Warehouse managers are often tasked with finding new and innovative ways to increase storage capacity while increasing speed and effectiveness in order fulfillment operations. Carton flow, also known as case flow or gravity flow, features various storage options that may be the right solution for your facility.
A carton flow system can be an ideal way to improve picking speeds and storage capacity within a warehouse. These systems consist of tracking and rollers that use gravity to push products through a pallet rack. As an item is picked from the rack’s front, the package behind it gravity feeds into the front position, ready to be selected.
This storage style is ideal for a warehouse set up for case picking or each picking. This process allows for each SKU to have a dedicated pick face, helping the picker with the accuracy of an order. Because a lot of SKUs can be presented for picking in a bay of rack, that means shortened travel with a reduced pick path, increasing throughput. It allows you to get more done at a faster rate because you are making a shorter run.
One additional benefit is that these can be installed into standard pallet rack, with the tracks being dropped into hangers that attach to the beams. These systems can be designed to fit multiple sizes of cartons, bins, and boxes to accommodate different SKU sizes.
Traditionally, there are two downsides to carton flow picking. Because someone (or something) physically places the boxes into storage, then another person retrieves them, there are additional material touches with each pick. The extra step may slow down some processes that require high throughput to remain effective.
With this storage method, products are automatically sorted for a first-in, first-out inventory system.
There are many different styles of carton flow available and finding the right mix of these may be the way to turn your warehouse into a more profitable fulfillment operation that maximizes its storage capacity.
Full-Width Roller Tracks
Pros: Typically, this style of racking is suitable for heavy loads because of its durability and ability to withstand abuse. It offers higher capacity on a per-square-foot basis, so this type of racking is often found in beverage storage situations where there is a need to store heavy cases of product.
Cons: The downside of the durability is that this style of racking is rigid in its configuration. It offers almost zero flexibility after it is assembled (without tearing it down and re-assembling, of course). For instance, if you have 15″ wide lanes and the packaging size for that product changes, you have to get new lanes to accommodate the updated package.
Example: UNEX’s SpanTrack Carton Flow Lane
Polycarbonate Skate Wheel Tracks
Pros: These polycarbonate skate wheel tracks essentially make a level of carton flow lanes a full flow bed. Since carton lanes are not configured ahead of time, this style of racking is very flexible in terms of the package sizes that can flow through the storage. Meaning, if your product size or packaging type changes, then you will not have to reconfigure this system. It is also relatively easy to install into new or existing racks.
Cons: Because there are no pre-defined lanes, this racking style makes it easier to change pick faces frequently. However, if your warehouse is relatively static in terms of the number of SKUs in inventory & their packaging, there may be lower-cost alternatives for carton flow storage.
Small-Diameter Plastic Wheel Carton Flow In Shelves
Pros: Small-diameter plastic wheel carton flow is a light-weight shelf and track system that can be flexible in that it allows for adjustments as product or packaging changes. This style of racking is ideal for lighter-weight products that will not damage the light-duty carton flow during use. While it is used in a low percentage of carton flow applications today, this type of racking has historically been popular because of its low initial cost.
Cons: Because of the plastic wheel’s small diameter, this type of racking is not built to store large or heavy packages. It is also susceptible to damage due to its light-weight design.
Example: Gauer Metal’s Flow-Track Option
Heavy-Duty Carton Flow
Pros: Heavy-Duty Carton Flow is an excellent option if you are storing very heavy or bulky items like automotive parts, and you have concerns about the durability of your carton flow racking. Like the polycarbonate skate wheel tracks, this carton flow style offers a full bed of rollers, though snap-in wire dividers are also available. The main difference is that the rollers are full steel, offering additional durability with an estimated 40% higher weight capacity.
Cons: With the added durability, there comes a higher initial cost in material and installation for heavy-duty carton flow.
To find the option best for you, talk with an expert. Our team of Storage Solutions experts has decades of experience finding creative solutions for nearly any use case. We can walk you through what may be best for your warehouse and see if carton flow is ideal for increasing your storage capacity and optimizing your fulfillment operations.