Material Handling Experts


Information on the products and techniques to better store, handle, and move products in your facility.

Industrial Automation and The Flexibility Problem

August 22, 2013


Earlier this year, Food Logistics published a provocative article, “Automate or Die”.  Do you have to automate? Of course not. But it brings to mind a good question: where is the point of acceptable ROI for automation projects? When does it make sense? What aspects are potential pitfalls?

We’re  inside warehouses, distribution centers, commercial operations, and manufacturing facilities every day. We don’t see full scale automation in all — or even most — of these operations. We’ve even seen some companies who have automated go back to picking with carts. We’ve seen others thrive due to their automated projects. The point is, you certainly won’t “die” if you don’t automate. But that doesn’t mean that you should not automate some or all aspects of your operation.

In some cases, we try to make the case that automation isn’t needed. In others, we try to help these companies understand when a capital investment in automation equipment and/or software will save money, increase productivity, reduce problems, and improve their business. It’s not  something that you can do from a distance.  It requires a command of the facts on the ground, in the servers, and throughout the supply chain.

So, the question is, why automate? 

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Posted in Automation, Inventory Management, Material Handling, Robotics, ROI, Supply Chain, Warehousing| No Comments »

A Guide To Pallet Rack Load Types

July 27, 2013

loaded pallet rack

Is this an unevenly distributed load? Concentrated load?
Line load? Point load? Load of something really heavy?

We have stressed this before: rack loads aren’t just simple weight vs. structure. The dimensions, shape, and size/density of the load as it sits on storage racks is absolutely critical to safe, effective warehouse storage. Our friends at Nashville Wire recently released an excellent piece that helps define the load types and how you can avoid incorrect or unsafe rack loading.

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Top 12 Distribution Center Metrics

June 29, 2013

Busy distribution operationAs it has every year for the last decade, DCVelocity Magazine has surveyed its readers and members of WERC to  find what industry professionals believe are the top metrics for a successful operation. This is instructive for most operations, and worth taking a look.  The full survey can be found here.

The top 12 metrics, and (category)

  1. On time shipments (to customers)
  2. Internal order cycle time (customer)
  3. Dock-to-stock cycle time, in hours (inbound operation)
  4. Total cycle time (customer)
  5. Order picking accuracy (quality)
  6. Lines picked and shipped per hour (outbound operations)
  7. Lines received and put away per hour (inbound operations)
  8. Percentage of supplier orders received damage free (inbound operations)
  9. Average warehouse capacity used (capacity)
  10. Order fill rate (outbound operations)
  11. Percentage of supplier orders received with correct documentation (inbound operations)
  12. Peak warehouse capacity used (Capacity)

Not everything on this list necessarily applies to every operation, but they are all worth some reflection. It’s worthwhile to have the questions posed, as we all fall victim to the “forest and trees” syndrome. 

Related: How to benchmark your warehouse operation

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Posted in Docks & Shipping, Inventory Management, Material Handling, ROI, Supply Chain, Warehousing| No Comments »

Can Warehouse Safety be Automated?

June 28, 2013

warehouse corner

OSHA estimates 85 deaths, 35,000 serious injuries, and another 62,000 non-serious injuries. More than 11% of forklifts are involved in these accidents every year, meaning that the forklift in your warehouse is statistically destined to have an accident before it goes out of service.

The cherry on top of this awful pie? Almost 40% of those accidents, depending on whose numbers you follow, involve a pedestrian. And this doesn’t  take into account the accidents that damage property, but don’t hurt people. Forklift-to-forklift collisions, or forklift colliding with warehouse racks aren’t included in these numbers if people aren’t injured.

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Posted in AisleCop, Docks & Shipping, Material Handling, Safety & Ergonomics, Warehousing| No Comments »

A Guide to Forklift Aisle Widths

May 31, 2013

Forklift aisle widths are typically set when pallet racking is installed. In many cases, such as narrow aisle projects, these spaces are critically important. Typically, warehouse managers don’t attempt to lay out these types of storage facilities. But for reach truck, selective rack applications, these aisle sizes are often “eye balled”, or given a 12′ width no matter what type of forklift is using the aisles. If you are laying out a facility, what criteria should you use for rack aisle width?

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Posted in Lifts, Material Handling, Pallet Rack, Space Saving, Warehousing| No Comments »

What Causes Pallet Rack Collapses?

May 15, 2013

Pallet Rack System

We have all seen the spectacular (sometimes humorous), but often horrifying videos of rack collapses. They’re all over YouTube. But what really happens to cause these dangerous incidents?

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How to Reduce Wasted “Walking” Time in Distribution Operations

April 7, 2013

warehouse worker walking in an industrial plant

There isn’t much value in a worker walking across a facility; value is realized at work areas, not in transit between them. In many operations, order pickers can walk as many as 12 miles a day. This level of walking makes workers tired and more prone to error, injuries, and declines in productivity. While some degree of walking is unavoidable, much of this is simply commuting time to retrieve supplies, or inefficient design that makes the job harder and less efficient than it should be.

How can you reduce time walking, and increase the time people spend getting things done?

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Warehousing: Hidden Productivity Gremlins

January 31, 2013

box gremilin in a warehouse

Whether you’re operating a dedicated distribution center or the order fulfillment or stock warehouse of a manufacturing operation, most industrial facilities deal with storage and warehousing to some degree. In the not-so-distant past, warehousing was treated mostly as a cost center – a necessary evil that had to exist so that the more profitable parts of an enterprise could operate. Thankfully, more enlightened thought has prevailed recently.

Order fulfillment and storage are not just places you can save money – they can earn money. If the gremlins don’t get you.

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Posted in Automation, Manufacturing, Material Handling, Order Picking & Fulfillment, Supply Chain, Warehousing| No Comments »

Infographic: Safer Pallet Rack Operation

January 29, 2013

Pallet rack is typically safe and easily-maintained storage equipment, whether you are dealing with selective, pushback, drive-in, or other types of rack.  But if you load it wrong, if you don’t inspect and repair/replace damaged components, if you don’t understand your capacities, and if you don’t take steps to ensure your rack isn’t impacted by loading equipment, that safe rack can become dangerous and expensive.

We have created an infographic to help you navigate the most common mistakes people make dealing with pallet racks.  Feel free to share this graphic to any site or other media. It is the first of many infographic posters we’ll be offering to help people operate and maintain material handling equipment.

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Ideas for Cost Savings in E-Commerce Warehouses

December 6, 2012

Jay Moris has an excellent article in this month’s Inbound Logistics on ways you can cut expenses in your e-commerce operation. Some quick pointers:

  • Increase customer satisfaction. Moris explains that right-sizing your packages can reduce carton size and ensure customers receive the right package at the right time.
  • Reduce packaging costs. By using cartonization strategies, you can reduce parcel sizes – and by extension, shipping and packaging costs.
  • Decrease labor and increase throughput. By optimizing its sortation systems, one retailer cut 62 cents off every package shipped.
  • Reduce freight, sortation, and shipping costs. Reducing carton dimensions does all of these things in a world where just a single sheet of paper is capable of changing a carton’s shipping class.

We live in a world where weight and dimensional measurement of packages is becoming faster and easier to gauge. Shippers can and will be able to charge more for smaller and smaller differences, so every bit of the process you can automate and optimize, the better. There are more tips (and plenty more detail) at the article – check it out.

Posted in Automation, Docks & Shipping, Material Handling, Order Picking & Fulfillment, Supply Chain, Warehousing| No Comments »