After years of service, warehouses or distribution centers can lose their intended efficiencies as product SKUs change, the business changes direction or as operational processes are not kept up to date. Optimal productivity, however, can be restored by an in-depth review of operations and, potentially, by making facility or equipment changes, notes Ryan Wachsmuth, Dynamic Storage Sales Manager for Steel King Industries.
“A key part of an initiative to regain the best possible efficiency of pallet storage and handling is about looking at how you do things, identifying areas where improvements could be made, carefully planning those changes, and then implementing the changes,” he says.
It’s common for efficiencies to be lost – and there’s no shortage of businesses that focus on pallet storage optimization. That’s witnessed by their increasing presence at the annual ProMat material handling expo, where they exhibit a variety of warehouse management system programs to boost product handling productivity, including tracking a pallet’s every movement.
If you’ve only adjusted some practices and added or upgraded some equipment, an in-depth review of operations could be warranted, Wachsmuth advises, adding that the review team should include people from a variety of levels, from upper management to forklift drivers.
Get a Good Handle on SKU Activity
A key focus of the review should be activity per SKU. Document how slowly or how frequently items move. You could have products that ship out multiple times per day, and products that only need to be occasionally shipped. With that information, you can determine whether your existing pallet slotting is optimized. For example, items that ship more frequently could be stored closed to the shipping area.
Select from pallet storage options like selective racking, drive-in and drive-through racking, push-back racking, or pallet flow racking, depending on your storage needs and the types of products you handle. “For example, if you have high-volume SKUs, an automated cart system or a pallet flow system could be the right solution,” Wachsmuth says.
Steel King’s SK3400 is a pallet flow system with inclined flow rails, in which loaded pallets roll toward the unloading face of the racking. These systems are ideal for first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory management.
Carts in pushback racking, such as Steel King’s SK3600, move loaded pallets deep into the racking, with the cart then returning to the loading face to transport another pallet. These high-density storage systems are commonly used for high-volume SKUs. In pushback systems, each level is independently accessible, allowing storage of different SKUs in each lane or level.
Drive-in and drive-through racking are other systems that optimize handling of high-volume SKU loads. Drive-in systems are typically positioned against a wall, with the forklift entering and exiting the storage lanes from the same side, while in drive-through systems, the forklift enters on one side and drives through to exit from the other side.
For products that are handled less frequently, selective racking might be appropriate. This is the most common type of pallet rack system, in which all pallets are accessible without needing to move another pallet. While selective racking provides easy access, it requires more aisle space to provide that access, so optimal use of the overall facility is less productive.
Store Slow Moving Loads in Less-Convenient Areas
Another option is to move storage of very slow-moving items to an area of the warehouse that is less convenient to access, Wachsmuth suggests. “Maybe move super-slow movers to an inconvenient area, so even if it takes an extra 10 minutes to get to those pallets one time per month, that could be OK from an overall facility optimization perspective,” he says. That, and removal of obsolete inventory, frees up space for faster-moving products.
Another way to maximize pallet storage is through installation of mezzanine floors that can make better use of vertical space.
Start With a Virtual Clean Slate
One way to determine how to maximize pallet storage in a warehouse is virtually. Through AutoCAD software, you can remove everything from the facility, and then develop an optimal ‘what if’ storage layout, Wachsmuth says. “Look at a clean slate of the whole cubic footage, not just the square footage of the floor space,” he says. If current racking is not extended to the maximum feasible level, that’s space that could be put to use for storage.
You can identify equipment that could be moved, obstructions to storage such as joists, HVAC equipment, sprinkler systems, etc., and design a plan that works around those items.
The review could reveal a layout that would allow you to handle more SKUs, or handle the existing inventory more efficiently, or it could indicate a need to expand the facility or move to another distribution center.