Tag Archive for: conveyor

7-automation-solutions-to-support-ecommerce

There is a rapidly growing market for interest in automation solutions, especially in response to the COVID-19 crisis that has reshaped supply chains globally.

Before the crisis began, businesses of all types were slowly shifting to support e-commerce. However, when the pandemic hit, that shift suddenly forced those interested in these solutions to re-evaluate if automation was required to meet customer demand. With the recent acceleration of e-commerce demand, many fulfillment centers need to incorporate automation to a higher degree.

To meet customer demand – where the time between order and delivery expectation is shorter than any time in history – warehouses need to change. Warehouses that are not fully prepared for this rapid rise of e-commerce often rely on an excessive amount of labor (including additional overtime), missing ship dates, and do not meet customer expectations on order accuracy or fulfillment times, all while confronting an ever-increasing volume of SKUs.

The pain points are all building up for those who have not yet adjusted. In those cases, how does one respond?

Some businesses start from scratch by building new facilities, while others are looking to adjust by retrofitting under their current footprint. These companies are looking to increase storage density, reduce time and costs, and achieve higher throughput capabilities by introducing automation into their processes.

Several solutions help warehouses and distribution centers stay competitive and thrive in today’s changing world. Below, we have highlighted seven automation solutions we have seen be useful in these efforts, no matter what level of automation your facility currently has implemented:

Solution 1: Goods-to-Person Picking with HAI Robotics

HAI Robotics ActionHAI Robotics is an intelligent, efficient, and flexible automation solution that utilizes a combination of HAIPICK robots, customizable storage units, software, and workstations to create a robotic goods-to-person picking workflow in a warehouse setting. These robots can handle up to eight cases simultaneously and reach heights up to 33 feet, increasing operational efficiency by up to 4x while also increasing storage density by up to 130%.

This solution replaces the repetitive, time-consuming costs of manual storage and handling and introduces a goods-to-person technology that can drastically improve fulfillment efforts.

Solution 2: Goods-to-Person Tote Handling AS/RS with Opex Perfect Pick

Goods-to-Man Tote Handling AS/RSHigh-speed AS/RS tote handling solutions offer scalable goods-to-person picking that improves the speed with which orders are picked, increases order accuracy, and reduces labor costs related to the picking process. It is a low-risk solution for those looking to introduce automated solutions into their operations. An additional benefit of this solution is that an operator can customize either the software or the system quickly if needed.

These systems offer high-density storage both vertically and horizontally within the system with robots that deliver products to a packing station or workstation for further fulfillment. It utilizes put-to-light technology that offers a high degree of accuracy, even with high volumes of order picking.

Solution 3: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)AMRs offer a wide variety of benefits, including facilitating complex fulfillment, zone picking, each picking, case picking, maximizes labor, reduces labor costs, and can be designed to be scalable, flexible, and adaptable to nearly any fulfillment process. Because they do not require massive investment or even a WMS, on-demand automation solutions like AMRs are becoming adopted widely, especially for those looking to make low-risk introductions into automation.

Solution 4: Handle Complex Product Mixes with EffiMat® and ClassicMat™

Effimat-in-ActionEffimat® is an ideal solution for fast-moving products and small parts but can also increase fulfillment efficiencies with slow runners. The technology can determine the speed with which to pick the order. However, ClassicMat™ is constructed to be the ideal handler for slow runners and can prevent the parts from lowering the speed of the order.

By combining the two technologies and using their intelligent software system, users are ensured highly efficient storage or production environments that can handle complex product mixes.

Solution 5: Put to Light Tables/Workstations

Put-to-Light TablesPut-to-Light systems are an automated sortation method to break down larger product quantities into smaller individual orders. Known as the “scan and sort method,” this order fulfillment method takes items that are usually batch picked beforehand and transports them to the put station. The operator will scan a bar code on individual items, and the lights will illuminate with any customer order including that product. This technology solution will increase productivity as it reduces the time associated with searching for the put location. By the time the operator is done, the next product is already waiting, meaning it is a nonstop picking environment where workers are never waiting on automation.

