Materials handling in tight spaces

Matthew McDonald -
Local Feature Article
- 30 Nov 2023 ( #1156 )
12 min read
Scarcity of land is only one of the factors responsible for the shift to smaller warehouses
Scarcity of land is only one of the factors responsible for the shift to smaller warehouses

There are several factors behind the shift to smaller warehouses, higher racking and narrower aisles in materials handling operations.

“Increasing urbanisation and the scarcity of land in densely populated areas has meant that warehouses in urban areas face higher rents, taxes and regulations,” says Ron Farr, director warehouse sales, EMEA for Yale Lift Truck Technologies.

“This has forced them to optimise their space utilisation and reduce their footprints.”

Beyond this, the general cost of running warehouses has seen a significant uptick. “Even outside urban areas, land and property prices are on the rise, making it imperative for those considering warehouse construction or renovation to adopt a more space-efficient approach,” Farr says.

According to Doug Pierce, global product manager, Cascade Corporation, e-commerce is another factor behind the trend. “Rather than relying on large, centralised distribution centres, businesses can position smaller strategically located facilities based on customer demand,” he says, adding that the micro-warehousing approach helps reduce freight costs and delivery times.

This is particularly true in cases where perishable goods are involved. Food and beverage companies benefit significantly from being able to situate their warehouses either next to or close to their manufacturing facilities.

“The trend towards more compact higher density warehouses is perhaps the strongest in cold storage operations, where maximising the storage cube utilisation with automation can reduce energy costs by up to 50%,” says Tony Raggio, general manager sales - ANZ mobile automation, Dematic.

Regardless of the forces behind the shift to smaller warehouses and the subsequent need to function in tighter spaces, the trend appears to be here to stay.

Here is a selection of products designed to help materials handling operations in tight spaces, along with their suppliers.

Hubtex Australia

The provision of suitable and comprehensive training is critical when implementing narrow aisle solutions
The provision of suitable and comprehensive training is critical when implementing narrow aisle solutions

Hubtex Australia specialises in products suitable for narrow aisle applications. These include the Bendi Articulated Forklift for pallets storage in a logistics and third-party logistics business applications; the Hubtex Multidirectional Sideloader, which can handle long sections/profiles (of 7 m - 9 m) safely in narrow aisle and can lift up to 12 m in height; and the Hubtex SFX 20 T Platform Trolley, which can handle and move 20 T steel sections around production facilities with ease.

Andrew Quinn, state sales manager at Hubtex Australia, welcomes the move to smaller warehouses. “The advantages of the narrow aisle systems are volumising the warehouse space. In fact, increases of 30% to 40% over the wider aisle options are common,” he says.

“More pallets/pick locations in the same area allows faster picking cycles of both bulk and part orders. More pallets on the same square metre of floor space reduces the cost per square metre per pallet space on the cost of business.”

At the same time, however, Quinn cautions against shortcuts when introducing narrow aisles. He says the potential downsides should not be ignored.

“Like any new development or process, when implementing narrow aisle solutions, it needs time and training of the operators to gain confidence with the products and processes. It is also important the customer has paired up with a quality supplier who can support the customer when needed,” he says.

“When implementing these systems its ideal to implement a warehouse management system (WMS) to assist in stock location/rotation and picking.”

Hangcha

Hangcha, a China-based manufacturer of materials handling equipment, offers several products that are designed with precise directional control and smaller turning circles, which are ideal for use in tight spaces.

Hangcha's Man-Down Turret Truck can be optionally equipped with guide rails or magnetic strips for guidance
Hangcha's Man-Down Turret Truck can be optionally equipped with guide rails or magnetic strips for guidance

“Hangcha’s X series 3-W Electric Forklift with lithium battery is narrower than a regular forklift, with a smaller wheelbase and a tighter turning radius. It is lightweight, compact enough to enter elevators and can work on different floors. It comes with a built-in charger for convenient charging,” says Hangcha senior designer Cai Minglong.

Hangcha’s Man-Down Turret Truck has a large capacity at a high lifting height (1.2 T) and can reach heights of up to 10 m. It’s therefore suitable for high-level warehouses. Able to be optionally equipped with guide rails or magnetic strips for guidance, as well as fork-arm cameras to assist in the accurate alignment of high-level goods, it is only 1,750 mm wide and suitable for handling 1.2 m × 1.2 m pallets.

Meanwhile, the similarly named Man-Up Turret Truck has a large capacity at high lifting height (1.4 T/1.6 T) and can reach heights of up to 12.27 m. Featuring forks that can rotate in three directions, it is suitable for high-rack and narrow-aisle warehouses.

The minimum aisle width that the Man-Up Turret Truck can reach is 1,705 mm (based on a 1.2 m x 1.2 m pallet). Like the Man-Down Turret Truck, it can be optionally equipped with guide rails or magnetic strips for guidance. Additionally, it can be equipped with fork-arm cameras for recognition of fork-arm position.


The tighter spaces become, the more dependent the user becomes on specific equipment…With very narrow aisle (VNA) type automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or cranes, the aisles can be made narrow but only the appropriate, purpose-built equipment can be used to operate there.

