Warehouses and distribution centres can eliminate double handling and substantially reduce the movement of stock around a warehouse by using pallet and carton flow racks, reveals Ed Hutchison, MD of Bito Storage Systems
Double handling. These are two words to avoid if you wish to make your warehouse operations as efficient as possible. It’s not just about saving time but money also because the more you handle a product in a warehouse, the more it will cost you.
One of the main operations leading to double handling is the common practice of taking the pallet loads of stock arriving at goods in to a buffer storage area where they are held in pallet racking until the product is required to replenish the pick face. This requires the pallet to be retrieved and moved again and there you have it, double handling. The problem is accentuated for fast moving product, which will fly off the order picking shelves and require regular replenishment from buffer stock.
The problem is that many pick areas using traditional adjustable pallet racking (APR) or shelving will not have sufficient space to accommodate all of the stock arriving at goods in directly at the pick location and will have to rely on regular replenishment to keep up with the order pickers to ensure they have a constant supply of product.
Even with double deep APR, an enormous amount of floor space would typically be required to accommodate all of this stock at the pick location, which is clearly even less efficient. Furthermore, it would likely result in pick faces for a single SKU occupying a large section of an aisle, leading to greater travel distances and times for order pickers.
However, if a pick face can be designed to allow an entire delivery arriving at goods in to be accommodated directly at the pick location, this will eliminate the undesirable practice of double handling.
The most effective way to do this and concentrate the stock into a small area is to increase the density of the storage at the pick location by using flow racks. Carton live or pallet flow storage systems enable enough stock to be located in a small area to keep pickers going for longer periods. They help ensure a constant supply of stock at the pick face, thereby avoiding the frustration of pickers waiting for replenishments to arrive.
A typical pallet live system, for example, holds five pallets in a flow lane. The pallets are fed into the lane from behind and as soon as a pallet is emptied of product it is removed. The picker then simply pulls a lever on the flow system to bring a fresh pallet of product to the front of the pick face. A traditional racking system would require a lift truck to bring a fresh pallet, while a double deep system would require the lift truck to push the one extra pallet to the front as well as delivering a new pallet from buffer.
Pallet flow racks are useful for picking large quantities of single small products that are very fast moving. Here the pickers can pick from a whole pallet box load of such a product.
Carton flow racks will require the pallets to be broken down into cartons but a flow rack that is, for example, five metres deep, will have the capacity to hold multiple cartons in a lane. Five beds of carton flow racks can easily be accessed at ground level picking. Designing the lanes so that they can accommodate cartons of various sizes will give companies the versatility to alter their stock profile according to seasonal peaks, ensuring the fastest moving stock is in the best position in the warehouse to allow the quickest order picking.
Flow racks are fed with pallets or cartons from the back to travel down the gravity flow lane on rollers. This allows a structure to be designed to form a replenishment only aisle at the back, thus keeping the picking aisle free from lift trucks and, therefore, the replenishment aisle, free from pedestrians. This not only improves safety but reduces hold-ups in operations.