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Mobile Warehouse Supplies U.S. Marines in Iraq

Aug. 1, 2005
Container-sized carousel performs the critical task of supplying U.S. military forces with the material needed to do its job.

Behind the daily newspaper headlines and behind the battle lines lies a material handling story. The U.S. Marines teamed with FKI Logistex (St. Louis), and its carousel technology expertise, to design a unique container carousel system that can be rapidly deployed in remote locations to dispense small maintenance and repair parts. The self-contained automated system of linked bins travel around an oval track housed inside a shipping container. When commanded, the bins rotate bringing the parts to the picker via the shortest route.

The first FKI Logistex container carousel was deployed at Camp Fox in the desert outside Kuwait City. It was stocked by USMC logistics contractor Honeywell, carried by ship from Blount Island (near Jacksonville, Fla.) to Kuwait, then trucked to the field. The carousels can also be helicopter-dropped. FKI Logistex customized the container carousel system to meet the rigorous field needs of the military. Serving as a mini-warehouse-in-a-box, the carousel system is used in conjunction with the USMC's STRATIS (Storage Retrieval Automated Tracking Integrated System) material and inventory control system.

Inventory in the container carousels is replenished by spinning the carousel to a specified bin via the controller or by an automated put-away procedure that links the carousel to the STRATIS system. The system tracks the location and quantities of material on-hand as well as the quantities that have been distributed. Upon reaching a safety stock level, the system enables the operator to systematically put away new material via the routine directed by the material management system. While the current setup does not use pick-to-light technology, it could be redesigned to enable pick-to-light.

"The primary goal of the container carousels is to provide high-density storage and dedicated locations for material," says John Molloy of FKI Logistex. "We've designed this equipment as miniwarehouses, able to be shipped, carted and dropped as a standard ocean freight container, and offering the USMC the ability to store and access its components efficiently within a high-density carousel."

Lt. Col. Paul Turner, logistics director for the Blount Island Command prepositioning program, provides guidance to the Marines' Special Purpose MAGTF ( Marine Air-Ground Task Force) unit currently using the equipment.

"I worked hand-in-hand with FKI Logistex to ensure the proper features were put into the carousels," says Turner, who came up with the concept after working with several larger carousels at Camp Lejeune (N.C.) five years ago.

"These units came on shore with our Marines in Kuwait and operated as a small parts storage and retrieval system in its field warehouse setup," says Marine Lt. Colonel Al Will, project officer with the Marine Forces Atlantic. (Will was recipient of Material Handling Management's Innovator Award in November 2003 for the warehouse management system program he developed.) "As you can imagine, managing all the small items necessary for the field can be difficult without this type of system."

Shipped fully stocked and dropped at the staging location, where generators power the equipment, the container carousel system offers a variety of benefits to the Marines, including high-density space utilization and an ergonomic design that reduces the walking and search time associated with conventional storage methods.

"We've designed this container carousel system to give the Marines the flexibility and durability they need in storing and retrieving small parts in the field," says Molloy. "We kept in constant contact with Lt. Col. Will from the time the carousels left the country by ship to the point when they were in the middle of the battlefield."

Using the entire 388 cubic feet of interior space of the container for storage, the carousel saves precious time by bringing supplies to the operator and provides access to supplies and redundant system controls from all four sides of the container. The system also features an RS-232 port available for computer hookup and the ability to use a variety of generator voltages, an important field requirement.

Other features include shelving that is adjustable every two inches and doors that lock securely to keep contents safe. The system offers a bin capacity of 2000 lbs. per bin, and operatesin temperatures from -30° F to 120° F. The units are performance tested to operate at a small angle with an imbalanced load, important if the container is dropped on an incline.

The carousel unit fills the interior of the container and can be accessed from any of its four sides.