Pekka Paavilainen, sales manager, warehousing and logistics, Rocla AGV Solutions

Rocla

Asked about his organisation’s approach to materials handling in tight spaces, Pekka Paavilainen, sales manager, warehousing and logistics, Rocla AGV Solutions nominates the use of purpose-built equipment as important.

The tighter spaces become, the more dependent the user becomes on specific equipment
The tighter spaces become, the more dependent the user becomes on specific equipment

“The tighter spaces become, the more dependent the user becomes on specific equipment…With very narrow aisle (VNA) type automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or cranes, the aisles can be made narrow but only the appropriate, purpose-built equipment can be used to operate there,” he says.

In addition to VNA AGVs, which can handle aisles as narrow as 1.8 m and racks as high as 12.5 m, Rocla’s offerings in this area include movable racks, which can be used in combination with either a reach mast or a counterbalance AGV.

As Paavilainen points out, the important thing to understand when using these racks is that not every aisle can be open simultaneously. The solution does require good coordination between information technology (IT) systems but with cooperation it is possible to achieve excellent solutions.

An alternative is shuttle racking. While this is a highly space-efficient solution that can support high material flows, it can’t provide access to any load at any given time. As such, shuttle racking works at its best, with a limited quantity of stock keeping units (SKU) stored very efficiently.

Vetter

Another challenge associated with higher racking in warehouses is reduced visibility and subsequent handling difficulties.

Equipped with a camera in the fork tip, ManuTel transmits clear images of the goods being handled to the driver
Equipped with a camera in the fork tip, ManuTel transmits clear images of the goods being handled to the driver

“Due to the height of the racking, without the use of auxiliary means, it is difficult to see whether the load carrier has been optimally picked up,” says Tobias Weyl, head of development department at Vetter.

In such circumstances, according to Weyl, auxiliary assistance systems like the SmartFork ManuTel from Vetter can be used to ensure loads are securely picked up and therefore minimise the possibility of falls.

Equipped with a camera in the fork tip (known as the FrontCam), ManuTel transmits clear images of the goods being handled to a monitor in the driver’s cab. Thanks to a green line laser which aims at the pallet block, the product assists the driver when entering the load carrier.

On top of that, thanks to the variable length of the ManuTel forks, which can extend manually in just a few seconds, the task of transporting large loads through narrow aisles is made easier and safer.

Bolzoni

Bolzoni Group provides specific solutions to improve VNA handling at high racking levels. As the organisation’s global marketing director Carlo Fallarini says, these include the use of trilateral heads.

Trilateral heads can load and unload racks on the left and on the right of the aisle, without the truck having to turn in the aisle
Trilateral heads can load and unload racks on the left and on the right of the aisle, without the truck having to turn in the aisle

“These can load and unload racks on the left and on the right of the aisle, without the truck turning in the aisle itself,” he says. “The heads are equipped with side shifting and fork positioning functions to support pallet positioning adjustment and with a carriage tilting function to help in case of uneven floors or, in general, structural flection.”

The electric movement of trilateral heads allows better control and more precise positioning than hydraulic systems and can also be used to generate combined movements, such as head rotation and lateral shifting, inside the aisle.

“We truly believe that the future of VNA handling involves AGVs equipped with electric-operated trilateral heads. We cooperate with different AGV manufacturers to constantly improve the handling solutions and to offer turnkey equipment ready to be installed on the VNA machine (sensors, cabling and controls all installed on the attachment),” says Fallarini.

“In the case of AGVs, the importance of electric drive is even higher. It optimises the control of the unit, the precision of the movement, and the operation productivity, allowing manoeuvres that are otherwise difficult to achieve.”

Cascade Corporation

Along similar lines, Cascade Corporation offers a Trilateral Head and Mast System. An attachment that traverses and swivels, it is intended to allow operators to retrieve pallets from either side of aisles with the forklift at a 90-degree angle to the load.

Cascade Corporation's Trilateral Head and Mast System allows operators to retrieve pallets from either side of aisles
Cascade Corporation's Trilateral Head and Mast System allows operators to retrieve pallets from either side of aisles

“This considerably reduces aisle width requirements, even when combined with a standard forklift. The trilateral design also has 180-degree head rotation, making it a productive choice for any palletised load,” says Doug Pierce, global product manager, Cascade Corporation.

Other Cascade products designed with narrow aisles and tight spaces in mind include a Bilateral Attachment, which makes it possible for an AGV to place a load on either side of a warehouse racking system without turning; Sensor Forks and Camera Forks, which provide excellent visibility of fork placement, and the Cascade ActivWeigh Mobile Weighing Solution, which can weigh loads immediately while the forklift is in motion.

Beyond that, the company also offers Reachforks, which can handle various pallet sizes or multiple pallets at once by simply adjusting the fork length; and High-Lift Masts, which are designed to maximise lift heights.