Put-to-Light offers the same hardware devices and software as pick to light, meaning you can utilize both systems on one platform. This process will be beneficial when it comes to training new employees to use this technology solution. This system’s primary goal is to give you the ability to pack and ship more orders in less time while reducing errors.

Solution 6: Mixed Use of AMRs, Pick Modules, and Conveyors

AMRs and Conveyor CombosWe’ve touched on the integration of AMRs in conjunction with pick modules in addition to (or in place of) conveyors here. In short, by using this solution, you are shifting the work of your labor force to more valuable tasks. Like many automated solutions, it lessens the pick process’s length and gives you a flexible, scalable solution to adjust as e-commerce continues to grow.  Click here to learn more about this solution.

Solution 7: Introduce Automation without Massive Infrastructure with inVia Robotics

inVia Robotics ActioninVia Robotics offers a “crawl-walk-run” approach to introducing automation with their PickMate, Picker Robots, and PickerWall solutions. Users can integrate robotics at your scale, ultimately improving productivity up to 10x while seeing a return on investment on day one of implementation.

inVia is the only technology that can create a goods-to-person picking environment out of an existing pick module while not requiring massive infrastructure changes within your facility.

Their unique robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription models offer an ideal place to start automation because the subscription model removes the massive capital expenditure from the equation

Which is Right for You?

Which is the right solution for you? Will you need a WES/WMS system? Do you need a partner to help you consider using an engineered solution in the future?
There are several factors distribution centers need to consider, not only to meet today’s demand but also to facilitate growth and adaptability for future unforeseen changes in fulfillment expectations.

We have the design and expertise to partner with you through the decision-making and implementation processes. Give us a call today!

SSI Partnership with MHS Conveyor

Storage Solutions, Inc. (SSI) is excited to announce a new partnership with MHS Conveyor, a subsidiary of Material Handling Systems, Inc., (MHS), which is a leading global provider of material handling automation technology and software solutions for distribution, fulfillment, manufacturing and other industries.

The MHS Conveyor partnership with Storage Solutions will focus on supplying conveyor and sortation solutions, giving distribution operations the ability to support fulfillment speeds of up to 50,000 items per hour. Through this collaboration, systems will be designed with operational and layout efficiency in mind, particularly in the transfer of particles, totes, and cartons throughout a facility.

As Storage Solutions has continued to expand its engineering services, including design, installation, and integration of automation solutions, this partnership with MHS Conveyor will allow the company to be aligned with another industry leader in automated material handling solutions. With this expansion of services, combined with decades of experience in warehouse storage optimization, the partnership is well-positioned to meet the requirements of each customer, with a roadmap for dynamic growth as needs change.

“We have a reputation for helping customers overcome complex challenges, and we understand that the team at Storage Solutions shares our ‘above and beyond’ approach to solving those problems,” said Jim Bronsema, Director, Sales, MHS Conveyor. “Our partnership with Storage Solutions will help us expand the reach of our conveyor and sortation solutions to more warehouses and distribution centers throughout North America.”

“Our clients partner with us because they know we have the in-house expertise to deliver solutions around design, installation, and integration, all with a turnkey approach,” explained Eric McDonald, Chief Customer Officer of Storage Solutions. “This partnership is of great value to our client base, especially those who are interested in automation but not sure where to begin.”

The announcement comes days ahead of MODEX 2022, Material Handling Industry’s highly attended supply chain conference. If you would like to learn more about MHS Conveyor’s solution set, are interested to see them in action, or thinking about integrating automation options into your operations, contact a Storage Solutions expert and plan a time to meet at MODEX.

Warehouse Conveyor Manchester NH 1

Storage Solutions recently completed a project for a longtime client for their 400,000 square foot facility in New Hampshire. The client was condensing their operations to free up warehouse space and required a creative solution to completely reverse the flow of their outbound conveyor system and re-locate their shipping sortation race-track conveyor.

Warehouse Conveyor Manchester NH 1

However, the challenge with this project was the integration of the new conveyor with their existing conveyor system. The design had to factor in their need to have the conveyor interact with their existing pick modules. There was also a time crunch associated with the project, so proper planning and design were integral at the early stages to ensure the project would be completed on time and within budget.

