Battle Plan for Storage

Aug. 1, 2001
If you're storing goods for retail, automotive, maintenance or grocery applications, then it's time you captured a competitive advantage by developing a smart storage strategy.

Battle Plan for Storage

If you’re storing goods for retail, automotive, maintenance or grocery applications, then it’s time you captured a competitive advantage by developing a smart storage strategy.

by Christopher Trunk, managing editor

Many manufacturers and distributors unwittingly harbor an enormous amount of potentially valuable empty space. That unused cube wastes a good portion of otherwise income-generating storage territory and drags at your business’ bottom line.

Your desire for ...

• Better orderpicking productivity;

• Finding parts quickly and better identifying stored goods;

• Reducing on-hand inventory, spoilage and shrinkage;

• And adapting quickly to a changing product mix ...

... requires a storage strategy that pits your company’s storage ability against the competition. This requires a storage master plan that will convince upper management to re-examine this year’s budget for material handling equipment, even in these uncertain economic times.

Roger Carbone, eastern area sales manager for Lista International, finds that typically half of a facility’s floor space can be consolidated using modular storage equipment for better cube use. “We find 60 percent of today’s warehouse areas are storing pure air. That creates a competitive opportunity for every warehouse manager,” he suggests.

But how can you defeat the competition on the storage front? Here are two ideas: Educate yourself on the latest in storage techniques and equipment, and ask one or more equipment vendors to perform a free site survey to recommend some innovative storage changes.

With a little time spent, you’ll see how an integrated storage system can make your warehouse or distribution center run leaner — and store more inventory even more effectively.

Lista is one vendor that offers a free storage survey as a possible first strike for developing a storage plan. “Our engineering staff can study your site to determine the mins and maxes of stored inventory,” says Carbone. “We ask questions about future part increases or expected reductions in stored inventory. Then a tighter, more disciplined design is presented,” he says.

Consolidation drives storage

Today, some managers are having sudden storage and manufacturing decisions thrust upon them as upper management consolidates several warehouses — and their attendant value-added services — into just one or two facilities. And in today’s economic climate, you can forget any budget-busting fantasy of enlarging the building.

“A company may have three facilities around the country, and it drops one. This shifts substantial inventory, orderpicking and manufacturing responsibilities onto just two facilities. Consequently, cube use and floor space become hard currency,” says Tom Nilles, midwest regional manager for Schaefer Systems International. Nilles also finds that automatic identification, organized storage, and improved reach and visibility of parts inventories are critical to successful consolidation.

Faced with this, a career-saving approach is to let the air out of your storage facility by improving storage density with:

• A smart mix of flexible storage equipment;

• A mezzanine that fills overhead space with profit-generating activity;

• Improved inventory tracking with software and automatic data collection.

Some warehouse managers face yet another threat: potential spoiling or obsolesce of groceries, electronic components or retail clothing. For them, gravity flow rack can come to the rescue with first-in first-out inventory control that slims down aisle space.

Mezzanines reach for retail

Today, storage requires inspiration. “We installed an innovative mezzanine with catwalks at Cleveland Browns Stadium. It incorporates a bar, restaurant and gift shop on the bottom level and storage to support the retail shops on an overhead mezzanine level,” says Marcy Ream, manager of product marketing for Republic Storage Systems.

In addition to retail applications, mezzanines raise orderpicking operations, assembly and bulk storage to new heights. Automotive dealers and parts distributors use mezzanines to store bulky fenders, windshields and door panels. Typically, lift trucks, vertical reciprocating conveyors and incline conveyors move items to and from a mezzanine.

Schaefer Systems installed a three-tier mezzanine for aftermarket distribution of heavy-duty semi-truck parts. This buyer has the height for the orderpicking operation, and levels are serviced by conveyor with parts labeled with bar codes and picks verified by scanning.

Republic Storage offers a new box shelf design with greater weight capacity to support one or more mezzanine levels. Republic’s Ream observes that mezzanine-and-shelving combinations are frequently found at retail distribution centers for small item orderpicking. “Our engineers have incorporated bin storage, metal dividers, modular drawers, incline conveyors and more into these mezzanines — permitting better use of overhead space,” she says. As a rule of thumb, Ream maintains that warehouses with existing pallet rack 18' to 26' high usually have space for a shelving-supported mezzanine.

Be sure your mezzanine vendor checks out local, county and state seismic codes, which may have different regulations.