Dematic

Having worked with a range of high-profile clients, Dematic offers several AGVs that are suitable for use in tight spaces
Having worked with a range of high-profile clients, Dematic offers several AGVs that are suitable for use in tight spaces

In addition to AGVs – which it has supplied to a diverse range of companies, including Arnott’s Biscuits, Bickford’s Group, Fonterra, Lactalis Australia, Vinpac, and more – Dematic offers several products that are suitable for use in tight spaces.

These include the Compact Transfer (CT Series) AGV, which is a lower cost AGV solution for automatically transporting pallets between warehouse subsystems; High Reach (HR Series) AGVs, which are designed specifically for high bay single selective and double deep racking; and Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) Series AGVs, which are fully automated and designed to operate freely in and out of the narrow aisles of pallet racking.

The company also offers an automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) for pallet storage, as well as the Dematic Multishuttle system for case, carton and tote storage, order consolidation and sequenced sortation; and AutoStore, a solution for customers with a large number of products that require maximum storage density.

Wellwit Robotics

A company specializing in the field of AGVs, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and forklifts, Wellwit Robotics attaches great importance to product development designed for material handling needs in narrow spaces.

“Through continuous innovation, we are committed to introducing more products suitable for different scenarios in the future, catering to various customer needs and providing exceptional automated material handling solutions,” says Wellwit Robotics chief executive officer Henry Peng.

The company offers six product series, two of which are specifically designed for materials handling in narrow space environments.

The WMF-CDD16 can operate at a maximum speed of 2m/s when unloaded and does not experience speed reduction when fully loaded
The WMF-CDD16 can operate at a maximum speed of 2m/s when unloaded and does not experience speed reduction when fully loaded

The first of these, the Under Drive lifting series of AGVs features Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) navigation technology, has a compact size (1250mm x 540mm x 365mm) and features an omnidirectional double steering wheel drive for unrestricted movement in narrow spaces.

The second, the Auto-Forklift Series, includes four models. Small and compact, the WMF500 forklift can perform continuous turning within a minimum turning radius of 1035 mm, effectively saving operational space, and improving warehouse capacity.

Meanwhile, the larger WMF1000 forklift utilises advanced visual SLAM navigation technology with a navigation accuracy of ±10 mm; the WMF-CBD15 has a compact design with a body width of only 932 mm and supports a maximum load capacity of 1.5 T and running speed of 2 m/s; and the WMF-CDD16, a Laser SLAM stacker smart forklift, can operate at a maximum speed of 2 m/s when unloaded and does not experience speed reduction when fully loaded.

Yale Lift Trucks

According to Ron Farr, director warehouse sales, EMEA for Yale Lift Truck Technologies, overcoming the challenges posed by tight spaces in warehouses involves not only adopting a strategic approach to warehouse design and layout but also to equipment selection.

For Yale Lift Trucks, overcoming the challenges posed by tight spaces involves adopting a strategic approach to equipment selection
For Yale Lift Trucks, overcoming the challenges posed by tight spaces involves adopting a strategic approach to equipment selection

“Yale provides a range of compact warehouse equipment to meet the brief, while offering businesses the maximum flexibility from their investments,” he says.

“An efficient and space saving option is to employ multi-functional products. For example, the Yale MP20-30X Platform Pallet Truck can be used for loading and unloading, as well as order picking in the aisles, while the MS16S Rider Stacker is a multi-functional truck that can be used for picking and stacking.”

Yale warehouse trucks also have the flexibility to be customised to the requirements of individual operations. The MP20X can leverage the higher energy density of lithium-Ion batteries to be configured with a smaller battery compartment, reducing the overall length of the truck.

For small warehouses with tight spaces, the Yale Warehouse Simulator is an invaluable tool for designing optimal layouts based on real-world scenarios by helping to enhance fleet performance and overall efficiency.

Efficiency & sustainability

Though varied in terms of function, there are a few things that all these products and systems have in common. They have the capacity to reduce the physical footprint of materials handling operations, and in so doing, to deliver benefits in terms of improved efficiency and reduced costs.

At the same time, and as a consequence of the smaller footprints they make possible, they also help reduce the energy requirements of these operations; to make them more sustainable than larger, more traditional warehouses and reduce their environmental footprints. For all these reasons, materials handling in tight spaces is more than a passing trend. It is something that is here to stay.

 

For more information on our contributors' products designed to help materials handling operations in tight spaces, please visit this dedicated Virtual Showroom


For this report we interviewed the following industry specialists:

 

Andrew Quinn
State Sales Manager
Hubtex Australia 

 

Cai Minglong
Senior Designer
Hangcha 

 

Carlo Fallarini
Global Marketing Director
Bolzoni 

Read more.

 

Tobias Weyl
Head of Development Department
Vetter 

Read more.

 

Pekka Paavilainen
Sales Manager, Warehousing and Logistics
Rocla AGV Solutions 

Read more.

 

Doug Pierce
Global Product Manager
Cascade Corporation 

Read more.

 

Tony Raggio
General Manager Sales – ANZ Mobile Automation
Dematic 

 

Henry Peng
Chief Executive Officer
Wellwit Robotics 

Read more.

 

Ron Farr
Director Warehouse Sales, EMEA
Yale Lift Truck Technologies 

Read more.

 

 

 

 

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