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Dark Warehousing: Spotlight of the day!!

Dark – the new light of the warehouse

Have you ever wondered what goes behind the screens once you place an order on your computer monitor in front of you? Before the order reaches you within a 24- or 48-hour window, what would have been its journey?

Well, if you would notice in the last 14-15 years of its onset, ecommerce industry has been a synonym for ‘explosive growth’ and there has been an exponential rise in terms of the no. of SKUs they handle, delivery times from being anywhere from 10 days to 24 hour delivery. Ecommerce has not only transformed how the businesses work but has forever changed the customer’s behaviour. The ‘want it now’ attitude of the customers is forcing businesses to upgrade their systems and processes to meet these expectations and are assorting to automation by introducing autonomous mobile robots, AGVs, driverless forklifts, palletizing robots, ASRS systems, automatic picking units through MPVs, cobots, mobile robots, sorter robots, tilt-tray sorters, robotic packaging & depackaging units, powerful softwares such as WMS, WES, MES, cloud solutions, a web of IoT solutions that provide visibility into everything inside the four walls of the warehouse, and to perfectly sync all the systems in real-time all the time.

If you could conceptualize one such warehouse, yes, you are right there & welcome to the wonderful world of ‘dark warehousing’!!!

So, what is it?

To define the nomenclature, a dark warehouse is a fully automated warehouse that operates without the use of human labor. Literally put off all the lights and let the warehouse function on its own. There is another definition also to it, which says warehouse that fully automated material handling systems – here the main reference is to the ASRS Systems, high speed sortation systems, mobile robots, and warehouse execution systems.

The ecommerce boom and the need for speed are the primary drivers for the dark warehousing concept as the completely automated systems increase the speed of operations by a manifold, ensure delivery of 100% accurate orders and improve overall safety aspects of the warehouse. One of the other key factors is the need for space, because the rising real estate rentals were directly taking a bite from the profit margin share & automation is the best way to improve space utilization and create additional space within the existing space, examples like dense racking through pallet shuttles or carton shuttles, crane based ASRS systems etc.

How do they work?

In case of dark warehouses, all the functions of warehousing i.e., inbound, storage, picking and outbound are completely automated & all these systems work in perfect sync with one another plus the other ancillary systems such as front end Order Management System, Vendor Management System, Truck Management System, Personnel management system..etc. Like all the inbound orders will be well planned and received through automatic telescopic conveyors which will supply the carton loads from different suppliers/vendors to the robotic palletization units where palletization of the similar SKUs is done. These pallets can be sent for storage through a fleet of driverless forklifts, where they deliver it to the automatic storage and retrieval systems. Once an order comes on these pallets, they will be fetched out of the system, sent for depalletizing robotic units and finally the cartons will be taken by the mobile robots either to the outbound order sequencing area with a carton shuttle ASRS or to the robotic decanting stations, where the items from the cartons will be poured onto the crates, which will again be stored in a carton shuttle ASRS system. Retrieval of these cartons will be done when the items need to be picked, which can be done through stationary robotic bin picking units. The packaging of these cartons/crates can be done through tunnel-based systems on the smart conveyors. After packing the orders will be sorted based on location codes or carrier type or any such criteria through a fleet of sorting robots & the sorted parcels will be loaded on to the trucks for dispatch again by the use of mobile robots. In the entire process if you observe there is a little or no human intervention.

And..

These dark warehouses can function on a 24*7 basis, ensure zero human error, there will not be any shift charges and provide complete visibility of the entire operations and enable data driven decision making. However, these completely automated systems are quite expensive, and require a thoroughly defined automation strategy in place.  As a concept it has emerged in the European countries when some large organizations installed highly automated systems with some regular equipment like conveyors. With the kind of capital investments, it requires, it is still possible for large organizations, hence its adoption rate is not that high. Also, dark warehouses are also not as flexible in operation for picking, packing, and shipping- For handling a variety of SKUs, the systems need to be tuned accordingly, which is not that easy. So, dark warehouses have been more popular for industries where there are a smaller number of SKUs or uniformity of SKUs in terms of its size and shape.

Concluding thoughts:

Despite dark warehousing appears as the panacea to achieve the best KPIs of the industry, it has been quite elusive since a decade. Because in the ever-changing volatile business world, investment in 100% automation seems quite bold and companies have been apprehensive about it; maturity of the technology, staff skills, organized or unorganized nature of the business ..etc might have been a couple of other factors. Whether warehouses become completely dark or not might be a question for the future, but the increased use of automation in warehouses is a booster & is the right way to realize the efficiencies.

 

Warehouse Slotting- What do you need to know?

Aren’t you familiar with the organization of our office desks, book shelves, cup boards ..etc? Isn’t it the human tendency to keep the most used items to place at easily accessible locations? Like the basics like stoles, jeans & cardigans on the front row of the closet; daily reads on the top shelf; your VOIP connection to your left so you can pick your phone & still able to take notes..etc?. Yes, we all must have been there, and have done that. This is an everyday task of unconscious or sub-conscious slotting that most of us do in our way. Similarly, slotting is done in warehouse also & it is the activity of determining the most appropriate storage location for each item in your warehouse. Slotting is one of the fundamental activities of warehouse operations & plays a critical role in achieving operational efficiencies; however, it is a thankless job as often it gets shadowed under many other frontline activities such as picking, packing etc.

