Warehouse Automation Services

Automated Conveyor System

The challenge of moving products efficiently within a warehouse facility is a constant source of concern for managers and supervisors. In years past, the transportation of goods occurred via hand, or were combined with carts for orders of a higher volume. In some businesses this can still prove to be the case. The use of conveyor belt systems increased speed but produced their own issues, which means a sturdier, more efficient method had to be introduced to maintain throughput.

Automated conveyor systems are a fast and easy solution that allows for the quick relocation of goods and products within a large, or small facility. They are ideal for handling an assortment of items, especially those that are bulkier in size. This is a prime reason why a growing number of companies are installing automated conveyor systems, allowing them to not only increase efficiency within the warehouse supply chain, but improve employee working conditions.

What to consider before purchasing

Before selecting the automated conveyor you want to install you should primarily base your decision on the type of product that will moved along it. This includes the basics such as the dimensions, which will determine the width of the conveyor and the weight. Also consider the amount of items and the rate at which they will pass along the conveyor, and the product type to match up with the type of system you purchase.

Belt Conveyors

Their make-up is incredibly straight forward and yet the benefits they yield are priceless. Quite simply a belt sits atop a smooth metal bed or rollers. For longer distances rollers are the preferred option as they help to minimise any friction created. Their flexibility in shape also means they are not required to be just one, long straight line. Concentric belts used on corners will allow the products and items to manoeuvre round bends without creating issues.

Gravity Conveyor

This non-powered option is often implemented for use in the off-loading of goods into the warehouse, sorting of packages and in manufacturing assembly zones. This is usually the cheapest type of conveyor and that is reflected in the lower amount of control it allows over products.

Powered roller conveyors

There are three main types that fall under this category; zero pressure, live roller and minimum pressure conveyors. The liver roller is best suited for light-to-medium weight loads and often used for package handling. Minimum pressure can handle a similar weight load and can accommodate short lines of product accumulation. Zero pressure conveyors are able to handle products that vary in weight and width. Some are used for sorting, kitting, packaging, or installed into shipping and despatch zones. Picking areas also prefer to use this type of conveyor, as do palletising zones, as this style responds well to high throughput.

Pallet conveyors

To move loads that are particularly heavy in weight there are two options; either a roller pallet conveyor or a drag chain. The former can bear heavier loads and typically finds use in pack out areas and accumulation zones. Drag chain pallet conveyors can be utilised in warehouses that require exposure to very low, or high temperatures. As such, it is a specialised system relied upon for specific types of pallet set-ups.

Other types

Overhead conveyors are perhaps one of the oldest types of system, although due to their reliability, still prove to be very popular. For finishing lines, rubbish removal or food packing they are an ideal option. Table top chain conveyors are usually put to work in accumulation, labelling and package handling, while magnetic slide conveyors perform best with the transportation of small parts.

Give our design team a call on 01937 58505  if you want a free site survey and expert advice to create the ultimate warehouse facility.

 

 

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Warehouse Automation Services

Who needs Warehouse Automation?

With the case for moving to automation being spoken for almost everywhere you look, you might begin to feel as if your organisation is being left behind. If what you hear was to be believed, the robotic revolution has already changed the face of the world as we know it.

Fortunately, there is still some time to go before we reach that stage. There is a strong case to be made for many warehouse facilities to seriously start thinking about the use of automation, but it also has to be remembered that the introduction of the technology will not benefit everyone.

Financial cost

How much automation will cost is typically the first issue addressed by companies assessing the technology. The initial outlay involved in purchasing an automated system can prove to be an obstacle too large for smaller sized companies, when balanced against short term returns. Few companies will buy the system outright and instead choose to spread the bulk of the payments across a 3-5 year period. The savings will usually be seen in labour costs and increased productivity and efficiency in the area of operations in which the system has been implemented. If the financial costs do not create a potentially negative impact then this is one of the major issues out of the way.

Capacity

The main reason many companies are looking towards automation is to increase capacity to meet the growing pace of demand. What needs to be looked at here is the analysis of your current capacity capabilities across every element of the workflow, including storage, employee functions and workspaces. Will the implementation of automation in one area resolve a current issue, only to create a new one elsewhere? In most cases new technology is implemented in one or two areas, rather than overhauling the entire operation. Automation is designed to resolve issues in an efficient manner and improve the full flow of distribution. If its impact is only incremental, when weighed up against the cost, the business needs may not be as urgent as you first believed.

