiano, concept engineering manager at Tiffin Metal Products.
“The metal pans can hold capacities up to 750 pounds without significant deflection of the bottom of the tray,” he says. “If the tray deflects more than a quarter of an inch, it could get jammed in the automated system and cause the entire AS/RS to go down. That strength provides a significant advantage over plastic totes.”
Pans are commonly made of galvannealed 16- or 18-gauge steel to accommodate the deflection limits required by the application. With footprints typically measuring 24 x 48 inches, the pans can be anywhere from 4.5 to 18 inches high, depending on the size of the product stored inside, says Troiano.
Metal pans are also ideal for use in frozen food mini-load AS/RS applications because the metal maintains its strength and durability properties at cold temperatures, adds Ron Myers, Tiffin’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Additionally, the metal pans can be engineered to be sub-dividable with up to 32 or more individual storage areas in a single tray for enhanced storage and organization.”
Although metal containers are traditionally more expensive than plastic, increases in the cost of resin and advances in automated spot-welding have made them much more competitive, explains Troiano. “With a multiple-head spot welding machine that is loaded and unloaded robotically, the pans can be created much more cost-effectively than in the past.”
Further, says Myers, with more companies condensing warehouse operations and expanding their use of automated storage, the longer lifespan of a metal pan makes it more attractive from a return on investment perspective. “Metal stands up to the constant insertion and extraction into and out of an AS/RS, making it more durable in the long run than plastic.”
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