Managers are looking to mezzanines to make the most of existing facilities during this economic slowdown. “Because of the slowdown, companies are postponing a move to new facilities, instead making the best of current space with mezzanines as part of the storage picture,” says Nelson Cantillo, vice president of sales for United Steel Products.

Cantillo sees buyers choosing a combination of mezzanines, selective pallet rack, gravity flow pallet rack, directed pick-to-light panels and carton flow rack for full-case and split-case picking. “These configurations are becoming competitive advantages for distribution centers as computers guide workers to fill wheeled carts or totes,” Cantillo says. Mezzanines are supporting an increase in mail order, Web order and less-than-caseload orderfilling. He believes that despite what has happened to some Web businesses, retail customers will continue to place orders on the Internet.

The skinny on storage drawers

Should storage drawers be part of your storage plan? Do you:

• Stock many kinds of small parts that need separation and better identification and tracking?

• Handle valuable parts?

• Require cycle counts for a host of small parts?

• Have limited storage real estate?

Then consider storage drawers, because keeping all those small parts in one place cuts cycle counting time significantly and makes a visual check for tools and valuable items that much easier. That calculates as cost savings.

Tom Bath, product manager for Stanley Vidmar, offers some practical applications:

• “We’ve put 2,000 storage drawer cabinets on a single Navy aircraft carrier to store maintenance parts, documents, etc. It’s an example of how storage drawers answer the call where storage real estate is scarce,” says Bath.

• At automotive dealerships and parts distributors, new car models arrive with their associated array of parts. These businesses handle the yearly retail space crunch with a mixture of high-density storage drawers and shelving.

• Auto manufacturers would rather liberate their floor space for making cars they can sell rather than for storing parts. So high-density storage like drawers is critical to shrinking the tool and parts crib.

If your sore spot is better control over tooling in the maintenance tool crib, then mobile cabinets are a way to go. Idea: At shift change, require each worker to show all tools are present and accounted for. Some companies have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost and pilfered tools with this method. Workers must have a pretty good reason for that missing tool.

Remember that square footage as a storage measure has nothing to do with storage drawers. The height of the drawer face should be identical to the height of a drawer’s sidewall and backwall to maximize cube use. The same goes for any totes or small containers put into that drawer. A mismatch means you’re storing air.

Business-savvy shelving

When no one is looking, workers want to store everything at the front of a shelf because they don’t want to repeatedly reach to the back, and they also put similar items on a shelf to make picking easier, even if that leaves a shelf half-empty.

These grim realities require your storage plan to adjust for human nature by stocking shelves with containers that closely fit the openings — front to back.

Nilles of Schaefer Systems has other business strategies. “Identify the top 20 percent of the inventory that accounts for 80 percent of the picking volume,” says Nilles. “Organize those fast movers in the shelf area between the worker’s knees and shoulders. Then incorporate storage drawers into that Golden Zone to handle smaller parts. Storage vendors can show you which inventory fits best into drawers or shelving.”

Other ways to squeeze air out of your storage are to adopt adjustable shelving for inventory that frequently changes size and use less-adjustable shelving for slower movers and bulky items. Along those lines, several vendors offer adjustable shelving. Here are some:

• Schaefer Systems with R3000 shelving that lets you easily change the shelf opening height with no tools or fasteners.

• “We are selling a lot more Rivet shelving because it has no nuts or bolts and requires no cross bracing, requiring less installation time,” says Ream. The Republic Storage shelf components slide together and lock.

• Lista’s Storage Wall has a heavy-duty capacity with many combinations of shelving and drawers, slide-out trays, beams for support, wire decking, etc. “These storage shelves come in handy for tool cribs, NC tooling, maintenance parts, retail stores and hospitals,” says Carbone.

Racks lean toward dense storage

Today, racks offer more flexibility and floor space economy than before — yet another element in a storage battle plan.

“With typical racks, the pallet openings are set for the largest size pallet that might be stored there. But with our new, adjustable rack, pallet openings can be adjusted easily as palletload heights change over time,” says Stanley Vidmar’s Tom Bath, product manager. Though Bath says it costs more than conventional pallet rack, adjustable rack makes for denser pallet storage — reducing both your overall rack footprint and the amount of rack to buy. This also liberates space for more storage or production.

Stacking rack looks like a four-post bed — with a metal deck and four metal uprights. Each rack holds a palletload and stores bulky, heavy, fragile and seasonal items — to name a few. “The fact that these racks can store such a wide variety of pallet sizes, wire containers and bulk goods makes them desirable to major retail warehouses and retail stores — where product of all shapes and sizes comes together,” says Tim Hass, marketing manager for Tier-Rack Corporation.