The customer

Along with the need to meet growing demand, improving service speed and overall customer experience is key to their retention and your market growth. Not only do customers expect a vast array of products at competitive prices but also fulfilment consistency and accuracy. The addition of automation will hopefully make meaningful improvements to your warehouse supply chain but this should also be felt by the customer. If throughput increases and enhances efficiency and productivity while producing significant costs savings, then customers should also benefit as a result. If not, you may have to rethink how practical automation is at this present time. The technology improves operations and saves money in the long run, but it presents the perfect opportunity to increase competitiveness. In today’s aggressive market, improving customer experience is key to achieving that.

Employee

Many of the injuries and errors that occur within both the production and warehouse environment is due to human error. Employees are asked to undertake repetitive tasks for long periods of time which invariably creates issues. Automated equipment doesn’t tire or experience injury, all the while improving overall accuracy of the task at hand. This is an improvement that every warehouse can benefit from, no matter the size. This is worth giving serious consideration to especially if the business case for introducing automation is only a marginal one.

Alternatives

What can you do if you have looked at your business needs and found that the risks outweigh any obvious gains? It shouldn’t be forgotten that semi-automation can offer meaningful solutions and a cost effective gateway into using automated technology. This can be implemented in many labour intensive tasks, reducing the physical stress and strain on the workforce while enhancing efficiency. It can also be adapted to fit your current set-up, so it is in place and working in a shorter time period than full automation may require. Perhaps, most importantly, return on investment should occur in a shorter space of time primarily due to its lower costs in comparison to fully automated equipment.

2h Storage Solutions

Enjoy the Certainty of a Successful Project with 2H Storage Solutions. With our extensive range of high quality products, professional standards and competitive prices, 2h Storage Solutions can fulfil all your storage and warehouse requirements.  Call us on 01937 585057 or fill out the form on our contact page here..

 

 

 

 

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Warehouse Layouts

Improving the Energy Efficiency of your Warehouse

Automation is the buzz word of the moment and the subjects associated with it look set to increase in scope as the technology becomes part and parcel of warehouse life. Much has been said already about the efficiency that can be gained from it use, and the long term cost savings achieved by businesses that choose to invest.

Improving distribution productivity is not the only way in which significant cost savings can be made. Managing your energy use within the facility is key to making the most out of the tools at your disposal. It is not necessarily a subject that gets people fired up, but given how much finance is spent on heating, lighting and powering operations, its importance is too often overlooked.

The Carbon Trust conducted a survey last year and found that half of the 1,000 SMEs questioned were concerned about the cost of their energy bills. The organisation believe that savings up to 20-30% can be found through the implementation of energy efficient measures and the simple changing of routines. Below are some of the ways in which you can begin to lower the costs within your distribution centre.

Lighting

Keeping the warehouse fully lit enhances safety and provides a better working environment for those who work within it. Naturally, this will mean a lot of lights, which in turn requires a lot of energy expenditure. LED lights are the best alternative to help reduce energy bills and they can also last up to 50% longer than traditional bulbs. As a recyclable material they allow you to play your part in contributing to a sustainable environment. They also emit far less heat, which helps to reduce temperature levels during the summer and in-turn lowers the use of air conditioning, cutting costs even further.

Closing doors

There are two ways in which doors impact on energy efficiency; their age and condition and by being left open throughout the day. When left open, heat is lost and heaters and/or cooling systems have to work harder to balance out the change in temperature. Older warehouse doors can sometimes be unreliable and slower to close, which is why the easier option is to leave them open. Ensuring there are no gaps or cracks is equally important, as is checking they are fully insulated to help maintain optimal temperature in the space.

Making full use of space

As we discussed in our article about mezzanine flooring, there are a lot of advantages to be gained from their installation into industrial spaces. One we didn’t mention at the time is energy savings. Working vertically instead of expanding operations across the ground maximises space and often means relocation is not a requirement. This obviously saves costs on the move and purchasing/rental costs, but also saves on the higher energy bills a new facility would naturally incur. If going green is a key business objective, new premises might also mean updating logistical roots and an increase in your carbon footprint.

Manage your HVAC system

In modern warehouses, HVAC systems are typically responsible for powering the heating, cooling and ventilation. The most important question to ask is, how much time and effort goes into its maintenance? There are two answers to this questions; either you are spending too much on repairs and problem solving, or you keep the filters clean and schedule regular check-ups. Those who relate to the first response can easily feel the benefit of implementing a simple schedule for check-ups. Also think about areas not in use that do not need to be cooled or heated on a regular basis, as this should produce noticeable cost savings.

