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Making best use of space

12 December 2012

Revamping racking and shelving can revitalise the warehouse as a whole. HSS obtains guidance on the best ways to boost profits.

Revamping racking and shelving can revitalise the warehouse as a whole. HSS obtains guidance on the best ways to boost profits.

Making the most of racking and shelving can have a big impact on storage efficiency and handling operations in the warehouse, maximising revenues in tough economic times.

Many companies are looking at how they can optimise existing warehouses and distribution centres in preference to investing in new facilities. This can either be a long term strategy or a short term fix before an investment in a new site further down the line.

“Many businesses find the organisation of their shelving and racking is not optimised due to design, changing practices, or inappropriate storage methods,” says Yvonne Folliard,marketing manager at Gloucestershire-based Rapid Racking. “But optimising available areas and freeing up existing space can have a direct impact on picking systems and staff efficiency, for example, without the need for additional warehouse space.”

A number of solutions can help to boost rack and shelf utilisation, including live storage. Indeed, manufacturer BITO Storage Systems believes live storage for both cartons and pallets is on the increase, particularly for operative to goods order picking situations.

Managing director Edward Hutchison explains: “Higher investment costs are more than compensated for by improvements in working efficiency. It provides a greater density of pick locations for small parts, with a saving on floor space in the region of 15-20 per cent being a reasonable assumption. Time is saved also. Depending on the application, travel times for order pickers can be improved by up to 66 per cent. Furthermore, order pickers can rely on constant availability of goods.”

Boltless live storage systems, which use a safety clip rather than a bolt, can also make it easier to lower a beam level and, therefore, easier to configure a system - not just during installation but also throughout its use - by allowing the user to simply change the height of the shelf to suit.

Another option is optimising existing pallet racking. One way this can be achieved is to retrofit flow shelves to form combined pallet / carton live racking. Flow shelves equipped with the right adapter sections will allow the integration of carton live storage into a standard racking construction of any brand. The adapter sections are bolted directly to the uprights of the existing installation. Support clips, which safely locate into the perforations of the adapter sections serve as a seat for the selfsupporting flow shelves.

It can also pay to take an adaptable approach to racking, with racks converted to cope better with busy periods. For example, BITO's Adapta-Flow modules enable static racking to be converted into carton flow racking very quickly using the beams available in the existing racking. BITO sees this as particularly useful for seasonal trends.

It might not be the first concern when revamping racking and shelving, but it is important to ensure that it is ergonomically friendly to your pickers.

BITO's Hutchison says: “Access to a test bed will allow a thorough evaluation of ergonomics before committing to the installation. It's usually small things that make the difference, for example, will the pickers need a step up rail within the system or not? What incline angles will be within the carton live lanes? Will this create good visual contact for the pickers, who may come in different shapes and sizes?”

Being able to touch and feel an example system and comment on what adjustments could be made will allow companies to ensure they get ergonomic issues right.

As well as ergonomic issues, it is important to plan for the lifetime of the racking system. Jungheinrich UK general manager Steve Richmond believes that when specifying racking and shelving, consideration must be given to the whole life costs of the solution.

“Robust, well-designed equipment is essential in this regard but so too is the way that the system components interact. Systems that are robustly designed, built and installed will be resilient to damage and offer the best return on investment and the lowest costs over their lifetime.”

Jungheinrich also cautions operators to carefully consider the range of finance packaging options available. Racking and shelving systems have traditionally been seen as an outright capital purchase item but, driven in part by the current trading conditions, this may be changing.

“It's easy to see why flexible finance packages that allow the full costs of the system to be paid over a number of years, are attractive. There are a variety of packages available and it is important to pick a scheme that suits your company's needs,” adds Richmond. “It is certainly beneficial to deal with a supplier with experience in putting together finance packages who can tailor a scheme to meet both the requirements of your business and the changing needs of the marketplace.”