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What are vertical lift modules and how can they fit your warehouse?

Have you ever imagined your cupboard to be automatic? An automatic storage space where you just need to press a button and Voila! you have your required item served before you. But why do you need an automatic cupboard at the first place? May be not. But automation matters when there are a number of items to store and you need them in your hand really quick. A warehouse or a factory is a place where the above utopia will become a hysteria.  A vertical lift module is the technology that makes the above system possible. You must have seen elevators with doors that open on both the front and rear side. Similarly, VLM consists of two columns of trays, parallelly facing each other and a mechanical extractor between them like the elevator. The mechanical extractor travels up and down between the columns automatically retrieving and storing the items from these trays stored on the columns. In warehouses, inventory is stored in these columns and by entering the tray number on the built-in control pad, the extractor triggers and retrieves the items from the columns by intelligently detecting the location of that item. This operation is applicable for extraction as well as replenishment of material inside the vertical storage module.

Necessity and Invention, an old lore!

Manufacturers across the globe supply a wide range of products and hence manage the inventory of these wide range of product profiles. From slow movers to fast and from small items to large, material handling approaches vary if these manufacturers are to maintain efficiency. There are various technologies available for fast moving items but medium and slow movers also required a technology to sync with the level of operation.

Some of the leading manufacturing industries including automotive, metals and heavy machinery, semiconductors and electronics, and aviation started using VLMs for the storage and retrieval of components and raw materials which are either slow or medium movers. At present, almost 18% of the VLM is used by automotive end-user sector. Suppliers in this industry focus on managing large inventory effectively and also seek to reduce additional cost incurred due to damages in parts. They also intend to improve the storage capacity within the available floor space. These factors lead to the increase in adoption of VLMs in the automotive industry.

Is it your cup of tea?

Although designed primarily for storing and retrieving slow to medium-moving products, VLMs (Vertical Lift Modules) are important components on the system side of supply chain flow. It is one of the best solutions for the facilities where the ceiling height goes up to 100 feet and have heavy items that require lifting assistance for the operator to handle them safely.

Those industries where the inventory mix changes very frequently, and the stored parts record highly variable sizes and weights.

VLMs are used most often for order picking, consolidation, kitting, parts handling, buffering, inventory storage, buffer storage, and numerous other similar operations.

How does it make an impact?

Over the next five years the Vertical Lift Module (VLM) market will register a 7.9% CAGR in terms of revenue. The global market size will reach US$ 474.1 million by 2024, from US$ 350.2 million in 2019. The usage of VLM is industry agnostic but at the same time process specific. It is basically developed to optimise the picking operations of a workspace. The innovative automated storage technologies and vertical module will save your team both time and resources in your picking operations. Below are some brownie points which can deliver the ergonomics to operations with a touch of a button on a control device:

  • Vertical space utilisation: In order to match storage requirement in a facility, these VLMs can be built as high as the available y-axis overhead space, which otherwise be wasted. It is ideal for reducing the floor space requirements for stored materials. This reduction of valuable square feet can be as much as 90% compared to the traditional shelving system.
  • Enhanced Productivity: VLM reduces the wait time after a pick. Once the picker completes one picking operation, the next closest required item gets delivered. This eliminates the requirement of memorising the location of an item by a picker and makes the operation many times faster and approximately 200-400% more productive.
  • Safety: It tremendously reduces operators’ risk as everything inside is automatic. The obstacle detecting sensor mechanism makes it a complete safe technology to be used for a picking and overall order fulfilment operation.
  • Seamless Integration: VLMs can be used stand-alone or with the existing Warehouse management system software to manage the space and utilization of units, which allows you to easily manage the automatic vertical warehouse and all the information systems in one simple, convenient location.
  • Minimise Damages: The system ensures almost zero damages, caused while handling the items in a picking process while maintaining a smooth traceability of each and every item inside the vertical storage system.

Considering the benefits mentioned above on a quite macroscopic level, VLM is the best technology or tool to meet each organization specific business and warehouse requirements. With its compact size, it is ideal for storing and picking items such as electronic components, pharmaceuticals, and tools. It is best applicable for slow to medium moving order fulfilment applications as part of a facility and organization which is emerging in its industry in terms of scale and trying to hit the “benchmark” level performances!

Light in the wall

With the rise of E-commerce, the proliferation of SKUs and the expectation of quick deliveries, the intralogistics operations have become quite complex. To cater to today’s customer, both the online and the brick and mortar retailers must maintain an adequate supply of items both in terms of quantity and variability. These competitive pressures prompt companies to have super-fast and highly accurate deliveries, which becomes a daunting task for the warehousing team. To cater to these high service levels and still maintain both the scale and flexibility in their operations, Warehouse Managers should look towards efficient and accurate order fulfillment solutions. One such solution that ticks the right boxes is a Put-To-Wall solution, which can help in sorting the orders that have been consolidated upstream into individual deliveries before they get dispatched.

What is Put-To-Wall?

Put-To-Wall system is a part of the Goods-To-Person order picking system. This solution mainly comprises of a shelf with individual slots, each slot representing an order. Both sides of the slots are open to facilitate sorting of the orders at one side & collection for the packing on the other side. The Put-To-Wall systems are usually combined with the “Wave Picking” process. All the orders that are to be picked are consolidated and processed as a single collective order. The picker collects the items in a tote/crate and sends the crate downstream towards the sortation region which comprises multiple Put-To-Wall stations.

How it is used? A Wave is generated by combining the common SKUs, delivery dates, shipping address areas, etc. These multiple orders combined are processed together & the individual SKUs for those combined orders are picked in the crates and sent to the sortation area. The operator in the Put-To-Wall area typically has an RF gun which is integrated with the wall.

Once the crates from upstream arrive in the Put-To-Wall area, the incoming inventory is scanned at the item level/case level. In case of item level placing, once the item is scanned, the required slot of the Put-To-Wall, where it needs to go illuminates; in case of ‘case level scanning’, all the locations where the items in the case should go illuminate with the quantity getting displayed on the alphanumeric display of the light unit. Upon placing the items into the locations, the operator puts off the light by pressing the acknowledgment button.

On the Packing side of the put-wall, another operator packs the orders. The totes/cartons with the consolidated items from upstream are usually carried to the Put-To-Wall station through a conveyor, loop sorter or in some cases by a trolley.

Advantages of Put-To-Wall:

High Throughput: Wave picking typically reduces the walking time of the picker as walking comprises 50% of the order picking time. This results in a higher-order picking rate and subsequently the Put-To-Wall allows for a very fast and quick sortation.

Flexibility: The Put-To-Wall structures can be expanded/contracted by increasing the number of shelves & lighting systems to suit the demand fluctuations. Put-To-Wall can be very easily integrated into the existing system without any alterations. It is just an add-on at the end of the order processing line which results in easy, efficient & accurate order handling.

Increase employee productivity: As employees standing at one point & sorting the orders, it reduces the travel time and offers a safer and ergonomic work environment. It is easy to train the employees to use a put-wall system that results in higher productivity.

Higher accuracy: The Put-To-Wall system involves scanning the items before placing them into the respective slots. The scanning, subsequent light, and alphanumeric display ensures high-quality checks reducing the misplacing of items, quantity errors & increases order accuracy rates.

Efficient Space Utilization: The Put-To-Wall structure has many slots on one shelve and the slots are continuously used for order processing and packing leading to the effective utilization of warehouse space.

Environment-friendly: Put-To-Wall is completely paperless, as it involves scanning & light, which makes it environment-friendly & has less scope for errors.