A warehouse’s entire operations are based on the slotting & a well-defined and carefully drafted slotting offers many benefits, especially w.r.t improving storage utilization and picking efficiency. Storage utilization is by ensuring each of the warehouse locations are utilized to the maximum of their capacity and to the best of their utility and picking efficiency is by reducing the picking travel and ensuring optimized paths. Efficient slotting also ensures less congestion, reduced no. of accidents, and less material damage.

How slotting is done in a warehouse?

Warehouse processes are sequence of steps through which product moves from it’s origin towards the customer and slotting is the way that decides how this happens.  Before we begin to see, how slotting is done, a warehouse manager must follow the below guidelines.

  • Keep the product moving; avoid starts and stops, which mean extra handling and additional space requirements.
  • Avoid layouts that impede smooth flow.
  • Identify and resolve bottlenecks to flow

To understand the above points better, an illustration of fluid model of product flow can be referred from the book of ‘Warehouse & distribution Science’.

While it comes to slotting, one of the most common methods is to find out which are the most frequently traded items? Here, the question is not about which are the products that noted highest sales, but it is about the no. of transactions? This is important because we must be doing the slotting basis this. So, to arrive at this data of which SKU is trading with frequency, observe the order profile for a period of 6 months or a year or two depending on the data availability and the accuracy level. The more data you have the better to understand the patterns. The same sort of analysis needs to be done to understand the warehouse locations; what are the sizes of these locations, what kind of SKUs they can hold, how these can be reached..etc, so that we can place in the most favorable location the fast selling product. In this way, identify all the SKUs & sort them with the highest no. of transactions (fast moving) to the lowest (slow moving items) and arrange them in locations to ensure a location gets highest no. of picks. However, it isn’t this simple in real scenario as the mapping of location & SKU itself require lot of decision making, examples like keeping heaviest items in lower positions, keeping items that are related and are picked together at one place, cold storage items at one place..etc. So, ultimately from location point of view, what we really need to look at is how many picks we can get out of a specific amount of pick face & from picking point of view, to get the most picks with the least amount of traveling.

Types of slotting in a warehouse

There are many types of slotting done inside a warehouse.

  1. Macro slotting – It refers to optimizing the overall layout of a warehouse. And it includes majorly working on the warehouse racking system arrangement.

Automation_Macro slotting_Addverb

Various pallet racking methods, such as conventional racking, Flying V model racking, and Fish bone model racking can be deployed here to achieve the required throughput and productivity rates. Also the challenges vary significantly with the warehouse size, location, nature of the business..etc and hence the slotting strategies need to be changed.

  1. Micro slotting – It refers to how individual items or pallets are placed in specific locations in the warehouse (from the zone on down to the specific shelf).

Addverb_Micro slotting_Blog

Under micro slotting, most popular methods are

(a) Heat map analysis: Heat map is essentially a tool to help understand the concentrations of warehouse activity like picking, packing, material movement from one place to another, all in all the concentration of labour at a place over time. It also provides a powerful visual image of where efficiency opportunities may exist within a warehouse operation.

(b) ABC Analysis: Pareto Principle or the 80-20 rule where 20% of product references take up 80% of the warehouse space and 80% of the stock comes from 20% of the suppliers. ABC simply classifies skus as A (the small fraction of SKUs that account for most of the activity), B (moderately important), or C (the bulk of the SKUs but only a small portion of the activity).

Factors to be considered before going for Automation

Planning is everything in automation for the solution to last long, sustain the rigour of operations, and achieve the required throughput along with ensuring highest safety standards. Identifying the need for an automation planning or drawbacks of the existing systems is the first step towards automation journey, however, to get the right automation solution, one should be clear about the objectives to be achieved through automation. Because one objective can be achieved through multiple solutions and there is a plethora of technologies available today, so choosing which one to opt for is a daunting task & requires both business understanding as well as process understanding backed by data analysis.

So before going for an automation solution, we at Addverb thought one must check some critical parameters and listed down the below points for your reference;