Additionally, at the time, lead times for new conveyors were estimated at 20 weeks, while the client only had an 8-week window to complete the project. So, our engineers got to work while our account representatives and project managers began procuring the proper equipment.

Because of our vast network of partners, we could find a portion of what we needed from new product sources while using some of the client’s existing conveyors. We also found mechanical and electrical installers who were up for the challenge and had a strong base of product knowledge and experience.

We integrated the new conveyor material with their existing system, used TGW’s motor-driven roller (MDR) conveyor to create a 180-degree curve, and Russell Conveyors for spurs, curves, and merges. We were able to utilize a conveyor loop design – similar to a horseshoe – to maximize the use of space. Our engineers and product managers made site visits to ensure everything was on schedule and provided guidance on reprogramming all of the different components to make everything run together properly.

Ultimately, we were able to take a complicated problem like designing and reversing a conveyor system within a smaller footprint – when new conveyor lead times were around 20 weeks – and complete the project with minimal downtime in 8 weeks to the day. This success is just one reason why our clients continue to be repeat customers and it shows that delivering creative solutions can be accomplished because of our internal teamwork and diverse set of expertise.

Our scope of work included:

Want to learn more about past projects we have completed? Check out other case studies from a variety of project types across several industries.

Let us know if Storage Solutions can help you with your next project.

Dynamic Solutions Beat Labor Challenges

Throughout the supply chain, businesses are experiencing labor challenges in various ways, and it has taken a toll on throughput and profitability for many.

First of all, labor availability is at an all-time low, and fulfillment centers are routinely operating at below capacity because of it. That puts undue pressure on the remaining workers, who are then overextended in attempting to meet consumers’ increasing expectations on quicker delivery for an ever-increasing share of e-commerce orders. In this environment, fulfillment centers are also adjusting to fewer shipments of full pallets and a more significant share of each or order picks, which are more expensive and lead to increased labor costs.

Plus, because labor availability is so low, companies are required to raise wages – and sometimes add bonuses – to attract new employees. That factor makes employee retention more difficult because now there is more competition for those higher-paying jobs, so workers are more apt to jump from one company to another. So, in changing careers and changing companies, quality control is affected as more employees need to be trained.

In short, the labor market is a mess right now. COVID-19 and other external factors have caused a dramatic shift in supply chain employment, and companies are feeling the pain of all these changes. Some have adopted dynamic strategies to reduce dependency on human labor for fulfilling orders, and some are in the process of investigating potential options for their operations.

In fact, one of the most common themes we hear from clients is that they may have waited too late, and now they need to play catch-up. We have found that clients are getting their biggest “bang for the buck” on integrating solutions around their picking, packing, and replenishment operations.

Below are a few dynamic solutions we design and provide that may help your business catch up to meet today’s challenges, but in reality, these solutions should also come with a roadmap to help your operations adapt to future challenges that may be unforeseen.

Adding Conveyor and Sortation Solutions

Conveyor and sortation solutions can be a solvent for labor challenges, primarily by reducing the amount of physical travel required by transporting products long distances within a facility. Through proper design, conveyors can dramatically improve fulfillment speeds, add quality control, and improve safety in a facility.

Even if you have a conveyor system currently running in your facility, it may be time to re-evaluate your design as demand and needs change. Retrofitting existing conveyors with new parts, sortation solutions, or new motors can also make a sizeable impact on your replenishment, picking, and packing efforts.

Condense Your Footprint with Vertical Lift Modules

While condensing your storage doesn’t always directly solve labor challenges, vertical lift modules (VLMs) offer various benefits to fulfillment operations, particularly when it comes to picking items to a cart. VLMs offer a fully-automated goods-to-person picking and storage solution that can be ideal when your process involves small-to-medium products.

Pick-to-light batching tables can be incorporated to allow for picking multiple orders to drive higher pick rates and eliminate guesswork from the batching process. With these high pick rates and additional throughput and accuracy, you can drive labor savings.

Introduce Automated Warehouse Robotics

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are two typical warehouse solutions to labor challenges because of their fulfillment rates, operational costs, safety benefits, and order accuracy. Our partners at Fetch Robotics and inVia Robotics work with your labor force to support replenishment, picking, and transportation of products. These solutions can be installed as a subscription service, meaning you don’t have to invest in massive infrastructure at your facility.