Stacking racks offer something like “guerrilla storage” as the racks can be loaded and stacked to create temporary rack locations or hastily retreat when no longer needed, nesting one upon another. Since each rack is its own storage unit, Hass says it lets a warehouse manager redesign a warehouse or production area as requirements change.

Another way to slim down your pallet rack area is to re-examine your lift truck fleet. In the past, Cantillo says warehouses used sit-down, counterbalanced trucks to service 11' to13' aisles.

Cantillo believes this method creates a lot of wasted aisle space. Today, it might be more feasible to lease narrow aisle or very narrow aisle trucks to let 20 to 30 percent of the air escape from your current pallet rack aisles.

Freeing this space for productive purposes can justify the cost of conversion to a narrower-aisle storage system. “The choice of lift truck has everything to do with the storage density when it comes to pallet rack, allowing you to both store higher and narrower,” he adds.

Leveraging gravity flow rack

If you’ve got a lot of pallets of similar goods, Cantillo wants you to enlist gravity flow rack. “It dramatically reduces aisle space by storing palletloads in a continuous storage lane while ensuring FIFO access. And you don’t need high-reach lift trucks to service flow rack.”

When it comes to gravity flow rack, typical applications include food and grocery. “But we see a lot more flow rack in automotive applications to reduce footprint and ensure stock rotation.

“Recent examples I’ve seen include generator companies and engine plants,” says Tim Mattson, marketing manager for Steel King Industries.

He says that with pushback racks, you typically need a standard, 40" x 48" GMA pallet. “We have options on our new rack to handle non-standard pallets. The racks are designed on a case-by-case basis for your non-standard pallets as a cost saver to avoid either replacing all your pallets with standard models or replacing all your rack in the future as your clients’ pallet sizes change,” says Mattson. This flexibility opens your facility to new business opportunities.

Ream observes that many rack manufacturers supply fairly similar product. “This focuses competition on both price and speedy delivery,” she says. Keep these factors in mind when shopping for rack.

Also keep in mind how developing a leaner, more agile storage strategy can be a powerful advantage over your competitors that aren’t giving storage a second thought. MHM

Mezzanine Quick Facts

Mezzanines are:

• Less expensive than new construction.

• Less disruptive to your existing operation.

• Installed on weekends, off-shift or during shut-downs.

• Tax-advantaged with a 7-year depreciation schedule for capital equipment versus 31 years for a new building.

• More sophisticated than before in supporting vertical and incline conveyors and in meeting more stringent seismic building codes. Use vertical reciprocating conveyors to eliminate the need for constant lift truck attention and for slower-velocity inventory. Let pallet jacks handle the load on both floor and mezzanine levels.

Courtesy Mike Thelen, owner of Steele Solutions Inc., [email protected],

Drawer Storage Tips

• Choose modular drawer cabinets that allow only one drawer open at a time, preventing cabinet tip-over.

• Use cabinets and shelving with electrostatic discharge protection for electronic components and sensitive testing equipment.

• Use castered drawer cabinets for maintenance, plumbing, electronics and machine or NC tool setup.

• Attach small lathes to mobile cabinet tops for portable maintenance. The U.S. government and airlines use cabinets for aircraft maintenance with a slot for every tool. When the worker finishes with an aircraft, every drawer is visually checked so tools aren’t — tragically — left in an engine.

• If your existing shelving isn’t quite level, consider using a self-contained drawer module that sits on the shelf.

Roger Carbone, Lista, [email protected],

Design for Smart Storage

Kurt Melzer, product manager, LewisBins+, a division of Menasha, says that a competitive storage strategy includes having just the right parts, in the correct containers and in sufficient quantity for workers at an assembly line or tool crib.

Smart storage requires:

• Optimal cube use. Closely match part size to bin or container size to eliminate empty spaces.

• Ergonomic design. No matter whether a container is a parts bin, an orderpicking tote or a carton, it’s important that a worker can both easily see and reach parts.

• Multiple use. Choose parts bins that work not only in one storage spot, but also in many others. Consider parts bins that stack, fit closely onto shelving, fit into storage drawers and attach to mobile bin stands and bin rails on workstations.

• Division. Can your containers be subdivided to match various part sizes to storage space? Melzer says dividable boxes are always strong sellers.