Waste management

The management of waste has both a direct and indirect effect on your green initiatives. Ensuring unwanted and damaged materials are cleared from the facility keeps employees safe and maximises space. To improve your carbon footprint, ensure batches of materials are separated from each other and disposed of using recyclable options. The easiest thing to do is to dump everything in the nearest landfill, which ultimately goes against every over energy efficient change you may implement inside your premises.

 

 

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Mezzanine-Floor-Installations

Benefits of adding Mezzanine Flooring

In most cases, when it comes to maximising space in a warehouse or storage facility, the focus is heavily centred upon the ground floor. Reconfiguring operations in this area makes sense, of course, but consideration should always be given to the vertical space within the building. Mezzanine flooring is the ideal solution for companies working in constricted spaces who need to expand but are not in a position to consider moving to larger premises. In this blog we’ll talk through how mezzanine flooring can add significant benefits to the logistics in your warehouse.

Storage space

Storage needs are an ongoing issue in any successful retail business and mezzanine flooring offers a relatively cheap and easy solution. This is the primary reason why people look at purchasing this particular style of storage. Large warehouses in particular benefit as they begin to make use of the empty space that has been going to waste for quite some time. The height of the facility will dictate how many floors can be added but mezzanine flooring allows you to capitalise on the full area under your control.

Avoid moving the business

The continued growth of online retailing is producing an interesting conundrum for a number of businesses. Price competition is fierce and the need to minimise overheads is key to remaining competitive. Yet sustained order growth creates the need to expand to keep up with demand. Moving is a cost all in itself, let alone taking on the financial weight of a new warehouse. The installation of mezzanine flooring shouldn’t be viewed as a short-term fix. However, if you do reach the point where even this is not sufficient, then you may be more ready for that move than you believe.

Cost effective

The simple construction of mezzanine flooring is reflected in its cost. It is a reliable and cost effective way to maximise the workspace. It not only creates extra capacity but increases efficiency and provides a positive knock-on effect to the organisation in the areas that have been relieved of unsustainable storage. Small businesses benefit enormously from this option, successfully planning incremental expansion without unnecessary investment.

Warehouse Safety

Regulations and rules in this area have been tightened significantly over the past couple of decades, much to the benefit of the staff who work there. Mezzanine floors offer an ideal vantage point for supervisors and managers to get a full overview on any potential dangers occurring within the warehouse. It also provides a visual view of the product flow in and out of the facility, which can prove to be a valuable way of making small but meaningful changes to work processes.

Office Space

The flexibility of mezzanine flooring allows it to be used for more than just storage space. Growth within a company means more than just finding extra space to store more goods. Increased product demand requires more warehouse staff and office workers to maintain the back office administrative side of the business. If office space is limited, mezzanine flooring can be utilised to create new workspace too. It can be designed and function in the same way as any other office space and presents a practical long-term solution for the business.

The installation of mezzanine flooring can work for warehouses of any size. For those in need of creative solutions on a tight budget, this is likely to be an option worth considering. Rather than be cornered into moving the business or expanding at an unnecessary rate, this style of storage will help to maximise the potential of your current storage space. And with the option to construct muli-level mezzanine flooring, the sky really is the limit.

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Autonomous Mobile Robots

Addressing the Concerns of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

The robots are taking over. Or so we keeping on hearing. There is no denying that the implementation of autonomous robotics is going to have huge effect on many industries but the key will be how the introduction of the systems are managed. It’s a brave new world we are venturing into with the next level of technology taking businesses towards unexplored territory. As exciting as that can be, it also raises valid concerns and a considerable amount of uncertainty about how they can be integrated into existing processes.

From Then To Now

Before being bought by Amazon, Kiva Systems were the market leaders in producing Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) that were sold onto other companies. Naturally this stopped after Amazon decided to deploy and use them within their own distribution centres, rather than selling them onto potential competitors. There are now a number of alternatives available on the market, such as Swisslog CarryPick, Scallog System and GreyOrange Butler, who offer more flexible and scalable options.

The previous versions of these transport units, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), are slightly more cumbersome and require dedicated tracks to be installed which meant some restrictions were placed on where humans could work within the warehouse. There was also a considerable amount of preparation required, which is not the case with AMRs. Those issues no longer exist, as the AMRs will follow mapped their routes to avoid any obstacles or issues. This involves a human employee mapping this out for a couple of days beforehand, which should not cause too many difficulties, even for larger sized spaces.