These solutions integrate with your warehouse management systems (WMS) to optimize pick paths to support your pick process or do the picking entirely, depending on your needs. Ultimately, though, they remove the costliest aspect of fulfillment – humans walking through a warehouse.

Reduce Costs When You Automate Your Packaging

Especially as a greater share of orders are being shipped individually than by-the-pallet, automating your packaging process can support increased throughput and lower labor costs. From case sealers to auto-baggers to print-and-apply labeling systems, there are several solutions that can prevent you from paying someone to package individual or group orders.

These end-of-the-line solutions can automatically measure and add void-fill, reducing waste, freight costs, and can improve customer satisfaction along the way.

Invest in Automation with Goods-to-Person Picking Systems

Even if you have no level of automation in your operations, it may be worth investigating how to integrate automated goods-to-person picking systems in your facility. However, before diving in too deep, we recommend speaking with an expert that has conducted a data-driven analysis of your material flow to determine the right solution for your business goals.

Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) can come in cart-based solutions, crane-based solutions, cart-crane combinations, mini-load AS/RS, and more. They all drive extremely high pick rates, optimal storage design, ergonomic support and can scale as your business goals grow. However, because there are so many options out there, finding the right solution requires the design and expertise of a proper project partner. We’d be happy to discuss these options with you!

Need Some Advice? Contact an Expert

Our team of experts has experience with various solutions that can relieve the dependency on labor and drive an ROI by increasing your throughput. For us, solving labor challenges is less about eliminating workers but more about keeping your best employees around by making their jobs more accessible, more consistent and creating opportunities for less wear-and-tear per pick.

If you’re reacting to labor challenges, call us today to find which of these solutions is suitable for your operations.

Storage Solutions for Third-Party Logistics Firms

One of the most common challenges we encounter with our third-party logistics (3PL) clients involves the ever-diminishing time expectation between when an end-user orders a product and when they think it should be at their door. To meet challenges associated with this trend, 3PL firms are consistently looking at ways to decrease pick time through storage and fulfillment processes.

For the uninitiated, the Material Handling Industry glossary defines a third-party logistics firm as “a business arrangement whereby logistics services, often including warehousing, are contracted to an independent business that specializes in such services and is not connected through direct ownership to the producer or factory requiring the service.”

Because a 3PL’s mission is to maintain profitable logistical operations of fulfillment within the facility – while not taking ownership of the products themselves – 3PL firms tend to prefer flexibility, scalability, and versatility. Typically, 3PLs are working on relatively short-term contracts with their clients (on average 1-5 years), so they want the ability to use the equipment for their current client on their next job.

3PLs are usually storing products for companies that fulfill small orders (for example, retail or e-commerce). This type of fulfillment is typically labor-intensive and costly, so finding the right mix of storage solutions is critical for optimizing operations. However, because their clients are frequently changing or renewing, 3PLs prefer standard solutions that can apply across various industries to allow these firms to be versatile in accommodating multiple pallets in multiple sizes if a client leaves or does not renew.

So, what are the standard storage solutions for 3PL? Let’s take a look:

Pallet Racking

Pallet rack is overwhelmingly the most common storage medium for 3PL firms. Traditionally, most of the industry will use a configuration of pallet rack at 54″ H x 40″ W x 48″ D with 2500-lb capacity beams, which covers most storage applications. That size is also ideal for shipping, as it allows shippers to be more efficient because they can optimally cube out a truck at that size with double-stacked pallets.

Small Parts Storage Solutions

To cover small parts storage, 3PLs rely on a massive amount of shelving and hand stack racks in their facilities. The products required to be most accessible will typically be at the floor-level, so sometimes those shelves are created by adding additional beam levels on the rack that currently exists (along with wire decking) to allow for optimal storage. If you do not have the racking above the shelving, you sacrifice valuable vertical storage space within the facility.

If more than one level of small parts storage is required, then we involve bin mezzanines. However, there are additional costs – both hard and soft — whenever other levels are constructed. Outside of the hard costs of the decking, lighting, sprinklers, etc., there is the soft cost of the additional travel time for the picker associated with the 2nd or 3rd level.