• Colors. Color-code containers to reflect certain inventory or storage locations. Consider one color for the tool crib to make tool roundups easier at the end of a shift. Use one color just for fasteners and another for switches, or identify similar computer components each with its own color. “Healthcare uses a whole range of pastel colors to identify inventory. In manufacturing, a red container sometimes identifies a rejected part or assembly,” reports Melzer.

• Security. In pharmaceutical or healthcare, locking cabinets are important, as well as for electronics or jewelry manufacturing and distribution.

• Matching the mix. An inventory survey can identify the range of part sizes, quantities, economic value and picking speed. The storage system can match that mix with properly sized bins, drawers, cabinets, shelving and mobile bin racks.

“Don’t buy a hodge-podge of storage equipment against the dim hope it will improve your parts management problem. Instead, do the smart thing and purchase a flexible and integrated system that matches today’s needs and reconfigures easily for tomorrow’s inventory changes,” concludes Melzer.

Melzer, [email protected],

Gravity Flow Rack Delivers for Retail, Automotive

Flow rack continues to provide a safe, reliable and controlled method of moving goods — even during power outages. The rack stores quantities of pallets, totes or containers in a single, slanted lane that’s fitted with wheeled tracks. Workers feed product into the high end of the rack and pick items from the low end as containers travel gently down the lane.

Today, the changing pallet situation within almost all industries is making gravity flow rack more important than ever. Many companies have to track their inventory more closely to ensure first-in first-out (FIFO) stock rotation. Buyers are choosing a trio of inventory control software, automatic identification and flow rack to meet that need. This applies to retail distribution and automotive assembly.

Major retail clothing and grocery manufacturers and distributors are harnessing this rack to ensure proper stock rotation when dealing with staggering numbers of SKUs. With just a few pickfaces per SKU, retailers can make best use of automatic identification, bar code labels and scanning to increase orderfilling accuracy.

It’s important to purchase gravity flow rack that adjusts. You don’t want to lock yourself into a particular rack configuration only to have automotive engineers juggle the pallet, carton or tote size on you. This caveat applies to all industries and all storage equipment.

“We offer the Modurail Workfeed Module with a gravity flow inflow lane that brings a palletload to a worker at an assembly station. Once the palletload is processed, a lift device moves the pallet up and away onto a takeaway gravity flow rack. Or the finished palletload is shunted left or right to be taken away by lift truck while a fresh palletload moves off the inbound rack,” says Cheryl Wylie, controller for Wylie Dynamics Inc.

In the automotive industry, subassemblies and components are brought to the assembly line via flow rack. The parts are used to complete a car assembly. Applications include bumper, door and other assemblies.

Manufacturers who supply to automotive win a contract for so many cars. Wylie says that with each contract, the parts and pallet can change, be they stored on wooden or plastic pallets, in steel containers, wire containers and even cardboard boxes. This demands a flexible storage system that can handle varying load capacities and bottom types for containers.

Wylie reports that automotive manufacturers use plastic pallets that have nine small “feet” on the underside. “These feet can frequently hang up in rack and shut down an entire assembly line, so you may need to retrofit with wider roller tracks and rails that guide them,” she adds.

Wylie, [email protected],

A Tale of Earthquakes and Retailers

New seismic requirements for rack have sprung up all over the country, county by county. “It’s strange that one county in North Carolina is really tough on seismic regulations, but adjacent counties could care less,” says Bob Carlson, engineering manager for Clymer Enterprises. “There’s just no accounting for it, so vendors really have to know an area’s building codes.

“I’m sure some rack vendors have gotten burned by taking an order, designing a system, installing it and later having to eat the additional cost to meet unexpected seismic codes. We’ve been fortunate it hasn’t happened to us,” observes Carlson.

Clymer offers cantilever rack. Its fabrication involves job-shop manufacturing rather than high-speed production, and Clymer supplies the rack to half-a-dozen other rack manufacturers.

Applications for cantilever rack include:

• Retail lumberyards like Lowe’s;

• Steel service centers for storing steel tube, channels, sheets and rod.

Carlson says any application of his rack requires individual engineering. Important design elements include type of product, weight capacity, dimension, height availability at the facility and the kind of lift truck.

At some industrial sites, narrow-aisle sideloading trucks service the racks, and at home improvement stores, sit-down lift trucks do the job. But each of these trucks requires a corresponding cantilever rack design.

“Sales for cantilever rack is down this year, but last year we had a record sales year. The slowdown in the steel service industry accounts for the cutbacks,” says Carlson.

