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Making sense of production storage

4 mins read

Which storage solutions are best suited to making the best use of space and providing the most efficient order picking for manufacturers? Edward Hutchison, Managing Director of BITO Storage Systems considers some of the options.

Manufacturing often involves highly complex intralogistics operations for a smooth flow of parts, materials or ingredients from the warehouse, through production and onto the finished goods storage.

Just In Time (JIT) supply of parts, semi-finished products and raw materials to machines or individual workstations is likely to be required throughout the entire production process. Efficient order picking of those parts  is a vital function and will require the right storage solution to hold sufficient volumes of stock to ensure production lines keep moving, with the ultimate aim of reducing the production lead time. Storage will also be required for finished goods – particularly if the manufacture needs to support a direct to consumer ecommerce operation.

Determining what kind of storage is needed will depend on a variety of factors such as stock profile, investment costs of the racking installation, handling/transport costs per item, the quantity of items retrieved per unit of time, optimum utilisation of the available headroom and footprint of the storage area.

It is important that parts and materials are kept safe and secure for order picking to maintain the integrity of the product being made. There is broad range of plastic bins and containers for this purpose, with many options particularly suited to holding small parts and giving easy access to pickers. In addition these containers make excellent pick totes into which orders can be placed as they travel round the various pick faces before being sent to despatch.

A simple solution, which is particularly suitable for smaller operations, would be to store containers on galvanised boltless shelving that can be configured to need. Inclined shelving units will further improve access to goods. For bigger parts or greater amounts of small parts, large Euro stacking containers provide an order picking solution without the need for shelving. Manufacturers that need to step their production up a gear, can move on to wide span shelving, pallet racking or live storage.

Going live

Carton and pallet live flow storage racking provides concentrated storage and pick faces within a given footprint for fast-moving items that have to be supplied to the line regularly. Sufficient replenishment quantities can be accommodated to avoid down time during order picking, which can hold up production.

Goods are fed into the system on one side of the flow rack and retrieved on the other. They run independently through the flow lane due to an inclination of the lane’s roller conveyors. The FIFO (First In, First Out) principle guarantees optimum batch monitoring, making it particularly suitable for manufacturing involving perishable goods with expiry dates, such as food or medicines. Adding simple, complementary technologies such as pick-to-light and voice picking, will further improve accuracy and throughput speed.

Live storage can show savings of up to 70% in travel time compared to conventional shelving, and up to 30% in occupied floor space. If there is not space available in a factory to install a bank of live storage, then storage density and order picking performance can still be improved by fitting flow lanes in the lower bays of existing pallet racking.

Conventional storage

Pallet racking and conventional shelves are suitable for storing slower-moving goods with Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) racking providing a space efficient solution for holding general parts. While this is a pretty standard racking configuration, individual operations will require specific solutions, such as the type of decking to support the load units in the racking. Parts and materials can arrive at the warehouse on a variety of load carrying unit types and sizes. It often pay to have decking such as a heavy-duty mesh, which can accommodate whatever needs to be stored.

A high-rise narrow aisle structure will make good use of vertical capacity and efficient use of floor space. Man-operated stacker cranes or order picking trucks allow picking of smaller unit loads from all racking levels. Guide rails and inductive steering ensure that service vehicles always keep the ideal distance to the installation. VNA trucks work in aisle widths of between 1.6 and 2 metres, and generally operate to a height of approximately 15 metres. Going higher requires broader trucks and therefore wider aisles. High bay automated warehouses served by stacker cranes generally create the highest density solutions and provide solutions but requires a greater investment.

Shuttle racking provides a high storage density storage alternative. Battery-powered and remotely controlled by an operator, a shuttle moves pallets to the back and to the front of a channel, which can be as long as needed. The channels do need an incline, which helps to optimise roof space.

Heavier and slow moving products can be stored in conventional wide aisle racking and picked using reach trucks. Double depth pallet racking accommodates two pallets stored one behind the other. This improves volume utilisation, saving up to 25% of storage space in a warehouse compared to one pallet depth. For long loads there is cantilever racking.

More ways to optimise space

Housing small items in multiple storeys above ground level will make good use of the warehouse height. Mezzanines are often used to house small parts but they will require a concrete floor that can handle the resulting point loads. Multi-tiered shelving supported by uprights can create a structure that will spread loads evenly across a slab, using a mezzanine for the lighter-duty purposes such as access to the upper shelving tiers and providing a walkway around the pick faces of the multi-tier tower.

If goods do not need to be retrieved in a specific sequence then drive-in racking is an option for efficiently and safely storing and retrieving huge stock volumes. This is particularly relevant for large volumes of the same line item, pressure-sensitive goods and unstable pallet loads, where LIFO will suit.

An alternative space optimising option is to install mobile pallet racking, where the rack moves to open up a single aisle at the required location. It can improve storage capacity by up to 200 per cent on the same footprint or reduce floor space occupation by 50 per cent, however pickers must wait for the racks to move and the aisle to open up. This makes it more relevant for items that are not picked frequently.

Push-back pallet racking is similar in configuration to live storage, with flow lanes mounted at a slight incline. Pallets are stored in LIFO order by pushing them into the lane. When retrieving a pallet, all other pallets will move gravity-driven one position forward to the lane front.

Ultimately, what is required to provide and successfully install a comprehensive storage solution is a supplier with a broad portfolio of intralogistics products and design experience to create the right scheme. As a storage technology expert, BITO develops complete storage systems for production and intralogistics. Everything from shelving to multistorey systems to flow-through picking racks can be implemented. Automated shelving, order picking systems and container solutions are also part of the company’s portfolio. Having a complete, one-stop shop solution ensures that all of these elements work together harmoniously, allowing a warehouse to efficiently support production lines.