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Try before you buy...

12 December 2012

Why do some live storage systems that sounded great on paper ultimately underperform? Ed Hutchison, md at BITO Storage Systems argues testing is the key, hence the firm's emphasis on its Nuneaton test facility. Nobody

Why do some live storage systems that sounded great on paper ultimately underperform? Ed Hutchison, md at BITO Storage Systems argues testing is the key, hence the firm's emphasis on its Nuneaton test facility.

Nobody wants to find themselves in a situation where having installed hundreds of lanes of pallet or carton live storage in their warehouse, they then find out that their pallet of choice won't run smoothly down the lane.

Similarly,what happens if half of their pickers cannot comfortably reach the cartons of the highest level of the carton live storage system? These are not inconsequential hiccups; extrapolated across an entire system over a busy picking day, they can incur a serious reduction in pick rates.

Similarly, a company buying an order picking system needs to ensure that it is ergonomically friendly for its pickers, no matter their size, to allow operations to be carried out efficiently.

And yet these kinds of issues can be easily ironed out at the design stage before the installation even takes place. All it takes is the ability for a customer to try out their live storage. This will let them refine the design to meet their precise needs and overcome any specific operational challenges they may have.

Customers of BITO try out their carton live solutions on an ergonomic test bed, housed in the company's Experience Centre at its Nuneaton headquarters, which is designed according to the principles of the TUV Rhineland Ergonomic Studies - the highly respected German ergonomic certification and test mark.

A test bed will demonstrate clearly the ergonomics of a new carton live system and give customers the chance to refine the design into a system that meets their needs exactly. 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? Ergonomics will influence pick rates significantly and gaining the optimum pick face means designing it around the operative's natural picking curve. This will generally see fast moving SKUs located at the best possible ergonomic height for an operative to pick quickly without bending and stretching. Presenting cartons or pallets at an angle will give the picker better access and an improved view of what's inside. Providing a rail to help short pickers more easily access a higher pick location will also help.

These improvements may only make small time savings individually but they add up across the course of a shift.

When it comes to trying out pallet live systems, a test facility will determine perhaps the most vital issue when it comes to gaining full efficiency from such a system: will the pallet roll smoothly? When a firm invests up to a six-figure sum in materials handling kit they will want to be sure that it meets their requirements and can work with the pallets in their supply chain.

This may have been a moot point in the days of standard pallets when quality was more consistent than it is today. Now, however, pallets can be made of virtually anything and subsequently their characteristics are distinctly non-standard.

Mocking up a proposed live storage system, either in a test facility or in a customer's own warehouse, will give the customers the opportunity to touch and feel a real example system in the metal. They can have their own staff try it out and make recommendations.

Take for example the experience of Dave Chamberlain, logistics manager at Spirax Sarco, leading British-based manufacturer of boiler and pipeline control valves for steam heating and process plants. He said: "We went to BITO's showroom to see how the carton live system works.We then set up a sample system in the old warehouse to run through the ergonomics of carton live, which proved very successful.We paid particular attention to ergonomics because with our old silos the pickers couldn't see the stock. Now, however, they can see products clearly and pick out of the carton quite easily." A customer can also invite other suppliers of materials handling equipment try the mock up to ensure that their products, such as lift trucks, AGVs or conveyors, will integrate properly with the live system, particularly if these devices are bespoked in any way.

A further benefit of a mock up is that customers can gauge clearly the quality of the system. This is particularly important at a time when there are many cheap products entering the UK market from areas such as China. Often these products have no audit trail making it impossible to determine the quality of the raw material is used in their manufacture.

The lesson then is surely to try out your live storage system before it is installed, make sure it is of the quality you would expect and that the design is absolutely right for your needs.
 
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