Vertical Reciprocating Conveyor (VRC)

When we introduce multiple levels within a 3PL facility, we typically enlist a vertical reciprocating conveyor (VRC) to assist with moving single-load products vertically for storage or for picking. They can carry pallets, carts, cartons, or products to pickers or for storage on different levels, saving travel time associated with walking up and down stairs. VRCs can be assembled using single or double masts, single or double rails, and even some models can travel on an incline/decline grade versus solely traveling perpendicularly to the floor.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Because of the high cost and rigidity of traditional automation solutions, which are great for specialized, static retrieval and storage, most 3PLs avoid installing them. However, there are great on-demand automation solutions like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can offer a great deal of support to 3PL facilities. AMR solutions are very portable, reconfigurable, and can be reprogrammed in a matter of hours versus the days or weeks it could take to disassemble and reconfigure some of the more extensive, static storage options. AMRs can improve pick speeds, lower labor costs, and provide other safety matters within most fulfillment operations. Plus, as needs change and the business grows over time, these solutions can scale and grow along with the organization.

Safety Solutions for Third-Party Logistics Firms

As with any installation, we recommend thinking through the safety of the employees, facility, and equipment within the design. After all, safety should be part of your operational philosophy, not just a mandate or requirement. When a project comes up, we provide warehouse safety solutions like mirrors, guard rails, signage, end-of-rack protectors, end-of-aisle protectors, and anything else that may be pertinent to operational safety. At the design and strategy stage, these can be afterthoughts, but we recommend getting everything you need when you begin designing storage solutions for 3PLs.

What’s Next?

While most 3PLs utilize some combination of the storage solutions listed above, we still see operations that require more robust set-ups like traditional conveyors, drive-in racking, and pushback rack. The size of the investment is typically determined by the client paying for the equipment.

Our team has decades of combined experience working with 3PLs across the country to deliver better storage options, quicker fulfillment processes, and greater order accuracy. We know that finding the right answer usually involves finding scalable, flexible, and portable solutions, all while being cost-effective.

We take that approach to every aspect of the fulfillment process, from storage and racking to the facility’s flow. If your third-party logistics operations could use a tune-up, give us a call today and let one of our experts learn about the challenges you face and provide solutions designed around your business’s unique needs.

Broken Case Picking Phases

There are many options available for Storage Solutions to address your broken case picking operational challenges. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you are matching the right picking approach to what your warehouse needs. The more challenging your needs are, the more likely you are to be able to make a business case with a relatively short-term ROI for more complex solutions.

Our team uses a variety of criteria to decide what equipment, automation, and technology are best to optimize each solution. The volume of picked items is a crucial element of this process, so we’re going to walk through some examples of what we can do to tailor each operation for peak efficiency. We will break this down into four levels of pick activity, including low, medium, and high-volume operations, along with advanced systems for very high volume and complex processes.

Phase 1: Low Volume

In a low volume broken case picking operation, we typically see little or no automation and limited technology solutions. Limited labor requirements make it challenging to show an ROI for complex solutions. You are most likely dealing with bin shelving or hand stack pallet rack for a storage method. These operations often use paper pick lists or RF scanning technology to manage orders. With a low volume of items picked, frequently, the most cost-effective method would involve using a manual pick cart or gravity conveyor to move through the order selection process.

Phase 2: Medium Volume

For a medium-volume picking operation, simple automation and technology solutions are most appropriate. These systems lend themselves to incorporating more dense storage methods, such as carton and pallet flow. Often times, we have found lower-level automation options like powered conveyors and vertical lift machines (VLMs) to be cost-justified. Simple technology solutions like pick-to-light carts or put-to-light walls are other types of equipment that are optimal for a medium volume operation. Also, semi-automated tapers with void fill machines may also be the best option to maximize productivity in the packing area.

