Local Feature story

Accessories: efficient warehouse solutions

Tuesday, 19 November 2019 ( #950 )
In part one of the warehouse efficiency feature, Forkliftaction looked at how materials handling equipment can improve your warehouse bottom line. In part two, Melissa Barnett examines the range of modern accessories that can give materials handling equipment an enhanced ability to boost efficiency and productivity.

Like materials handling equipment manufacturers, accessory suppliers have ideas on how to create efficiency in the warehouse. All agree that time is money and the aim is for machine and operator to work together optimally. "Solutions that ensure uptime, reduce interruption and avoid redundant handling to move product quickly and without damage allow for equipment and staff to work to their potential," suggests Davide Roncari, president and CEO of Cascade Corporation.

Polaris Taylor-Dunn tow tractor
Polaris Taylor-Dunn tow tractor
Keith Simon, vice president and general manager of industrial vehicle manufacturer Polaris Commercial, Government and North America, believes it is critical to maximise warehouse efficiency because it allows the people, equipment, space and capital already available to work the hardest. "The average warehouse operates at just 60% of its theoretical capacity, leaving a lot of opportunity to optimise current workflows to help meet demand without the need to invest in a larger operating footprint. With the rise of e-commerce, facilities will need to look at new ways to drive operational efficiency to meet growing demands," Simon adds.

"An employee can only work as fast as the equipment they need to complete the job," according to Trish Skarda, sales and marketing for battery supplier Green Cubes. "Dock-to-stock cycle time is crucial to inbound operations. With multiple forklifts and pallet jacks being needed for this process, it's not only the productivity of the employees that guides the measurement of efficiency, but also the power supply of the equipment."

The energy solution
Electric forklifts are the equipment of choice in warehousing and batteries are, by association, one of the of the most important accessories for warehouse equipment. Green Cubes battery systems not only reduce downtime, but the company's charging solution frees up valuable floor space when paired with mobile charging solutions. "Green Cubes Technology's Lithium SAFEFlex battery systems improve storage efficiency in a major way. Where traditional lead acid usually requires three batteries per piece of equipment, our systems only require one, saving a large amount of storage space,"explains Skarda. The Green Cube battery systems allow for chargers to be placed anywhere in a facility, and with the preferred method of opportunity charging, short spans of 15-30 minutes each time will keep the equipment powered throughout the day, reducing long charging times, watering requirements and valuable employee time.

GNB Industrial Power Sonnenschein Lithium Battery
GNB Industrial Power Sonnenschein Lithium Battery
"Why wait until there is a problem or hold-up?" asks Dominik Margraf, senior product manager - motive power, EMEA, Exide Technologies. Fleet management, whether it is the whole warehouse or equipment-specific, means that issues are pre-empted and action taken before downtime impacts the operation. "Process optimisation relies on monitoring real-life data, its subsequent analysis and initiation of countermeasures," says Margraf. "By letting your equipment alert you, the business can avoid downtime of vehicles and, ultimately, production and delivery delays." Exide's GNB Fleet, (available in Q1, 2020) a battery management software system, works with both lead acid and lithium-ion batteries, on one site or at multiple sites worldwide, providing operators and warehouse managers with the battery's vital parameters. "Once the batteries are IoT-connected with the GNB Fleet, they may simply call service to themselves or place spare part or replacement orders to keep the intralogistics flow running at all times," explains Margraf.

Darren King, managing director of Australian company Fastcharge, believes that the need to increase warehouse efficiency has meant that battery suppliers have had to improve battery energy efficiency and service expertise, as more companies are looking to separate the power decision from the leasing decision of their equipment. By doing this, they can often save millions of dollars over the life of the product.