  1. Being crystal clear about the ‘Automation Objectives’ – As mentioned above, it is the cornerstone for the entire automation journey hence considerable deliberations need to be done with all the stakeholders involved within and outside the team. This includes arriving at the time-bound results and bringing everyone onto the same page.
  2. Maturity of the technology that is being proposed — So, once the objectives are finalized, now it’s time to look for the means through which these objectives can be achieved. Do a thorough market research about the different solutions that are there in the market and weigh the pros and cons of each of them. Either an in house automation expert or a consultant or an end to end automation solution provider like Addverb can be of help.
  3. Process dependencies – What are the systems to which the output of this automation will be going to and what are the input feeding systems to it and any special details to be considered. This step requires to look at a broad picture of the impact of automation on warehouse activities and will help in figuring out areas which need to be upgraded before going for an automation.
  4. Criticality of the solution – What are the performance expectations in terms of TAT, capacities creation, productivity etc at each step of the entire system and develop critical methods to test the same.
  5. Existing infrastructure – How flexible are existing systems, processes, and their capability to integrate and support this automation, sometimes a semi-automated solution might yield better results compared to a fully automated system. Hence compatibility/integration with the existing systems is of paramount importance. — Should not see an automation system as a stand-alone entity
  6. Automation Planning – Knowing where your facility is on the automation path and determining where you would eventually like to be is essential and it will help in determining where and when to start/upgrade automation.
  7. Budgets & ROI expectations – The most thought of & very critically evaluated parameter, not just while considering automation internally among the board members but at every phase of the work from evaluating the automation partner, evaluating the automation technology, while executing the product and even maintaining the automation project after successful execution. Comparison of existing total operational costs with the estimated cost of an automated solution and the benefits that are expecting out of automation & over what duration will help in better decision making. At the beginning, there might not be concrete data & a lot of parameters might change over the time, hence being extremely conservative about it will be a good option.
  8. Readiness of your staff/Human resources readiness – Success of any change to the status quo and how quickly people will imbibe it depends on the readiness of the people for the change and their willingness to embrace it. In case of automation, it is not only the technical skill set that plays important role but also the mental preparedness to accept automation. So, organization wide awareness needs to be ensured & and to handle the automation systems, a careful assessment of current employees’ skills need to be done; in case of shortage plans to upskill or new recruitment has to be made.
  9. Scale up strategy: It is essential to be clear about expanding the automation strategy to other facilities over the long-term or upgrading the current system to its next version. A rough strategy for a minimum of 5 years down the line must be crafted.

So, when the word automation is said, its natural to think of ROI, and cost cutting, but there are some soft aspects which might not be factored into these calculations, but play a critical role in deciding the success of automation & due consideration for them needs to be given.

Bus bar vs cable based/serial Pick to light – Pros & Cons

Lately light directed picking technology has emerged as the most popular picking methodology & it has become an integral part of order fulfilment especially for ecommerce, retail, FMCG & auto components..etc industries. In case of smaller warehouses, to achieve the required throughputs, and to reduce manual errors; in case of larger warehouses, Pick to light are used for various applications like zone picking, cluster picking, batch picking etc. Whatever be the application, the goal is to amplify the picking with the speed, accuracy, and the ease of working offered by PTLs.

Every pick to light device will be assigned with a location code of the bin/shelf/rack/workstation/position on which this device is mounted and the software of the pick to light device communicates constantly with the warehouse management system or ERP solution or any warehouse control system. Whenever a picking operation needs to be performed, picker scans the barcode of the crate/tote in which the ordered items need to be kept after picking, correspondingly the pick to light device of the location which contains those ordered items gets illuminated along with indicating the no. of items to be picked on the LED display. After picking the items, the picker must acknowledge the pick by pressing the light, this information will be duly communicated in real time with the WMS/WCS/ERP software of the warehouse.

Despite the very light hardware of the product, it is very critical to properly implement it in terms of mounting the device and properly program & integrate in terms of software. Since the early days of pick to light invention, pick to lights have been installed using the serial cable system, where in the devices will be mounted on the racks and get power connection using these serial wired cables. However, the distribution challenges of the serial cables for the electronic power transmission prompted the way for the busbar trunking system. So, the same transformation has been passed on to the implementation of PTLs, so bus-bar enabled PTL mountings are a common sight of the warehouse today.

At Addverb, we offer Rapido, our pick to light solution in both cable based and bus-bar methods; similarly, many players also do offer both these solutions. So, through this blog, let us understand the differences between busbar vs cable based PTL implementations.

  1. Design friendliness – Bus bar based PTLs are compact in design, hence occupy less space, whereas cable based PTL systems require more space because of bending radiuses and the spacing required between parallel cables. Hence busbar based PTL will be beneficial when there are many PTL implementations. In terms of aesthetics and maintaining the entire system, busbar based PTLs look clean and easy to do maintenance activities instead of the clumsy cable based PTL system.
  2. Implementation ease– Cable based pick to light systems are resource intensive both efforts & cost, whereas with modular structure, the busbar trunking PTL installation is quite faster and installation error are practically zero due to the safe and user-guided connection technology.
  3. Flexibility — In the busbar trunking system, PTL units will be mounted on the tap off points of the trunking system, this creates a variable distribution system for linear and / or area-wide, distributed power supply for the entire PTL system. This provides flexibility and unlike the fixed cable-based units, it doesn’t require intensive planning and implementation. The easy retrofit nature of the busbar based PTLs plays a critical role in scaling up or down the entire PTL system.
  4. Voltage fluctuations – Busbars have better resistance than cables, especially to short circuits due to their strong design architecture vis-à-vis to the traditional cable based PTL system. The minimum distance between the conductors inside the busbars induces less resistance and the optimal distribution current density reduces the resistance. This in turn reduces the voltage loss when compared with the traditional cable system.
  5. Reduced Loss of Energy:Busbars have lower resistance than cables. Hence the loss of energy due to transmission and distribution is lower in Busbars. Busbars also have a limited growth of reactive power to operate compared to cable systems.
  6. Highly durable – Since the design is compact and has a metal casing with well-defined surface, busbars can absorb heat generated while transmissions and distribution of electricity in the walls of the enclosure. The system of cooling is much better than traditional cabling system.
  7. Increased safety – Busbars are fitted with a steel casing and the chances of getting damaged by human actions/rodents/any other such accident is lesser as compared to cables, on the other hand cables are more exposed and are susceptible to the environmental changes. Also, busbar trunking system will have standardized products across its implementation, as against the cable system.