Setting Up

As with the introduction of any new system, the trick is finding how to bring them together in a way that allows them to operate efficiently to optimise the operation of the warehouse as a whole. The warehouse management system (WMS) will continue to run as the central software, of course, instructing the warehouse control system (WCS) on what needs to be picked and where it needs to go. Similar to how you would with a human, AMRs can be controlled through a task queue, which makes it no different to a typical user. Jobs will be routed to either human or robotic users, with work decided on by priority and location.

With the software running through a secure cloud, this also means there is no need to bring in new hardware or software into the warehouse. Setting up an AMR also doesn’t require you to bring in an army of IT experts to get them into operation either. Even if the Wi-Fi coverage in the warehouse isn’t great, as an alternative, mobile modems can be used instead. AMRs will need to be charged which will mean the installation of docks, but these are typically very low key and offer no safety concerns to the other workers or the facility itself. Because they are autonomous robots, they take care of this themselves, without much need for ongoing maintenance or attention from other workers.

For the vast majority of warehouses, this set-up time can be as short as one week, which is a surprisingly short amount of time, given how complex and intelligent the AMRs are. So while the upfront cost will be larger, the impact on operations during this period will reduce any knock-on effect and as output increases the ROI will soon be noticeable. There are also AMRs that work hand-in-hand with humans, essentially doing the legwork of transporting the goods from one location to another.

With the exponential increase in online shopping, the demand placed on e-fulfilment warehouses is growing year on year, which makes the switch to autonomous mobile robots an inevitably for almost everyone at some point in the near future. The cost will come down and concerns will be eased, while the benefits will become far more apparent as time goes by.

 

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vertical carousel storage system

VLMs and Vertical Carousels

As we discussed recently*, Horizontal Carousel storage systems are one of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your warehouse operation. What we have yet to discuss are the two main alternatives, which are Vertical Carousel and Vertical Lift Modules (VLM). Although there are some similarities, it is important you are aware of the differences between the three, so you can identify which one suits your requirements more closely.

It has to be said, that choosing one particular system does not restrict you from working with a combination within your warehouse. Each one has their particular pros and cons that work with well with specific types of product. That also applies to manual systems, so once you begin work with an automated system, it does not have to mean you have to transition completely. Read through our overview of Vertical Carousels and VLM’s below to see which one feels like the most natural fit for your business.

Vertical Lift Module

What is clearly noticeable about the system is how it allows for greater storage within the same footprint, which is an advantage for any storage unit. A VLM also offers great adaptability, which is particularly useful for companies that work with a wide range of products across the course of the year. Depending on the model you choose, shelf heights can extend up to 28 inches, and if placed onto the shelf through electronic eyes, the VLM will automatically adjust to the appropriate height of the item. The shelves can, of course, be adjusted manually but the automatic alteration will help to save the worker valuable time.

The flexibility of the system also allows the height of the module to be adjusted to suit the dimensions of the warehouse. Price wise they can be slightly more expensive than a Vertical Carousel, so this is a worthwhile consideration to weigh up alongside the others.

Vertical Carousel

The most obvious thing about this system compared to the Horizontal version is of course the directional movement of the trays. The main benefit of this carousel is that it maximises unused vertical floor space, which is ideal for compact warehouses. A Vertical Carousel also allows you to bring together more than one unit at a time, which helps to increase throughput and picking speed. Although there is less storage compared to a Horizontal unit, the smaller footprint means you can introduce more the machines into the workspace. An added bonus is that the temperature and humidity within the unit can also be controlled quite easily.

A Vertical carousel is slower than a horizontal unit and the construction of the unit does also mean items have to be distributed evenly to prevent loads becoming unbalanced. Due to the limited bin space, this system may not be ideal if the product in question has a high turnover rate and needs regular replenishment.

It must be remembered that while this systems can produce some amazing results and a true uplift in operational performance, like any other machinery, they will rely on your input and maintenance to ensure they continue to run smoothly. Both the VLM and Vertical Carousel’s need to be serviced periodically to ensure they meet the certification levels required by legislation, as they come under the same category as forklifts and cranes.

If you are looking at these options for the first time, it’s not always easy to decide on the module that fits in with your requirements. Hopefully our information will help eliminate any initial confusion and provide you with some direction. We have vast experience of designing and installing carousels, VLM’s and many other storage systems, helping companies to expand and grow their business.

 

* Horizontal Carousel article

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