Fastcharging Crown pallet-movers
Fastcharging Crown pallet-movers
Fastcharge was recently commissioned with assessing and evaluating the equipment management systems of independent grocery retailer Drakes Supermarket's AUD125 million distribution facility. Fastcharge's Triathlon lithium-ion batteries were selected as the power solution for the facility's fleet of Crown forklifts. The batteries will fully integrate with the materials handling equipment via the CAN bus interface, enabling the systems to communicate with each other and ensuring the batteries are able to manage peak loads while at the same time providing adequate energy. This protects the battery and prolongs its operating life. Triathlon lithium-ion batteries have a minimum lifespan of eight years with almost zero maintenance required and zero emissions. They will complete a full charge cycle within an hour through Fastcharge's RF Dual Port 40 Kw chargers, each battery having a charge rate of up to five times faster than a lead acid battery. Protecting the battery from overpressure, overheating or overcharging is a safety system that operates at cell, module and battery level. The entire integrated system means that Drakes has an operation that always has equipment available when it is required.

Having equipment ready to go with no dead time is the goal of every materials handling equipment battery supplier. Patrick Poon, general manager of STB America, says STB's strength is fast delivery. "Normal lead time for a battery is six to eight weeks," says Poon, "but STB can deliver in one working day. Time is money."

While dead time is to be avoided, freeing up dead space is also an end-goal for warehouse managers. Green Cubes battery systems do just that, says Skarda. "With construction costs on the rise, operations need to utilise every square foot of the warehouse. If the materials handling equipment is using traditional lead acid batteries, it is likely there is a large battery storage room with chargers, watering systems, extra batteries, a lifting beam and safety gear. That entire area can be cleared and used for product storage by switching to lithium-ion batteries and a charging system that can be placed anywhere in the facility," says Skarda.
When talking about technology advancements in warehouse efficiency, it is important to also consider the impact of environmental sustainability on the bottom line. Green Cubes' green credentials are high on its value-adding measures. "Companies are looking to reduce energy use, cut back on emissions and cut down on waste whenever possible," says Skarda. "Lithium SAFEFlex battery systems use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry, which is non-toxic, non-contaminating and contains no rare metals. There is less material waste and scrap due to the increased lifecycle and higher energy density, reducing recycling and scrap costs. Green Cubes has a R3 recycling policy to recover, reuse, and recycle. When the battery is returned by the end-user, usually with energy remaining, we can repurpose the cells into smaller applications such as solar energy storage and recreational light electric vehicles. Green Cubes is also able to reuse the tray, ballast and compression plates to produce a new battery. Used cells are returned to the manufacturer to be recycled."

The clever solutions - attachments, tugs and tyres
Cascade Weigh Forks
Cascade Weigh Forks
Sometimes the cleverest solutions to improving warehouse efficiency are right in front of us, while the most under-valued solutions are under us. The part that forks and tyres can play in adding to a warehouse's quest for efficiency cannot be underestimated. Roncari says that many Cascade products enable customers to eliminate steps such as weighing, damage control and proper product positioning from their workflow by incorporating the appropriate technology on their equipment, be it forks or attachments. Cascade's Weigh Forks, for example, combine handling, transport and weighing in one easy step, eliminating the need for a stationary scale. The captured information is then transferred via Bluetooth to the driver display or warehouse management system (WMS) for easy data management without the operator leaving the vehicle. Sensor forks used in high racking applications give operators the ability to visualise product before it is picked through the use of camera-equipped forks. "A good example of their use," says Roncari, "is in the automobile industry, where the Cascade Sensor Forks enable operators to read labels on loads and quickly choose the correct one, eliminating redundant picking and placing. Solutions like these can result in significant time savings, in some cases even up to 50% during standard operation, as well as drastically reduced energy consumption." Another fork-fitted solution is the Cascade Forksetter, a digital accessory which uses a sensor to read the distance between the forks and automatically places the forks precisely in position for a specific load, eliminating the need for the operator to manually adjust the forks multiple times to ensure alignment with the pallet pockets, resulting in higher operator productivity and reduced energy use by the equipment.