The above is a short comparison of busbar vs cable-based pick to light systems. Despite being superior in its functionality and safety aspects, still cable based pick to light system is preferable to some majorly due to the implementation challenges, familiarity with cable based PTLs or the structural systems present inside the warehouse/a facility.

Batch Picking Vs Wave Picking – What is what?

In the previous blog on Different Types of order picking in warehouse, we discussed briefly various types of order picking in a warehouse; in continuation to that, let’s delve in depth into the most common types of order picking, i.e., batch picking and wave picking, the differences between the two methods and when to use what.

Batch Picking: This is an order picking protocol that calls for the picker to compile a batch of the orders by picking from a single SKU or one SKU at a time. It helps to fulfill the order very fast by picking multiple orders at the same time. Single picker picks a batch of orders, which helps reduce repeated trips to the same location, essentially one location is visited only once by a picker. Let us illustrate this with an example;

Order1: 3 soaps, 5 shampoos, 3 Gels

Order2: 8 Shampoos, 5 Soaps

In case of batch picking, both the orders are combined for picking & when the picker goes to the soaps section, he picks all 8 soaps; and when he visits the shampoo section, he picks all 13 shampoos and then the 3 gels once. After that at the packing station, they will be packed into individual orders. In case of batch picking, many orders will include same SKUs, hence it is apt when your orders have minimal SKUs.

Batch picking is preferred when there is fewer no. of SKUs, typically 4-5 SKUs and each item is small, because this allows the picker to pick many items in his picking cart and bring them to the packing station. As it enables the picker to travel to a pick location only once while fulfilling many orders, it results in reduction of travel time as well as less congestion in the warehouse due to less traffic.

Batch picking is preferable when the warehouse size is smaller, as it helps in fast picking and less travel. In case of large warehouses, it is preferable when the SKU concentration at a location is high. Mostly, in case of batch picking, pickers use picking carts to pick and deliver the picked items to the packing stations unlike wave picking which utilizes conveyors, tilt-tray sorters etc.

Depending on the order volume, picking locations & manpower, warehouses can create one size batches, like all the batches have 50 orders per batch with an average no. of 3 SKUs per order.  Or warehouses can also create multi-size batches, where in the first batch can be of 50 orders with an average of 3 SKUs per order, and the next batch is of 25 orders with an average of 4 SKUs per batch.

Further optimized paths for these SKUs picking can be suggested by WMS or WCS if it is in place, thereby ensuring highest levels of picking efficiency, reduced travel time and labour requirement.

Wave Picking: Grouping of orders into waves is the first step in wave picking, it can be done on a small number of orders like 4 or 5 or on a large number of orders, like hundreds. In wave picking, picker picks one order and one SKU at a time & orders are grouped depending on the inventory characteristics, shipping routes, delivery schedules, shipping carrier, or even the type of packaging. After the picking, all the products will be brought to a staging area where sortation of them into individual orders will happen.

It can be illustrated with an example below;

Let us assume the warehouse got 50 orders to be fulfilled within a shift, out of this 50, let’s say 20 orders consist items from cold storage area, 10 orders are to be shipped to a specific location, and another 20 orders are to be packed in a glass packaging. So, there will be 3 waves to fulfill these 50 orders, and these 3 waves can be scheduled at different times, for different zones. Once the items in a wave are filled, they will be brought down to sorting area & then packed.

Orders for which all the items are picked during the wave can be sent for packing or wait till all the items for the orders get filled and then sent for packing, accordingly, it is called fixed wave picking and dynamic wave picking, respectively.

Batch Vs Wave: Which is the best?

One important distinction between batch picking and wave picking is that batch picking requires just one order picking window per shift. In contrast, wave picking may include multiple waves per shift.

In batch picking, average cubic size of the orders plays an important role in achieving the best picking rate, for some small businesses and warehouses, the pick rate can go as high as 200+ order lines per hour from 60-70 order lines per hour for single order picking. In case of wave picking, logical order flows make it more effective than straight forward or discrete order picking process and for businesses with large SKUs, batch picking creates heavy traffic and damages the picking efficiency, hence waves are recommended.

In batch picking, a picker makes only one trip to a location, greatly reducing the travel time, congestion and accidents in the warehouse. Whereas in wave picking, picking is always under control as waves can be allotted as per the requirement, like different zones, different timings which gives flexibility in terms of planning or coordinating other warehouse activities such as replenishment, packing, dispatch..etc.

So, both the methods are better in their own way and increases the picking productivity & efficiency and choosing which method to go with depends on the nature of the inventory, order profile characteristics, and the KPIs..etc. As wave picking deals with multiple SKUs, and several waves would be performed in a shift, it calls for some kind of automation to yield the best results in terms of sorter, conveyors, WMS..etc.

