“Warehouses and distribution centers expand and contract in funny ways,” says Ed Knab, partner and design consultant at Global-Springs Ltd. (Villa Park, Calif.) “Once the pallet racking is put in place, if you want to change the number of aisles, beams, shelf sizes or pick locations, you have to change the sequencing. Whenever you need to add or take away something, it’s likely to throw off your entire labeling system.”
Global-Springs draws from 30 years of combined experience in analyzing and designing economical systems for distribution centers. As independent consultants, they are brand neutral. Knab says he always recommends magnetic label systems to his clients.
He uses the analogy of painting a floor when designing a locating system within a warehouse. “It’s like painting a floor. It’s hard to anticipate all the different changes ahead and really easy to paint yourself into a corner when assigning locations.”
Knab says the designer has to “study and develop the three-dimensional space--the full cube, not just the floor space--to determine the sequence and structure of a facility’s aisles, sections, rows, tiers and exact locations for every item. Combined with magnetic labels, this provides the ultimate flexibility for the warehouse and distribution centers to add or reduce stock without having to completely re-do the sequencing.”
Kerry Buntrock, general manager, Adams Magnetic Products Company (Elmhurst, Ill.), says, “Since most shelves, racks and bins are made of metal, magnetic labels are the right choice for location and stock identification applications. They attach fast and firmly, can be made in whatever size, format or color required, and can be removed in a snap. And with the increasing focus on minimizing environmental impacts, magnetic labels’ reusability makes them a greener choice.”
Benefits of magnets
Along with longevity and flexibility, magnetic labeling systems are a good fit for barcode- based identification and inventory applications that also use embedded RFID tags. Magnetic labels provide direct, firsttime, every-time reading and scanning accuracy. They are flat and flexible, and their ability to withstand humidity and moisture provides better protection of data integrity.
“Even if you are always updating barcodes and changing information,” says Knab, “magnet labels keep the whole warehouse much cleaner. The old adhesive-based labels are a mess. They don’t move as the stock moves. Whenever you need to change something, you have to scrape off the sticky stuff. Not only does this take time and create waste, it damages the paint on the beam so you’re racking will never be like new again.”
Appearance matters. “Dinged up, caked on racking may not change the quality of the goods you’re stocking,” says Jason Martin, global warehouse manager for Dowling Magnets, “but it definitely has an influence on productivity of the people who work around this shelving.” This California-based company’s educational and toy lines, industrial tools and retail hardware lines are distributed to thousands of schools, retailers and individuals in 20 countries.
“We’ve been growing so fast that we haven’t taken the time to scrap off old labels,” admits Martin.
“Every year for the past 10 years, we’ve moved, expanded or re-sequenced the stock. With a decade of gunked up layers of adhesive labels and painted stencils, you could easily make a mistake.”
He says it’s harder to tell what is out of stock and where new stock should go. It takes time to doublecheck which item is supposed to go in which location. It’s more likely that you have duplicated inventory in multiple locations. “And, worst of all,” he says, “it’s much more likely that this confusion could result in picking and shipping a customer the wrong order.”
Solving the problem
To avoid such nightmarish scenarios, Martin has been incrementally transitioning Dowling’s distribution center to magnetic labeling. He expects to have this phase completed by the end of the year. “Right now, I’m managing about 1,500 components ranging in size from palettes to small, hand-stacked boxes,” says Martin. “Already, the magnetic labeling system has helped us take the guesswork out of our inventory management and fluctuating quantities.” he notes that whenever there’s an out-of-stock item, it triggers someone to pull the label and take it him so he can generate a purchase order for more. And there’s the aesthetics. It makes everything look nicer, neater and newer. He says he can’t tell, for certain how much time or money it saves, but knows it’s well worth the investment.
How to do it
For stock location labeling, there are cardholder magnets. These products typically are extruded into a C-shape to hold an insert. When a new label is needed, you can simply remove and recycle the cardstock, print a new one and put it in place. Adams and other magnetic products suppliers provide these labeling systems in pre-cut sizes or as a roll that can be cut to any length. Standard widths usually start at half-inch, but Knab suggests purchasing those that can accommodate up to 3 inch by 5 inch identification information. “This gives you enough room for the SKU number, barcode and any other information,” he says.
“At this size it also lets you print out a label that you can put on the top shelf and read from the floor without getting a ladder,” adds Martin. The average person can read two-inch high characters from a distance of 16-feet. High contrasts, such as black type on a yellow background, aid in legibility.
Flexible magnetic products use multi-pole magnetization patterns for maximum holding power. Labels can adhere and remain flexible at temperatures as low as minus 40°F and as high as 170°F. Writeon/ wipe-off flexible magnet labels function as temporary identifiers. And if you need sinage on demand, cut-to-size, inkjet printable magnetic sheets are available.
For Dowling’s distribution center, Martin uses flexible magnetic signage to indicate fire extinguishers, exit routes and delivery instructions. He points out that the signs are portable, so they can remain as visible indicators even when racking or stock temporarily obscures their whereabouts.
Looking to the future, Martin imagines that Dowling will rely even more heavily on magnetic labeling systems. “I look forward to doing more with barcoding and color-coding. These seem like such simple ideas, so easy to implement and so cost-effective, and they make such a noticeable difference in the efficiency and accuracy of our operations.”