Maximizing Minimal Warehouse Space

Fast-paced processing of 2,000 orders per day in a very narrow aisle storage system requires special lift trucks.

The key element is the "production warehouse," a very narrow-aisle racking system that maximizes use of the storage cube, and challenges Watkins to create an efficient storage and retrieval system. The company opted for a unique man-up order-picking/stacking lift truck that allows operators to ride along with the forks to accurately store pallet loads and fill production orders.

The ETX-Kombi AC truck is supplied by Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp. ( Richmond, Va.) and serves the dual purpose of pallet storage and order picking. "The truck has the ability to access pallets from either side of the storage aisle, minimizing the space needed for lift truck traffic." says Leal. The company produces several hundred spas per day, generating a heavy demand on production warehouse logistics.

Production warehouse concept
Watkins Manufacturing, one of Masco Corporation's family of companies, is a leading manufacturer of premium portable spas. Sold under the Hot Spring name, they have been one of the market leaders since 1977. Watkins also produces Hot Spot, Tiger River and Solana spas. The spas are sold through a global network of more than 1,000 dealers.

More than 700 parts are housed in the production warehouse ranging from small electrical resistors to complete pump/motor assemblies. "All of the components needed for the following day's production," says Leal, "are pulled from the production warehouse and delivered to the production lines during the evening shift." Production workers arrive in the morning with a complete inventory of items needed for that day's work.

"Since our inception," says Leal, "Watkins has sold in excess of 500,000 spas, and there are no signs of slowing. In 1999 we built our new 110,000-squarefoot manufacturing and office facility to keep up with the swelling demand for our products."

Responding to demand
Watkin's production warehouse processes more that 2,000 orders per day, typically receiving either crated parts or full pallet loads from the incoming inspection area during the first shift. The second shift pulls the material needed for the next day's production. "Our facility works on an 'as ordered' basis," says Leal, "so that every spa produced will be immediately shipped to the distributor by a fleet of trucks as well as UPS." This process means that Watkins doesn't require a finished goods storage area. It has two production lines to handle all of its production demands.

The production warehouse racking system has more than 700 pick locations and the lift trucks are kept busy stocking and replenishing the warehouse. Approximately 85 percent of the production items are stored in the racking system while others are stored on the floor.

"The unique ability of the trucks to pick up and store pallets or crated parts from either side of the truck gives us the flexibility to design the narrow-aisle system," says Leal.

The narrow-aisle concept results in better use of the overall storage cube and allows Watkins to use lift truck operators more efficiently. Before the move, it had 20 people supporting its production warehouse group. It now uses 11. The others were deployed to the replacement parts warehouse. The company worked with Quality Lift Trucks (San Diego) to specify the type of truck needed for its operation.

"The truck's man-up feature was specified for two reasons," says Leal, "safety and efficiency." Allowing the operator to ride up with the forks, guarantees that loads are stored and retrieved properly. With narrow aisles there isn't much room for mistakes. It also uses the trucks to facilitate daily cycle counts. Every night it conducts cycle counts with operators counting each item in the warehouse. Without the man-up feature, each lift truck operator would have to pull the parts from storage, count them and then re-store them. With the man-up trucks the operator simply elevates himself to the desired level and counts the parts. Watkins is operating at a 98 percent accuracy rate on its daily cycle counts.

The truck's man-up feature allows the operator to ride up with the forks, guaranteeing loads are stored and retrieved properly.

Trucks can pick up and store pallets or crated parts from either side of the truck, giving them flexibility in the narrow-aisle system.

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