Imagine walking into a warehouse and the first thing you notice is pallets are turned upside down and beverage bottles and cans are strewn over the floor. You are operating in a disorganized mess. Fortunately, because of the array of warehouse technologies, this nightmarish image is highly unlikely.
Everything from racking systems to sorting conveyors, printers and scanners, and retrieval systems keep warehouses up to date on new technology, resulting in better organization.
Westfalia Technologies Inc., York, Pa., offers a variety of organizational technologies companies can use to move from a conventional warehouse to a fully automated one.
“We try to educate them and bring them step-by-step to the right level because we cannot always expect to build a complete new warehouse when you are not, let’s say, familiar with the automatic processes,” says Juergen Conrad, director of sales for Westfalia Technologies Inc.
Conrad says the company’s Automated Storage & Retrieval System (AS/RS) is used most often in the beverage industry. The AS/RS features two Storage/Retrieval machines operating in one aisle of the warehouse, each capable of handling two pallets at a time. Each machine can store and retrieve up to 120 pallets per hour with horizontal speeds up to 1,000 feet per minute for unit loads.
The AS/RS also is environmentally friendly and has a lower cost of construction and a sustainable energy cost savings of 30 percent or more, the company says. The equipment maximizes available storage space, which leaves additional capacity to handle new customers.
Conrad says that in order to be efficient warehouse operators need to know exactly where their products are located so forklift drivers are not driving around searching for products. The company’s Savanna.NET Warehouse Management Software (WMS) provides an easy way to track and locate product loads, he says.
“All the products are tracked on the Savanna.NET Warehouse Management system,” Conrad says. “It’s all scanned and then noted in our system – the place and where to pick it up. And based on that, there is storage rhythm.”
“You have all your products arrive at the right time, in the right amount, and sent out in the right timeframe window that the customer can expect their order the next day,” Conrad adds.
Two at a time
Twinlode Corp., Salinas, Calif., offers warehouse storage solutions such as Twinlode Drive and Racking in which pallets can be racked two at a time.
“Years ago there was no racking developed to handle loading and unloading two pallets at a time,” says Mike Klaer, vice president of sales at Twinlode Corp. “We designed and patented Twinlode so you pull off your production line two pallets at a time, you store your warehouse two pallets at a time, you load trucks two pallets at a time, you do everything two pallets at a time.”
By moving and storing two pallets at a time, half the forklifts are required, which results in cost and labor savings, he says.
Klaer says a proliferation of SKUs has occurred, forcing beverage warehouses to accommodate the increasing numbers. In addition, many retailers are demanding mixed pallets rather than full pallets, which means products must be pulled off existing pallets and mixed to create customized shipments.
“They are racking the pick areas, which is where they’re picking cases of pop to send to gas stations and grocery stores, instead of sending a full pallet load,” Klaer says. “Years ago, they had a hundred [SKUs]. Now they’re upward of five or six hundred. It will probably be a thousand in a few years.”
Using racking in a warehouse does a good job of eliminating the need for outside storage, he says.
“If you don’t rack your warehouse, chances are you’ll be in outside storage,” Klaer says. “Outside storage means you have to transport pallets of beverages from your production facilities down the street or miles away, and those increased fuel costs are making that very cost prohibitive.”
Wireless and handheld solutions
Zebra Technologies Corp., Vernon Hills, Ill., specializes in printing and automatic identification solutions. In July, the company announced the launch of its G-Series line of thermal desktop printers.
The G-Series is available in both direct thermal and a combination of direct thermal/thermal transfer versions. The printers also are compatible with Zebra’s multiple ribbon and label combinations.
“Our printers print what’s a typical four-by-six shipping label, and that label can be used to scan a barcode that’s stuck to the pallet, and scanned into the inventory management system of that particular warehouse,” says Bob Danahy, director of desktop, mobile and wireless technology for Zebra Technology.
RFID technology has been added to the new G-Series printers, which allows scanning of the products from a much greater range. RFID technology scans and identifies the product and moves it into the inventory system. This process works more rapidly and efficiently than scanning each item individually, Danahy says.
The GX Model of the G-Series can print 6 inches of label per second and also has wireless connectivity options including 802.11g, Bluetooth wireless and 10/100 Ethernet, the company says.
Zebra recently previewed its P4T, a mobile printer that features both wireless technology and RFID printing and coding capability. The product is expected to launch in November, Danahy says.
All of the wireless technologies offered from Zebra help ensure an efficiently run warehouse, he adds.
“Being able to quickly move throughout the warehouse is something we’re really focused on â€” being able to quickly mark and identify orders that are going to be shipped out, being able to control where those products are going to go â€” all of that is facilitated by barcoding and RFID,” Danahy says.
It’s all about the application
FKI Logistex, St. Louis, offers a range of warehouse technology solutions. The company manufactures and supplies equipment such as palletizers, sorters and conveyors.
The proliferation of SKUs has made new applications of warehouse technology necessary says Tom Brady, vice president of the solution development group at FKI Logistex.
“I can have the best widget in the world, but if that isn’t the right widget for you as a customer, it doesn’t matter. To me, it’s all about making sure, when you’re going into develop a solution for a customer, you look at the unique business requirements of that customer,” he says.
The company will display its new lineup of equipment in November at PackExpo 2008 in Chicago. Some of the equipment includes the PL-950 high-speed palletizer, new features on the UniSort and new case conveyors.
The PL-950 joins the company’s palletizer and depalletizer line, which ranges from entry-level GS-100 to high-speed A-944. The PL-950 uses one or more robotic arms for pattern forming, manipulating and orienting the product into the pallet layer, the company says. FKI Logistex also announced that its UniSort XV sliding shoe sorter has achieved throughput rates of up to 400 cartons per minute. BI