Does Your Forklifts Take The Road Less Taken ? Try Smart move

Today forklifts are the most common sight in a warehouse. They are heavy vehicles with a pronged device for moving goods from the unloading areas to shelves and taking them for the dispatch area. They carry bulk weights and facilitate easy movement of the inventory. These are very costly equipment, so they have to be utilized to the best of their capacity in order to realize an effective ROI on them.

In fact, the trickle-down effect of forklift efficiency flows down to the bottom line not only by reducing warehouse operating costs but also by improving safety & maximizing warehouse space utilization. However, the reality is otherwise, an Industry survey shows that 94% of material handling businesses do not have an accurate record of their forklift fleet!!

With IoT finding its way into warehouse management systems, smart forklifts can act as change agents to realize better efficiency through forklift management. So, now let us discuss how smart forklifts Improve Efficiency?

1.Tracking Forklift Movement: When a warehouse is operating heavy machinery like Forklifts for material handling, it’s important to know how the forklifts are moving, and where they are moving, because each movement of a forklift has the insight to be looked into & work upon.!
Is the forklift carrying optimal weight per kilometer of its travel?
How many kilometers per day it is traveling with null weight (Empty movement) & how to reduce it?
Which forklift driver is consistently performing well? Which forklift driver is below the expectation? and the list goes on.
Smart forklifts equipped with indoor RTLS systems enable 100% visibility of forklifts and forklift drivers. We can track every movement of forklift including speed and direction.

2.Safety: The man-machine interface is one of the key parameters to evaluate the safety of operations. This interface should be minimum to ensure smooth and safe operations. In this context, it’s inarguable that forklift movements have to be continuously monitored for safety of the drivers, forklifts & inventory.
With the ever-rising complex structures of the warehouses & volume of operations, the safety managers should take decisions about safety routes & loads on the basis of the most reliable data. Smart forklifts can give recommendations on less congested routes by analyzing the data on forklift density over a path in real-time. It also provides the speed profile of forklift operators on a monthly basis, which helps the safety managers to plan training sessions & safety guidelines at blind spots.

3.Warehouse Space Utilization through Analytics: With changing customer requirements and the production of a multitude of new items every day, warehouse slotting cannot afford to be static anymore. The Bin selection logic should be such that the right items are placed at the right places and the design of optimal paths should facilitate optimal forklift movement.
With smart forklifts, the software plots historical forklift movement on the warehouse layout. It gives insights on routing patterns and also identifies locations – that are hidden but eating on the productive time of the warehouse. The heat map analysis gives insights into any changes of A class, B class & C class items and subsequently their storage pattern. It suggests optimal routes on a real-time basis, which improves performance as well as safety.

4. Improve Drivers’ Productivity: By making forklift operators aware of their driving pattern, indicating strengths, weaknesses, peak & low-performance hours, it’s possible to give individual feedback and training sessions.

The Smart Move solution from Addverb comes as a power pack with all the above features. It is also capable of providing insights at a deeper level like the impact of driver’s fatigue level on the productivity, easy integration with any WMS, preventive maintenance module, Forklift Battery Management system and many more, all of which helps in improving the performance of the drivers, easy supervising for managers, and ultimately to realize the best operational efficiency in safe environment.

Why your warehouse needs a Pallet Shuttle??

One of the fundamental questions that concern a warehouse manager is the efficient usage of space. Conventionally, pallets have been stored through various storage methods like floor space stacking, over time newer methods like selective racking, drive-in racking, drive-through racking. Etc. have been put to use – Each of these methods has evolved as an improvement over the earlier ones. However, they failed to provide the benefits that a dense racking system with pallet shuttle can provide, in terms of space utilization, material handling safety, speed & ease of operation.

We will now delve into various reasons on why a warehouse needs a pallet shuttle:

1. Your Business is expanding – Growth is the new mantra of survival: Today’s businesses have to be agile in identifying the newer opportunities not only in existing business segments but also to fight battles in newer business segments & product categories. So, the entire supply chain needs to be responsive to accommodate these growing aspirations. With real estate prices surging up, warehousing is a major cost element today. Businesses opt either a leasing model or to build new warehousing capacity. Both options require detailed evaluation, as, within a period of 5 years, the rental costs have increased from Rs 10 per sqft to Rs 18 Sqft & the cost of warehouse construction is at Rs 1500 per sqft from an earlier figure of Rs 800 sqft. So, every penny saved on an sqft is a penny earned on it.

This underscores why optimizing the existing space is the most sought-after operational objective and dense racking with pallet shuttle is the perfect fit solution as it gives 2 to 3 times storage efficiency in the same space by utilizing the height of the warehouse.

2. The bulk of the inventory lies in a few SKUs: Storage of the inventory must ensure the smooth and quick functioning of the last leg of warehouse activities i.e picking, packing & shipping. Carefully designed warehouse slotting can be a key to achieve this by ensuring inventories of similar characteristics stay at one location. As an example, in a paint industry, where the bulk of the inventory lies in approx. 200 SKUs out of the existing 1000s of SKUs, it is important to store the bulk of SKUs in one place for easy accessibility. This also applies to other industries where the SKU count can be up to 4000-6000 and, about 80% of the inventory lies in a few selective SKUs.

