You wouldn't think there'd be much passion associated with a topic like lift trucks, but that seems to be the one that generates the most response when we say something that hits a nerve. I guess that's what I did when I wrote recently that lift trucks and racks are every bit as much a system as an AS/RS is.
Michael Yacks agrees. As owner of Reachable Solutions, LLC, which specializes in lift truck attachments, he's responsible for helping customers systemize their lift trucks to their particular material handling environment. The biggest problems he sees happen when companies get locked into that environment. This creates an enclosure that limits their vision.
He told me of his experience in the food and grocery industry. Before Reachable Solutions Mike spent 25 years selling narrow aisle and very narrow aisle lift trucks. The mindset he encountered in food and grocery had to do with the basics of slotting and picking. One of the tenets of that mindset states: “Use pallet trucks to pick fast-moving items from floor slots.” That worked in the old days when the number of SKUs entering the distribution center was manageable. But in recent years marketers became students of demographics and market niches were created.
From these niches burst forth wave after wave of new products, from energy drinks for those who jog to diet foods for those who don't. The varieties in those categories alone are enough to fill a couple warehouses. Of course, most grocers handle many more than those categories, so dedicating floor slots to the fast movers started becoming a problem. They're ALL fast movers!
Many grocers have sought solutions in off-site storage, finding new locations or by automating. But Yacks believes if these grocers had done a little better planning and been more systematic with their existing material handling equipment, they might have found a solution closer to home.
“Had they planned for expansion, they could have simply implemented low-level order pickers which are similar to standard pallet trucks but, also have the ability to lift the operator slightly over three feet,” he told me. “This allows quick and easy access to pick slots as high as 10 feet. These types of trucks were common in Europe way back in the early '90's but are still just beginning to catch on in our market.”
The material handling market is filling with an array of new products almost as vast as the variety of products they handle. Why not try to understand your own demographic as well as the marketers in this industry do? You might find systems you didn't know existed.