Equipment collaboration seems a smart way to make warehouses more efficient. Often the equipment of choice in the warehouse is a forklift, good for loading and unloading product and for picking purposes, but not so safe or efficient for moving product around the warehouse. Simon believes that tow tractors can fill that niche. "Tow tractors are a safer and more efficient option to move goods throughout a facility," he says "One case study Polaris undertook measured efficiencies between a forklift and a tow tractor delivering product to five different stations in a facility. The study revealed that one tow tractor delivered the same amount of goods to the five different locations 40% faster than the forklift operator. Tow tractors also allow operations to use fewer people for moving goods, freeing up resources to help in other areas to optimise workflows."

Camso warehouse tyres
Camso warehouse tyres
Darren Stratton, product manager and director, materials handling for tyre manufacturer Camso, says warehouses tie up a lot of capital in equipment and product inventory. Forklifts are key in the operation and the movement of goods within a warehouse, but no two warehouses are alike, either in design or utilisation. "Warehouse managers assess their needs and acquire only as much equipment as needed, ensuring that forklifts are being fully utilised. This often means that the forklifts are under continuous demand, (and) as tyres are the number one consumable on a forklift, it stands to reason that an efficient operation wants to maximise life and ensure there are no failures, so equipment remains productive and downtime is managed," says Stratton. Providing the right tyres based on the need for application is key. Camso's Usage Intensity Calculator is an online tool developed to remove the guesswork from choosing the right tyre for the right job and forklift. By keying in relevant data such as product type, working environment, lifting capacity, and time the equipment spends in idling, travel and manoeuvring, the calculator can advise a customer on the best tyre choice for their application.

The future of warehousing
For both parts of this two-part series, companies were asked what they thought the future for warehousing might look like. Many spoke about the increased uptake of digital technology, automation and electric vehicles. Dominik Margraf from Exide Technologies had an intriguing and thought-provoking response: "My vision or maybe even dystopian view is that nothing will remain the same. With the increase in automated guided vehicles and their capability to communicate and exchange more and more data through 5G and IoT, will we even need warehouses, the foundation of our business, in the future? Why shouldn't swarms of 'intelligent' small carriers, AGVs, drones as an example, exclusively deliver smaller goods straight from the factory to our door? In the same way we are already experimenting with autonomous personal vehicles, why shouldn't automated guided industrial trucks enter traffic within the next decades and move large goods from the point of manufacture to the point of use? "

"The only reason we currently store goods in warehouses is to collect them and bundle them on road trucks, because direct deliveries from the factory to, let's say, our house are too expensive. Once the costs of manufacturing and utilisation for small AGVs are in the order of today's prices for standard logistics services, warehouses will disappear to a large extent. Raw materials or semi-finished goods will be directly and individually delivered by means of small carriers from one factory to another just in time and finished goods from the factory to their point of use."

"The 'manly' trend of the last years to build bigger, tougher trucks will be over. It will be replaced by miniaturisation: smaller vehicles, fully automated and interconnected with real-time data will move larger goods jointly as a swarm. Maybe one large machine to lift, for example, a heavy pallet, and 50 small ant-like AGVs to crawl underneath and carry it. No need for counterbalance weights anymore. Therefore, industrial batteries will have to change from large, heavy counterbalance tray batteries to smaller, lightweight batteries with high energy density and real-time battery health status reporting systems."

Margraf's vision of the future of warehousing makes for interesting discussion and a future for which enlightened professionals in warehousing and proponents of efficiency will be planning.


Additional information and a special 'THANK YOU' to our contributors:

Gain Significant Time by Evaluating your Material Handling Fleet's Power Supply
Green Cubes Technology: website

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UWB & AI Enable Never-Before-Seen Efficiency Improvements
Quarion Technology: website

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South Australian Grocery Retailer Chooses Fastcharge Australia For Lithium Ion Batteries
Fastcharge: website

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Reinventing the Warehouse
Polaris Commercial: website

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Your Logistics Playbook: Maximize Efficiency with Cascade
Cascade Corporation: website

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Once in a Lifetime! GNB TENSOR Batteries Outlasting Reach Trucks
Exide: website

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STB America revolutionizes the forklift battery
STB Group Inc: website

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Geekplus: website
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TVH Australia: website
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Camso: website
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