Plant & Works Engineering
Modular storage:
Published:  08 January, 2015

John Halliday, managing director of Link 51, explains how the implementation of flexible racking and storage solutions can improve the efficiency of warehouses for minimal cost and disruption.

Smart businesses demand a slick operation to deliver for their customers. We all know it makes financial sense to create efficient processes and systems, and put sufficient resources in place in order to get the job done with less time and effort. The warehouse should be no different, because it plays an essential part in the day-to-day operation of a plant or engineering business. Deployment of storage solutions not only help operational planning of how space is used but can become a strategic tool for business development and maximising profitability.

The first area to consider therefore is the space available and its layout, because maximising on space, being as cost effective as possible and streamlining processes to tighten up production times will be top of the list for any warehouse manager. Importantly these essential items can be the result of implementing bespoke storage systems. In some cases warehouses have been known to save as much as 75% more space after installing a specially designed storage system; a space saving that cannot be ignored.

Regardless of whether the warehouse is large or small, flexible storage can play an important role in fine-tuning the efficiency of a business. Finding the right storage solution that grows and develops with the needs of an organisation is essential; one that anticipates the peaks and troughs in demand, but also holds large and small – often expensive – pieces of equipment or products.

As such, planning ahead will allow warehouse managers to anticipate such peaks and troughs in demand without having to consider potentially prohibitively expensive and certainly disruptive alternatives such as moving locations or sourcing a second warehouse to house stock. It is far more economical to build upwards rather than outwards; for example, if a warehouse can hold 24 rows of racking, three levels high, then the space can be maximised by halving the floor space and creating 12 rows of shelving, six levels high. Consequently, this creates half of an available warehouse and provides the opportunity to utilise the ‘new’ space, such as renting it out to another business and receiving revenue until the space is required again, which can benefit cash flow as a regular additional income. Building upwards also reduces the amount of time spent travelling to the location of a product for it to be picked and can easily offset the cost of additional handling equipment.

In addition to the available space within the warehouse itself, another challenge is to introduce the correct storage system with the most effective shelving system that would work hardest for the business. Selecting the right shelving can make the difference between the warehouse working well and working to its full potential. The most popular solutions for warehouse pallet racking is Wide Aisle Pallet Racking, which is ideal for manufacturing and production centred environments. This is a simple solution that provides warehouse operatives with direct access to each pallet and doesn’t require specialist handling equipment, thus keeping costs to a minimum.

Alternatively, to maximise on space, Narrow Aisle Pallet Racking is an option that is favoured by warehouse managers seeking a space efficient option. Narrow Aisle Pallet Racking halves the lane width of standard Wide Aisle Pallet Racking and effectively doubles the capacity of a warehouse while maximising on the height of a storage facility. Although Narrow Aisle Pallet Racking requires specialist handling machinery to access pallets, this system offers the opportunity to spread outward as well as upward without making changes to the exoskeleton of warehouses.

The right storage solution can not only assist in stock control and management, reducing stock loss and over orders, but storage systems can also be used to transition work in progress from one stage or process to the next. Kanban storage, shuttle systems and Carton Live all have a part to play beyond simple storage.

Whichever storage system is chosen, it is important for warehouse managers to ensure that the picking process of a warehouse is conducted to maximum efficiency, in order to complement the layout and racking preferences; for example, the cost of labour, the reduction in space and small orders all contribute to the in-house logistics of a warehouse. Enabling a warehouse operative to travel from one end of a 5,000 square metre building to the other, with several orders to fulfil, can be a time-consuming process that can in many cases reduce efficiency, especially for an operation that is looking to expand and take on more business.

Installing an automated warehouse system can help to speed up the entire picking process, as automated systems are designed to complete more orders in less time, in order to keep up with customer demand. By installing an automated picking system warehouse managers can be confident that along with managing and locating stock quickly and accurately, the picking process essentially manages itself.

Having easy access to pallets enables warehouse operatives to easily manage stock levels and access items more quickly and efficiently without battling through multiple shelving units of misplaced or irrelevant stock. Along with the easy access to products and equipment, a strict stock management policy must by implemented to guarantee the effective and efficient management of the warehouse. By combining a bespoke racking system with specialist inventory management software, stock levels are not only managed and well-organised, but can be projected, tracked and identified at a faster and accurate rate.

Alongside automated systems, it is imperative for warehouse managers to conduct regular analysis of the warehouse’s efficiency to determine whether the storage is working hard enough and is coping with customer demand – irrespective of the relative throughputs of volumes. This is a crucial element of successful warehouse management and keeping up to date with the latest technology to monitor results will help to ensure improvements continue to be implemented.

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