Lift Truck Makers Seeing Big Picture

Feb. 8, 2011
When most material handling and logistics managers see underutilized warehouse space, their first instinct might be to focus on the racking. But sometimes the answer to a storage problem isn't found in the most obvious place. For many warehousing ...

When most material handling and logistics managers see underutilized warehouse space, their first instinct might be to focus on the racking. But sometimes the answer to a storage problem isn't found in the most obvious place. For many warehousing problems, Jim Moran usually looks at lift trucks first. That's understandable, considering he's senior vice president of Crown Equipment. But he made a convincing case for his approach last week when his company introduced a new order picker to the market.

Crown's new RM 6000 was unveiled as industry's first narrow aisle reach truck with a MonoLift mast and the first pantograph reach truck that can reach 505 inches and deliver up to 1,000 pounds more capacity at height. Moran sees this as a game-changer when it comes to facility design.

“We feel this could influence how warehouses are built,” he told his online audience of industry writers during a press briefing last Friday. “Warehouse layouts have been at the mercy of reach truck specs for decades and that often translates into wasted space in aisles and on the rack. If you walk around most DCs you'll see unused rack and open slots at the top of many if not all the aisles. That's because they don't have the capacity to lift loads at height. We needed to help them better utilize that space. And we had to allow them to do it with visibility enhancements that kept the operators at maximum productivity levels while maneuvering loads at high heights.”

Moran said the monolift mast was key to handling those heavier loads and to offering operators better visibility. He used one of Crown's freezer clients to illustrate the savings potential. It was using a 321-inch-lift-height deep reach truck to serve five levels of storage. The engineering challenge was this: If this customer could go 400 inches—or one level higher—with a deep reach and maintain the same truck capacity, what would that mean in terms of freezer construction cost?

Well, five levels required a 250,000 sq ft warehouse at $120 a sq ft. That works out to $30 million to build an equivalent freezer. At six levels, the same number of pallet positions, 208,000 sq ft, at $130 per sq ft, that's $27 million. So that means a $3 million savings in building costs. Going further, by narrowing the truck's outriggers and getting more bays in that footprint, that could mean adding more pallet capacity.

So bottom line, what's the return on investment for such a lift truck?

Moran says it would be about a year, factoring in the additional energy savings from AC motors, the regenerative braking and lowering system, and electronic steering. These features, combined with the option to use a larger battery, can mean energy savings and run time improvements of 25 percent or more depending on the application, according to Crown's press materials.

While this addresses the challenge of getting more payback from making better use of the upper-level space, Crown also talked about the challenges for pickers working out of the lower-level, higher velocity pick zones. According to the company's time and motion studies, picking is one of the biggest time eaters in a warehouse. It entails getting the pick instruction, walking to the pick slot, retrieving a case, placing the case on the pallet, and managing the load. According to Tim Quellhorst, Crown's senior vice president of engineering, the picking process offered a lot of savings potential.

“Rather than reinvent the picking process we thought we could make it more efficient by helping the picker and the lift truck work better together,” he said. “Studies showed that 95% of an operator's time was spent off the truck. We concluded the pickers spent most of their time moving back and forth between the rack and the truck, as well as repositioning the truck. Second, pickers were expending a lot of energy by carrying heavy boxes to the place where they last parked the lift truck. In most instances this was farther away than necessary. Third, pickers were getting a ‘Stairmaster' workout by frequently stepping on and off the vehicle's platform. This was unnecessary use of energy that strained endurance.”

In the spirit of moving the mountain to Mohammed, the company introduced its QuickPick Remote Advance system. The operator is able to stay off of the lift truck and use a transceiver glove or transceiver trigger to advance the truck to the next pick slot. A wireless transceiver module that snaps into a holder on the back of the glove periodically transmits and receives RF signals from an RF tower located on the truck.

Lasers detect obstacles in the path of the truck, stopping it before making contact. The lasers can also detect proximity to racks, enabling course corrections.

The industries Crown sees getting the greatest benefit from this are retail and wholesale trades as well as manufacturing—basically any company with high throughput and pick densities.

This event offered some great examples of how engineers address constraints. Their challenge is that their organizations are designed and managed in separate parts. The result is usually an under-performing whole. It's nice to see that lift truck providers, which usually cater to those separate pieces of their customers' organization, are starting to help their customers think holistically and act logistically.

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Photo by David Adams U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District
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