Phase 3: High Volume

Next, for a high volume picking operation, automation, and technology solutions will most likely be involved. While the storage methods may be similar to a medium-volume operation, the overall facility solution is typically configured differently. A multi-level pick module or pick zone-based solution will often make the most sense. Warehouse control systems (WCS) are often required to manage automation components. Packing and shipping are also more likely to rely on automation. The packing process could benefit from fully automated packing list insertion and fully automated tapers, weigh in motion scales & print & apply labeling tools.

Phase 4: Advanced

Lastly, advanced volume picking operations benefit the most from automation. This equipment can include various powered conveyors, sortation, semi-automated deep lane storage, ASRS, mobile robotics, or other “goods-to-man” solutions. The picking process will likely incorporate high-level technology solutions, including voice-directed picking. In addition, packing and shipping will also rely heavily on automation. Advanced pick operations can benefit from solutions such as automated unit sortation, weigh-in-motion scales, and automatic print/apply shipping labeling. Similarly, automatic carrier diverts are also substantial automation and technology options for advanced pick operations.

At the end of the day, every level of activity brings a different challenge, so it is crucial to plan for growth. We are here to help you implement the optimal facility to meet your current & future business needs. Our team will be with you throughout the process, making sure that we get you everything you need down to the finest details.

Click here to read more about how we can optimize your broken case picking facility!

Riverside, MO, Automated WCS

Our latest project took us to Riverside, Missouri, where we were tasked with setting up a complete, automated warehouse solution for our client. Our warehousing veterans used their expertise in order to fulfill the customer’s needs.

This facility would be acting as a distribution hub, meaning that they would be sending out items of different size, weight, case type and more. The solution would also need a 100% visual quality assurance checkpoint, along with powered conveyors. Our customer needed a facility that would maximize productivity and handle increased business volume, without needing to increase labor.

Complete Automated Warehouse CAD Drawing

AutoCAD Drawing of the new facility

Above all, our solution was to create a facility with specialized sections, all for a certain task. The six sections included VLMs (Vertical Lift Machines), powered conveyor with a sorting function, broken and full case picking areas, a quality assurance area, and more!

At Storage Solutions, our team comes from decades of experience. Our experience, combined with our network of trusted partners, allowed us to get our client’s facility running at optimal efficiency while also sticking to their timeline and budget.

Take a scroll through the full case study here!

Salt Lake City Warehouse

We installed this racking in Salt Lake City, an area with high seismic activity, so we needed to make sure the racking had enough support to withstand possible tremulous events. With this in mind, we had to give their warehouse a complete overhaul.

We’ve said it before, and we will say it again…our team will do everything in our power to make sure that deadlines are met and projects go off without a hitch! We even take care of permitting!

products installed/removed:

  • Teardrop Racking
  • Wire Decks
  • Pallet Supports
  • Gravity Conveyor
  • Carton Flow
  • Trucker Cage
  • Guarding Products

their problem/our solution:

The customer required a very quick timeline on new racking in a high seismic area. The Storage Solutions team was able to get the building permitted, the rack fully installed and occupancy granted prior to the deadline.

Click here for a time lapse video of the project, and to learn more!

Want to learn more about some of our past projects? Check out others on our case studies page!

CAD drawing of a warehouse

Tight timelines were no match for our Kansas City team when it came to getting this California customer up and running. Storage Solutions has built great relationships with industry leading manufacturers, allowing us to provide the best value and fastest delivery. Our customers can rest assured that their project will be a success, with no surprises along the way.

Square Footage: 350,000 SF

Products Installed: Over 40,000 Pallet Positions of Selective Racking, Powered Conveyor System, Wire Guidance

Their problem / Our Solution: The customer needed to maximize storage space in California while adhering to the fire code, and needed racking on site very quickly.  The Storage Solutions team was able to come up with a plan to maintain the minimum flu space, and have the rack arrive on site within 6 weeks despite current lead times extending out 10 weeks or more!

“The experience with Storage Solutions was exceptional. During a month long project, they provided updates at every step of the process, and took any necessary steps to keep the project on track. As changes were made during the project, Storage Solutions remained flexible and acted quickly to accommodate us. Additionally, when the forklift provider dropped the ball getting the wire guidance set up, Storage Solutions stepped in and took care of it for us. We look forward to continuing our relationship with the team, and working on many more successful projects!”

See a time-lapsed video of this project here.