The very structure of dense racking with pallet shuttle allows placing one single SKU in a row for quick access using FIFO/LIFO. Vertical utilization of height enables the bulk inventory to fit in 50% or less space than it consumes otherwise. So, the bulk inventory SKUs can be accommodated using dense racking & all other SKUs can be stored through selective racking. The same logic can be applied to industries/businesses where there is a limited number of SKUs, like Beverages, Textiles or when the businesses are medium to large scale. Pallet Shuttle would be an ideal candidate that helps to leverage its features to archive significant enhancement of storage capacity without any additional investments in warehouse real estate.

3. Absolute FIFO/LIFO is required: When inventory needs to be shipped based on its in warding order, like First in First Out or Last In First Out in an absolute manner, dense racking with pallet shuttle will aptly fit the bill. By giving access to both sides of the dense racking structure, a FIFO system can be implemented; wherein one Forklift & Shuttle can be deployed for another forklift & shuttle at the other end can be used for retrieving the pallets. In storage and retrieval operations of products like Food, and Medicines- where the expiry of the product is of utmost importance, shipping must happen in FIFO fashion. In the case of the LIFO picking system, only one end of the dense racking system will be available for access. The same shuttle can be used for both fetchings & storing the pallets. So dense racking systems can provide extremely organized & accurate inventory storage, unlike all the other pallet strong methods.

4. While storing seasonal inventory: Businesses that operate in seasonal produce earn the lion’s share of their revenues during on-season and will be typically serving demand requirements up to 3 or 4 times of their off-season demand. However, increasing disposable incomes of people due to developing economies is turning new nations into higher consumption economies, In such a scenario it is, quite common that the demand surges can be 7 to 8 times the original demand forecast.

So, to accommodate this higher inventory surges, a dense racking system with a pallet shuttle can be adopted. In the same available off-season storage space, even on-season stock storing can be achieved through maximized height utilization.

5. For improved warehouse ergonomics: Ensuring high levels of safety for operating staff, material, and equipment like racking structure, forklift. etc is of prime importance. By reducing the number of touchpoints, one can achieve this while handling the material. In the case of drive-in or drive-through pallet racking, the operator’s safety is at great risk as they need to be extremely cautious while driving into the racks to access the pallets. In the case of floor stacking method, the material is susceptible to a great amount of damage as often the lightweight items suffer damage by buckling under the weight of other heavier pallets.

In a dense racking structure with pallet shuttle, the number of pallet positions can go as deep as 40 & shuttle can be deployed to access them without any trouble. This ensures a reduced footprint while increasing the number of pallet positions. The safety bumper and sensors provided on the shuttle prevents collision inside the racks with any person/machine/another shuttle.

6. To increase the Speed of operations: In case of floor stacking/drive-in storage system, the speed is very low as they must remove the pallets below or on top before picking the designated pallet. In case of drive-In racks, only 5- to 10-pallet load spaces are accessible like in double-deep racking. All this results in an extremely slow operation. Similarly, in case of extreme temperatures like cold storage areas, the average lift trucks operating in a cooler of freezer lose up to 50% of battery charge and life cycle due to extreme temperatures.

Pallet shuttle can be the best fit for use as it offers a carrying speed of up to 1.5 meters/sec. Besides this pallet shuttle operates effectively in a wider temperature band. Along with this, the simplicity of operation through remote control & the safety features through bumpers, and sensors provide smooth and safe operation.

So, all in all, the never-ending quest of companies for operational efficiencies, aggressive business targets, and increasing regulations for safety demand flexible & safe warehousing space.

Having Pallet Shuttle in your material handling armor would drastically improve warehouse functioning either in a semi-automatic mode through forklift or in advanced applications like mother-child shuttle/complete AS/RS system.

Watch this space to know more insights on why your warehouse needs a pallet shuttle or how it helps in achieving your business targets!!

Pallet Shuttle – A Warehouse Space Odyssey

In the next decade, as much as 85% of the businesses are projected to adopt a digital route around the globe thanks to Industry 4.0. With increased impetus on scalability across geographies, speedy deliveries and the demand for global products, continual innovation in the logistics & warehousing sector has emerged as the need of the hour for all businesses.

Be it e-commerce, food retail or manufacturing giants, the location of their warehousing facilities is one of the pivotal pillars for their operational excellence and supply chain planning. Ideally, warehouses need to be closer to the cities to reduce the transit time for goods. However, close-by lands often come with higher rentals. An optimal solution in such cases of higher rentals is to utilize the height of the warehouse in an efficient manner. Flying high does make sense if you intend to utilize the space of the warehouse efficiently. To utilize the height of the distribution centers and warehouses, it is essential that they equip themselves with Pallet Shuttle which assists in increasing the warehouse space through vertical stacking of the inventory.

What is Pallet Shuttle and how does it work?

