Warehouse: Keeping costs in check in the warehouse
New technologies aim to reduce costs, increase efficiency
In any line of business, costs can be a concern. For manufacturers, however, reducing those supply chain costs are a top concern, according to a recent survey by IDC Manufacturing Insights titled “Business Strategy: 2012 Supply Chain Survey — Manufacturing Priorities and New Technology Adoption.” The survey stated that 82 percent of respondents rate reducing overall supply chain costs as the No. 1 supply chain priority in the coming year.
The survey also found that nearly 55 percent suggest supply chain agility as the second priority, and 52 percent suggest improving product quality and safety as the third most important priority. Respondents also were asked to rate the level of importance of new technology areas. Big data/analytics was named the top technology followed by mobility, cloud computing/software as a service and social business tools.
Additionally, the survey found that manufacturers are faced with increasing complexity as customer demand diversifies and supply globalizes.
As beverage manufacturers look to make improvements within their businesses, they are turning to manufacturers in the supply chain to help them achieve these goals.
In an effort to make warehouse employees more comfortable and therefore more efficient, Big Ass Fans Co., Lexington, Ky., developed the Powerfoil X2.0, a follow-up to its Powerfoil X fan.
“Powerfoil X2.0 can fit into any open space within a warehouse including dock areas and pack areas to keep employees cool and productive,” says Dara Mullins, marketing coordinator with Big Ass Fans. “Powerfoil X2.0 uses very little energy to create air movement on a massive scale. The comforting power of air movement can make employees feel up to 10 [degrees Fahrenheit] cooler in the summer, improving productivity. In the winter, the fan can be slowed to push heat off the ceiling and back to the occupants’ level for increased heating efficiency and can provide as much as 30 percent reduction in energy bills. The Big Ass Fan Co.’s directional fans can also work in conjunction with the overhead fans in smaller areas.”
Mullins adds that the fan features a large diameter and low speed to prevent heat-related illness and can improve winter dexterity, reduce heating bills and improve employee comfort year-round with cooling and heating destratification. It also can remove condensation from floors, increase the effectiveness of ventilation systems and reduce noise in the warehouse, she says.
Big Ass Fans also works with the warehouse to ensure installation is done properly.
“Big Ass Fans’ applications engineers and certified installers work with facilities on a one-by-one basis to provide the ideal air movement solution and mounting option for every space,” Mullin says.
In addition to its Powerfoil X2.0, the company announced its new BAFWorks iPad control system, which allows facility managers to control all Big Ass Fans from a single location, Mullins says. With control centralized, BAFWorks saves valuable time by eliminating individual controls in large facilities, the company says. It also provides access to real-time fan speed and status, all of which can help maximize year-round energy savings. A lockout feature with password protection provides security and control.
Throughout the supply chain, speed and efficiency are not uncommon terms one might hear in reference to warehouse improvements.
According to a report titled “U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative: Dialogue on Next Generation Supply Networks and Logistics,” manufacturing in the United States is growing stronger; however, the report notes that maintaining and strengthening America’s competitiveness in the global market will require planning, effort and a focused financial investment.
The report is the result of a two-day conference where representatives from industry, labor, government and academia shared perspectives on the current state of U.S. manufacturing, the challenges it faces, and possible solutions to mitigate those obstacles.
The report also found that from the standpoint of the manufacturing aspect supply chain, U.S. manufacturers need to build flexible supply chains, add more flexibility in the production process, and understand that time-to-market is critical. To help with time-to-market, manufacturers need to find ways to process faster and more efficiently, it states.
Understanding the importance of speed and flexibility, Dematic North America, Grand Rapids, Mich., added a steerable wheel sorter to its Modular Conveyor System product line. The sorter is engineered to accommodate cases, cartons, totes or trays weighing up to 110 pounds and can sort between 40 and 80 cartons a minute, the company says.
“The steerable wheel sorter is one module of an overall solution,” says Ken Ruehrdanz, market manager of distribution solutions with Dematic. “This system mechanization allows beverage production and distribution operations to realize overall improved productivity, increased accuracy and more speed in order processing time.”
Ruehrdanz adds that the modular design can be easily integrated into existing and new warehouse operations. It also can be retro-fitted into existing conveyor networks, he says.
When the sorter is in transport mode, its four rows of wheels turn in the forward direction, moving the products straight forward on the conveyor. When a load requires diverting, the control logic simultaneously rotates and increases the speed of all steerable wheels of the sorter to change the direction of the item and divert it from the conveyor at 30 degrees. Once the load is diverted, the wheels rotate back to the forward direction.
“The series of wheels all rotate simultaneously to steer the load into the exit conveyor,” Ruehrdanz says. “The diverting wheels speed up to further facilitate the load transfer.”
In addition to speed and efficiency, some machinery manufacturers are developing products to streamline the processes that not only can help efficiency but reduce costs.
Pneumatic actuators perform much of the work of motion control in warehouse and distribution operations. The latest innovation in actuators from Norgren Inc., Littleton, Colo., is its IVAC — integrated valve and actuator control.
“You will see multiple actuators doing different jobs: pushing, diverting, moving product around in a warehouse,” says Richard Bull, regional product marketing manager, Americas, for Norgren.
For example, actuators perform the clamping action for palletizers and depalletizers. They are key to the retrieval process for automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and they move product through automated conveyor systems, or between conveyors when a change in direction is required, he says.
The valves that control conventional actuators might be in a valve island — a manifold mounted on a framework close to the actuators — or they might be in a central control panel, a large box located quite a distance away. “Each valve operates one individual actuator in the system,” says Randy DeForge, Norgren business development manager, actuators. “So, if you have 50 cylinders in a conveyor system, you have a control cabinet containing the 50 valves needed to control those cylinders. Tubing runs from the control cabinet to each actuator with two pneumatic connections for each — one to extend and one to retract the cylinder.”
Tubing can run anywhere from a few feet to dozens of yards between the valve and the actuator, he adds.
The IVAC integrates the cylinder, pilot and control valves, position sensors and speed regulators into a single actuator package with just one pneumatic and one electrical connection, the company says. This reduces the complexity of motion control for original equipment manufacturers and end users by replacing as many as 13 different components in a single package that fits in the same footprint as a standard actuator, it adds.
For equipment manufacturers, this means lower commissioning costs and faster installation times, the company says. It also means they can switch to the IVAC without mechanical design changes. For warehouse managers, the IVAC can be easier to maintain because there are fewer components to trouble-shoot, and if an actuator requires diagnostics, it can be swapped out for another and evaluated offline without additional downtime, the company says.
“But where the IVAC really comes into its own is it vastly reduces the amount of tubing required,” Bull explains. “That saves on installation time, space, wiring and so on. But more important to the warehouse end user, it’s a massive saving on air consumption, and that’s a saving on energy costs.”
Norgren notes that it has demonstrated that replacing conventional actuators with IVACs can reduce the energy required for compressed air by as much as 50 percent.
Eliminating tubing also results in faster response times, boosting productivity. For example, in AS/RS systems, this leads to faster speeds in pulling the product and getting it to the dock compared with traditional actuators, DeForge explains.
Reduced tubing combined with the IVAC package, available in a cleanline or industrial versions, also can improve the appearance and cleanability of equipment and warehouses, the company adds. BI