He finds that retail stores like Lowe’s are quite demanding of rack manufacturers, requiring vendors to inventory three or four of their stores at any time. “That’s a lot of custom cantilever rack to keep on hand. Plus these major retailers require a rack vendor to be available 24/7 for rack questions and immediate travel for on-site service.”

While cantilever rack is reported to be more expensive than pallet rack, cantilever’s a must for storing long loads when you can’t allow interference from upright frames every eight or 10 feet.

Cantilever rack is flexible. It adjusts vertically to match different product heights and lengths, but the frame depth is set upon fabrication.

For more on applying cantilever rack, contact: Carlson, [email protected],

Fight Fires and Falls with Rack Decking

Lift truck operators can deposit pallets directly onto rack beams. But fatalities can occur when failed pallets drop product onto both workers and customers below. Lift truck operators can hit racks and jostle inventory with the same consequences. “When I walk around home improvement stores and see all those customers walking underneath racks without any decking, I get nervous,” says David Rollins, president of Nashville Wire Products.

Just imagine the liability.

One solution is wood as rack decking to catch falling objects. “But wood products pose fire concerns, as fires can spread horizontally before they have a chance to trigger sprinkler systems. This horizontal tendency has contributed to major warehouse fires,” says Rollins.

He says Factory Mutual and local fire codes are demanding that sprinklers either be put inside racks with wood decking or wire grids be installed so a fire can reach the sprinkler heads quickly. Where earthquakes are prevalent, it seems obvious some kind of decking is required.

Wire rack decking is one alternative that simultaneously improves overall rack rigidity and safety. The deck unites both front and back rack beams, and wire allows both fire and sprinkler water to move quickly through the rack.

Rollins reports that the price for rack deck is so competitive that wire now compares with plywood. But each wire rack deck must fit the load capacity of your pallets, with lighter loads requiring less expensive decks. Since buyers now want delivery the next day, wire rack vendors are stocking more standard sizes in quantities.

Nashville Wire or its distributors can do a site survey, calculate the right rack decking capacity and perform a load test. Phone the Estimating Department at (800) 448-2125 or visit

Get in Step

To start your lean storage plan, contact:

• Bath, [email protected],

• Cantillo, [email protected],

• Carbone, [email protected],

• Hass, [email protected],

• Mattson, [email protected],

• Mecalux, (racks and shelving),

• Nilles, [email protected],

• Ream, [email protected],

Look Out Below for Lower-Cost, Bulk Storage

The Marengo Warehouse and Distribution Center in Marengo, Indiana, houses a honeycomb of 20 underground warehouse chambers, reclaimed from a former limestone quarry dug into a mountainside. With a constant temperature around 58 degrees F and a dry environment, the 1.1 million-square-foot space saves on both heating and cooling costs, a savings passed to customers — not to mention a single, monumental access/egress point to focus pilferage control.

Marengo has 40 workers and leases its many chambers as third-party warehouse space, each warehouse having a 30-foot ceiling and from 100,000 to 150,000- square feet. Some warehouses have as many as 10 dock locations. Diesel semi trucks and propane lift trucks service the facility.

But what do companies store underground?

“We store more than a million new tires for Goodyear Tire and Bridgestone/Firestone Tire & Rubber,” says Larry Hicks, national marketing manager. “ Our customers find underground storage an inexpensive way to distribute tires all around the globe by trailerload, including directly to retail stores.

“Clients verify the contents of each truck before sending a load to us. The trucks are dropped off at the facility entrance, and our drivers deposit the load into the correct warehouse, unloading semi- trucks chocked full of bulk goods and palletloads,” adds Hicks.

The company creates a numbered schematic for each warehouse and manually tracks where items are stored. To pull items for shipment, customers send orders or advance ship notices by dedicated phone/ computer terminals to the site. Orders are printed out, creating a manual pick- or put-list for workers.

“As our client list grows, we are looking at automatic data collection vendors to help keep track of customers’ inventory. We saw many inventory control system demonstrations at the recent Supply Chain Expo show in Chicago,” says Hicks. A radio frequency data communications system with portable, handheld terminals is one idea. It would require an antenna network to navigate around the solid rock walls.

Marengo plans to expand the facility soon with a 180,000-square-foot frozen food warehouse and a 92,000-square-foot cool space.

Hicks concludes: “With the temperature control and spatial dimensions that underground storage offers, a third-party, underground warehouser becomes more cost competitive with typical above-ground warehouses.”

To search for other underground public warehouses, search the Web for “underground storage.”

Hicks, [email protected],