Pallet Shuttle is a semi-automated compact storage solution that reduces operating costs while simultaneously improving the efficiency of the warehouse storagePallet Shuttle facilitates dense racking, which does not require aisles between storage racks, thereby efficiently utilizing the warehouse space.
In traditional storage systems, forklifts drive through each of the aisles and store pallets in the racks. However, in these systems, the depth of storage is compromised as a lot of space gets wasted to make room for forklift’s movement. Through dense racking, Pallet Shuttles have reduced this dependence on forklifts, thereby maximizing the space that can be used for storage. In a Semi-Automatic Dense Racking storage system, the operator only needs to drive the forklift that places the pallets on the channel’s entrance. Then the operator activates the pallet shuttle by sending a remote wi-fi signal. Thereafter, Pallet Shuttle moves the pallets horizontally until it finds an available location, where it deposits the pallet. Pallet Shuttle then returns to the entrance of the channel and repeats the process till the entire channel is filled. A similar process is used to retrieve the goods from racks as well.

Advantages of using Pallet Shuttles

• High Storage Space: Through Pallet Shuttle, aisles can be eliminated in warehouses as forklifts are not required for end-to-end loading and unloading. In dense racking, you can store 2.84 Pallet /m. sq. as compared to 1 Pallet / m. sq.
• High Throughput: Since operators aren’t required to drive the forklift in the aisles, loading and unloading time reduces considerably
• Scalability: You can easily customize the dense racking systems according to your requirements. More shuttles can be easily employed as the per production requirements. Also, Pallet Shuttles can work in both FIFO and LIFO mode.
• Safety: Pallet Shuttle is equipped with safety sensors and an automatic braking system to avoid any collision and accident.
• Ease of Operation: The system is quite easy to install, maintain and run.
• Maintenance: Owing to the way the structure has been built, chances of damage to the metallic racks are minimum. Also, the shuttles require minimum maintenance

Application of Pallet Shuttles

• Although Pallet Shuttles are quite customizable, when we consider economies of scale or special circumstances then the following industries will benefit the most from it: –
• Warehouses that require higher throughput. This translates to a high number of pallet storage locations(More than 5000).
• Seasonal Products: Pallet Shuttle system comes in handy when items are stored all throughout the year, but the withdrawal of the products happens extremely fast based on the season.
• Captive Distribution Centers: Pallet Shuttle based dense racking system is very beneficial for large captive DCs that are attached to factories in the FMCG sector
• Cold Storage: Attaining cold temperature becomes increasingly difficult and expensive upon expanding the size of the warehouse. Here, Pallet Shuttles can provide immense relief by utilizing the existing space efficiently.
• Beverage Industry: It is ideal for operations where the number of Stock Keeping Units is less, and the inventory turnover is high.

Pallet Shuttle – Cruiser: What Lies Within

Warehouses in India have witnessed a transition from manual operations to fast and reliable automated processes. One of the key changes as highlighted in our earlier piece, “Warehouse Odyssey” has been the transition from “Traditional Racking” and forklift-based operations to “Dense Racking” and “Pallet Shuttle” based operations. Pallet Shuttle enables organizations to gain a competitive advantage and increase the storage and throughput capacity of their warehouses.
Consequently, Pallet Shuttles are one of the most adopted technologies across the globe and Cruiser, pallet shuttle manufactured by Addverb is one of the largest deployed Pallet Shuttle in India. It’s imperative to understand what enables Cruiser to gain such an edge, how does it function, how does it ensure a SAFE operation. To understand all these aspects, let us explore the nitty-gritty of what makes Cruiser, our Pallet Shuttle, one of the most coveted and popular Pallet Shuttles in India.

PLC Control system:
The heart of the entire Cruiser system is a ‘PLC-based control system’. This PLC control system takes the input commands given through a tablet on an android platform & processes them based on a customized program & takes decision-related to storage and delivery operations. This PLC control system ensures accurate control of the Cruiser movement on the rails of the dense racks.

Sensors & Customized Bumpers:
They form another part of the crucial components that help in achieving the safety feature, for both humans & shuttle. The sensors detect the obstacle and alert the shuttle to slow its speed & stop at a defined distance with respect to the obstacle. The bumper is a protective device installed on the front of Cruiser to protect its front from collisions with material/human. It avoids potential trapping or crushing risks. The customized bumper fitted with bumper guards on both sides in the direction of movement protects Cruiser against any damage while it is operating.
For the pallet shuttle system, the important hardware components are Tab for Connectivity, Shuttle Unit, Battery & the Battery Charger.

Pallet bumper

Tablet/ Shuttle Controller:
The entire operation of the shuttle can be controlled through a wireless tablet. With a very simple configuration, and easy to use features, the system doesn’t require much installation time once the racking set up is done. The tablet is connected to a wifi-network & acts as a communication medium between the operator and the shuttle. The operator provides input through the tab on an easy to use interface and gives commands to the shuttle to either drop a load or pick a load from the aisles. In the case of Cruiser, it can be operated in 2 modes; manual & automatic.

Pallet shuttle tablet

Shuttle Unit:
It’s a battery-operated trolley, with an ability to carry the pallet loads swiftly along the rails. In a semi-automatic system, an operator places the shuttle (with the help of a forklift) at the beginning of the rail where the storage/ retrieval/reshuffle operation needs to be performed, upon which depending on the input command, shuttle performs the operation. After successful completion of the operation, the shuttle comes back & rests at the source position.

