The warehousing industry is currently undergoing a renaissance, with numerous advancements and a rethinking to the basic function of what a warehouse is and the role it plays in the supply chain. Spurred by the rise of e-commerce, advancements like automated solutions and the movement towards streamlining processes is equating to more savings and efficiencies within a warehouse.
One important piece of the warehousing puzzle that doesn’t get as much spotlight is racking and the components behind them. These static objects take up a large majority of the space within a warehouse and have been largely unchanged for many years. However, with more moves being made towards automation and order fulfilment solutions, the selection of the right type of racking is quickly becoming more important to the overall efficiency of modern warehouses. LM recently had the chance to sit down with two representatives from leading companies in the warehousing and racking industry, Mr. Michael Bradshaw, Director at Dematic S.E.A; and Mr. Roy Dingemans, Sales Manager Intralogistic Solutions Asia-Pacific at Jungheinrich AG, to get their views on the changes behind the scenes of the warehousing world.
When thinking of what type of racks to utilize in your warehouse, it’s important to remember that different kinds of racks lend themselves to different kinds of products and different kinds of movement characteristics. With a large variety of rack, shelving and storage containers available, it’s important for customers to bring as much information as they can to providers so they can develop the best possible solution.
“Space optimization and productivity are key considerations in selecting the right types and quantities of storage equipment” said Mr. Bradshaw. “For this we first need to understand the product range, throughput, inventory levels, and the operational processes that need to be supported. Additionally, rack selection should be done hand-in-hand with the selection of wheeled equipment, picking technology and automation. Working through this process systematically can have an enormously positive impact on optimizing productivity, space efficiency and investment.”
“We need to think in terms of future needs as well as the dimensions and specifications of the building and products,” said Mr. Dingemans. “This information is then put into tools and software and we can then calculate and develop the racks and beams needed for your operations. There are many kinds of racks, from double deep racking and row racking, to VNA (very narrow aisle) and shelf racks; we can supply everything, but we need to have the information about each customer’s individual needs to be able to recommend the optimal type of racking solution.”
As we continued speaking with both experts, it became quite clear that while the right racking is of course very important, it’s just one piece of the equation. Having a holistic view of the entire operation gives the greatest savings and efficiency to a warehouse operation.
Mr. Bradshaw said, “Because rack is often viewed as a commodity item, proper application of the criteria for selection is often overlooked. We add value to our customer’s business with our consultative approach to integrated systems design, helping them determine the right solution for storage, order picking and materials handling with a view of optimizing operational efficiency, space efficiency, productivity and Return on Investment.”
Mr. Dingemans explained, “We work like a consultant for our customers. We develop a concept, whether it’s for a new warehouse or an existing one, to optimize performance and recommend what we think is the best option. We often base it around manual, semi-automated, and fully automated options. The industry is moving more towards the semi- and fully automated options, and along with this shift racking must adapt too. The different kind and amount of automation a warehouse utilizes can change many factors of racking. From the grade of steel, to different safety features, we optimize our solutions on a customer-by-customer basis to best suit their needs.”
Pitfalls to Avoid
Both industry experts had experiences in fixing the mistakes made by inexperience, and they wanted to share their knowledge, and common pitfalls to avoid.
- Safety First
Make sure your rack is designed to the right standards and has been produced using the right raw materials. Failure to comply with standards and failure to produce out of the right grade steel compromises the integrity of your rack and compromises the safety of your staff and your product. “Buying from the cheapest supplier may appear like an attractive option at first, but significant differences in price are inevitably attributed to significant differences in the amount and/or quality of steel in the rack. The consequences of going with the low-cost option can be disastrous,” said Mr. Bradshaw who recommended to select suppliers with a proven track record in quality and safety.
- Contact a holistic solutions provider, not a pure racking supplier.
Even if you’re only looking for racking advice, contacting a holistic solutions provider is the better option, as it’s normally in the best interest of a pure racking supplier to steer a customer towards what they have in stock, and not what fits the customer’s needs the best. Mr. Dingemans said, “You’ll see this a lot in Asia, the racking supplier is the first place a customer contacts. In Europe, it’s the other way around, they contact a system integrator first and get the best design for their layout. I highly recommend every customer contact a holistic solutions provider first to maximize your results.”
- Design for future needs.
Pay a little bit more for a flexible solution that you can grow into versus something that will only meet your needs currently, but has no ability to expand. This is extremely important for any business big or small, and can help avoid potential major headaches in the future. As Mr. Bradshaw said, “Especially in logistics, staying flexible is key. Business growth, expanding product ranges and changes to order profiles can all affect your racking needs.”
- Utilize experienced implementers.
After all the hard work of picking out the optimal racking has been done, don’t forget about how the racking is to be installed. Using inexperienced and cheap labor to install the racking can create a host of safety issues. Mr. Dingemans said, “I’ve seen inexperienced workers mixing the bottom and top racking and installing it completely upside down. That’s a disaster in the making. I urge everyone buying racking to make sure the person constructing it has experience and are professionals.”
With the transition of supply chains towards more unit picking for a growing number of small orders, the approach taken to Distribution Centre design is evolving to adapt. This is particularly evident with the significant increase in e-commerce and distribution through B2C fulfilment channels. Mr. Bradshaw said, “The task of storing, picking and packing small item orders is far more complex and labour intensive compared to distributing cartons and pallets. While various types of shelving remain a popular in many applications with large product ranges of low inventory SKUs, we’re starting to see a shift towards automated solutions such as high-rate goods-to-person systems where products are delivered to the operators, rather than the operators traveling large distances around the DC to pick them. These solutions can increase picking rates by up to 10 times compared to conventional methods and provide significant reductions in building footprint as well. To support these kind of solutions, racks also had to evolve. We’ve developed a new range of rack designed specifically to operate with robotic shuttles that work inside the rack to store and retrieve product automatically. These solutions are providing opportunities for our customers to achieve whole new levels of improvement in productivity, accuracy and space efficiency in their markets.”
Mr. Dingemans believes that we’ll continue to see more integration on the solutions end of the business for warehouses and racking. “Many of the innovations we’ve seen for racking haven’t been radical changes, they’re more evolutionary and smarter designed. Automation with Wi-Fi has however been changing the way racks are designed. The design of the warehouse changes considerably if an automated solution is implemented compared to a more traditional design. Smarter solutions, software, and engineering to make racking stronger and lighter look to be on the immediate horizon for the evolution of racking.”