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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.

Automation Solutions to Facilitate E-Commerce

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, nationally, and locally.

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. No matter the degree of automation integrated before COVID-19, 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 not meeting 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 AS/RS – AMR Hybrid Solutions

Goods-to-Person AS/RS - AMR HybridOne unique AMR solution we have seen successfully facilitate e-commerce is a Goods-to-Person AS/RS+AMR Hybrid Solution. This high-density, automated storage-and-retrieval system (AS/RS) can move goods to-and-from a storage mechanism that allows for vertical storage of up to 36 feet. The system can support small-item picking and delivery of the goods to a packing station. The system is also scalable, giving the ability to adjust as your needs grow by adding additional AMRs and racking. We have seen this solution be especially useful in micro-fulfillment centers and as a solution in facilities with a high volume of SKUs.

Solution 2: Goods-to-Man Tote Handling AS/RS

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: Vertical Lift Machines (VLMs) in Groups

Vertical Lift Machines (VLMs)VLMs are another goods-to-man solution that helps pickers efficiently fulfill orders while optimizing floor space within a facility. For instance, it can fit what would typically take up 5,000 square feet of floor space into about 150 square feet (meaning a 90% improvement in floorspace utilization). These are usually used for small cube items but can facilitate some heavier items in certain situations.

Products are placed on a tray, and the VLM will deliver the tray to the picking area, where a laser will dictate the exact location where the item is stored. This process allows for extremely high pick rates with a high level of accuracy to go along with the advantages of the additional cubic storage volume they offer.

Solution 5: Put to Light Tables – Picking from Multiple Machines

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: Horizontal AMR – AS/RS Solutions

Horizontal AMR - AS/RSAmong the most dynamic environments thriving in today’s high-demand world are ones that utilize highly automated horizontal AMRs in AS/RS storage environments. In this environment, a facility’s layout is full of mobile shelving units with caged-off pick cells surrounding the area. The robots find the shelf, then deliver the shelf back to its appropriate location once picked. It completely removes the need for human labor to travel the pick floor.

This style of goods-to-person to bin-to-person picking eliminates the redundant walking of pickers while also improving accuracy and reducing labor costs.

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!

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.

Storage Solutions has Gravity Conveyor available now, but it’s selling fast! Contact your sales representative or call us at 866.474.2001 for additional questions and purchasing information.

conveyor conveyor

Full Width Roller Gravity Conveyor
12″W x 58 – 86″L

18″W x 50 – 120″L

24″W x 56 – 120″L

 30″W x 120″L

Skatewheel Gravity Conveyor

12″W x 120″L

18″W x 120″L

24″W x 87 – 120″L

Conveyor Stand

18″W Adjustable height

24″W Adjustable height

30″W Adjustable height

Storage Solutions has a large quantity of used Dematic Conveyor and Sorter available for sale.  Please contact your sales representative or call us at 866.474.2001 for purchasing details and additional information.

1265 Accumulation Conveyor, Sorter, and Pallet Flow are available.

Storage Solutions Storage Solutions Storage Solutions


NOTE: All items are subject to prior sale.

Today marks ONE WEEK until our next Viperbid Indiana auction.  Items are live and prebidding has already begun.  Take a peek at what’s coming up!  On-site previewing will be available THIS FRIDAY from 9 am until 4:30 pm.

This auction is full of our usual conveyor systems and pallet rack packages.  But with warmer months ahead, we’ve also got industrial fans to keep those warehouses and work spaces cool this summer.

industrial fans used pallet rack wire panels

Featured Items:

  • Pallet Rack Packages
  • Industrial Fans
  • Lockers
  • Office Furniture
  • Gravity Conveyor
  • Carton Flow Tracks & Shelves

For questions and additional information, contact Jill at jill@viperbidindiana.com or call 317.399.2119.  To receive auction updates and information, subscribe to our email list.

The next batch of Viperbid Indiana items have been uploaded to the auction website. We’ve been sorting, moving and photographing the equipment we’ve got coming your way and they are officially up on the website for browsing and pre-bidding.

tool bench pallet rack carton flow

Dates to remember:

On-Site Preview  |  Fri., May 4  |  9 am – 4:30 pm

Auction Day  |  Mon., May 7  |  8 am – 6 pm

Pick-Up Days  |  Tues., May 8 – Thurs., May 10  |  8 am – 4 pm

Featured Items:

  • Pallet Rack Packages
  • Lockers
  • Office Furniture
  • Gravity Conveyor
  • Carton Flow Tracks & Shelves

For questions and additional information, contact Jill at jill@viperbidindiana.com or call 317.399.2119.  To receive auction updates and information, subscribe to our email list.