Battery System:
Battery management is often overlooked when it comes to industrial equipment, and good battery management is still an exception rather than something obvious. With small improvements to the equipment & the processes, most of the time, we can achieve the best results. Cruiser battery is also designed on similar lines; with easy to change the system, and various features like advanced technology, heat management, smart charging & emergency power handling mechanism, Cruiser offers up to 16 hours of battery life, hence can be used for two whole shifts without any intervention.

A unique feature of this battery pack is the absence of a “memory effect”, so it is possible, in an emergency, to recharge for less than the optimum time for charging.

Battery Charger:

The battery charger is designed to ensure safety and reliable performance. With a smart charging feature, the charger automatically stops charging when the battery level reaches 100%.In our next blog, we will be writing on ‘Top 5 reasons to have a Pallet Shuttle in your warehouse’. Watch this space!!

Addverb Technologies is incorporated in 2016 with an aim to help Indian companies to embrace Industry 4.0 in all walks of their supply chain operations. If you have any automation related requirements, do write to us at our email id automate@addverb.in.

Dense racking vis-à-vis Conventional Racking

A famous aerated beverage company got to land on lease for their warehousing requirement. The project team decided to utilize the height of the warehouse and went for great conventional racking storage for pallet racking. They were quite happy to have created additional space inside the limited land of the warehouse. They bought some good quality stackers and inaugurated the warehouse. The company scored big on their sales and with good marketing hacks, the demand grew manifold that within a year they felt that even the additional space was short, and they again started looking for land nearby. Sounds like a relatable story?

The most important question here to ask is, was all the storage space of the warehouse utilized properly? Are there any different ways of storing bulk goods? Can additional space be created with the storage pattern itself without expanding the existing structure? If you ask these questions to us, without any hesitation, we say “Dense Racking” and we would like to present our views on dense racking, alongside the popular conventional racking systems.

Dense racking uses a Pallet Shuttle which can go deep into the storage lane to retrieve, deposit and reshuffle pallets. It helps in achieving vertical utilization of space, wherein the height of the racking can be as tall as 40 meters. Also, as it doesn’t require an aisle between the racks for movement of forklifts, hence results in an increase of usable space by up to 75 percent. Distribution operations that require high volume order fulfillment or freezer and cooler applications are some examples of when a high-density pallet storage rack system would be required.

In fact, all types of pallet racking systems create some level of increased storage density in their own set of applications; also, carry certain advantages and disadvantages in terms of operational efficiency, flexibility, safety and speed of operation. Let us gaze into the intricacies of some of the popular bulk storage warehouse racking systems.

1. Selective Racks – The most commonly used pallet system, selective racks provide access from an aisle. These warehouse racking systems are ideal for narrow aisle racking, standard systems, and deep-reach systems. Selective racks require special narrow lift trucks and accommodate a single pallet in depth. This system has the lowest storage capacity of pallet & also the lowest cost per pallet, however, it is not scalable & and will be expensive when the no. of pallet positions exceeds 3000. In contrast, with more no. of pallet positions & the product lines, dense racking structure would bring greater cost optimization anywhere between 20% to 50% in terms of reduced storage cost per pallet.

2. Drive-In and Drive-Through Racks – Conventionally, for high-density storage drive-in racks and drive-through racks have been in use. With one entrance and exit, drive-in racks have been commonly used where LIFO can fit the bill; and with access at both ends, drive-through racks have been used where the FIFO process is required. Constructed of steel in most cases, these warehouse racking systems have enough space for a forklift to move into their bay. However, these systems pose some serious limitations when it comes to the safety of forklift operators while handling the material inside these racks. Also, the systems won’t work quite well for storing small batches and more variety of products. Lastly, these racks will pose restrictions on the choice of forklifts.

3. Push Back Racking Systems – Typically used for bulk storage, push back racking systems store products that span 2-5 pallets. When a pallet is loaded onto the system, it pushes the next pallet back, and when a pallet is unloaded, it is pushed to the front of the system. Push-back racking systems utilize the LIFO system and often feature inclined rails and sliding carts and double lanes. This racking system doesn’t require a forklift to go into the lanes unlike drive-in/drive-through & hence enhances the safety of the forklift operator. When it comes to the limiting factor of this system, it’s the depth of the reach with a maximum of 4-5 access lanes.

4. Flow Racks – Also known as gravity racks, flow racks are also one of the commonly used storage systems for high-density storage up to 20+ pallets deep. With this type of warehouse racking system, items are loaded at the higher end and removed at the lower end using a FIFO system. The rotation of products becomes automatic as the racks flow with loading and unloading. Flow racks make use of gravity rollers that move in conjunction with the rack load and feature brakes or speed controllers to regulate item movement. One advantage of flow racks is they do not require electricity for operation because gravity powers them. High cost compared to all other conventional racking systems and poor accessibility to all the pallets are the attenuating factors for the choice of this racking system.

The challenge with today’s warehouse racking is to store an ever-increasing number of pallets, in a less storage space. The dense racking system saves both time and money on product management and storage, delivery and shipping, product transference, and labor cost.