Storage: A conventional approach to an everyday problem
I may have been an English major with limited mechanical ability, but I love watching machines at work. It’s one of the reasons I get a kick out of shows like ProMat. It’s also a reason I like writing about automation.
When you talk on a daily basis to companies that are implementing automation in their DCs, its easy to think that automation is the solution to every company’s productivity and efficiency problems. For that reason, the day I spent last week at Scott Miracle-Gro’s plant and warehouse in Marysville, Ohio was a gentle reminder that sometimes, simple solutions are best.
The Scotts’ facility I visited was the epitome of a plant that manufacturers seasonal products in big batch runs, builds up a warehouse full of inventory - about 850,000 square feet worth in this case - and then ships like a demon in a short window. In the case of Marysville, the season runs from about April through August. During that period they’ll ship as many as 6,000 pallets a day.
You’d think that’s the kind of operation that would be ideal for some type of automated storage solutions and lots of conveyor. I certainly did. To the contrary, there wasn’t a stick of pallet rack or conveyor to be found. In the plant, product is automatically bagged, palletized and stretch wrapped. After that, its lift trucks and 850,000 square feet of concrete. Instead of rack, Scotts employs something it calls pyramid stacking to floor stack pallets of finished goods five pallets high.
I asked my tour guide if the company had ever thought of high-density pallet rack or an AS/RS. “We had some rack in here years ago but took it out,” he told me. “Floor storage works really well for us and there’s no expense associated with equipment or maintenance.”
What’s really important to the efficiency of the Marysville facility is the uptime of its lift trucks, since it operates 24/7 during the season. For that reason, Scotts has has invested in a preventative maintenance program with its lift truck supplier. Keeping it simple has paid off. “I can’t remember the last time we had to rent a lift truck to keep us going because one of our regular fleet was down for repairs,” my guide said.
I love automation. But its important to remember how many in our industry are still running efficient and productive warehouses with the conventional tools of our trade.