Let Us Entertain You

June 1, 2004
W hen we think of entertainment and conjure up diversions from our daily lives, rarely do we factor in material handling. Yet material handling makes

W hen we think of entertainment and conjure up diversions from our daily lives, rarely do we factor in material handling. Yet material handling makes magic happen under the big top. It surfaces on the pages of best-selling novels. It makes amusement parks amusing.

Did you catch the supporting role played by Menasha’s new packaging design and material on the Learning Channel last fall? No? Well, that’s the way it is with most aspects of material handling and transport packaging; what you don’t see is what you often get. In this case, on the show Trading Spaces, a special corrugated material used to safely ship cabinets from the manufacturer, Kraftmaid Cabinets, to the construction site, performed flawlessly. The new pack protected doors during transport from the manufacturing plant in Middlefield, Ohio, and never stepped on anyone’s line. The pack later debuted in the rest of the cabinet industry and other markets.

Also last fall, using the kind of innovative thinking our third president would have relished (since he had a hand in their creation), HK Systems launched its Charters of Freedom project to transport precious documents in Washington, D.C. It’s part of the company’s involvement in the renovation of our National Archives, started about 10 years ago, and a great example of how material handling is used behind the scenes to captivate tourists visiting our nation’s capital.

Using the proven technology of its unit load automated storage and retrieval machines (AS/RS), HK Systems created a trio of precision shuttles, door-lifting hoists and carts for the shuttle transfer system responsible for moving the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights within the National Archives building.

Mike Judis, vice president, project management at HK, says, “We took portions of our standard storage and retrieval machines and our typical approach to handling, for this secure and sensitive project.”

Dave Turpin, director of project management, was leader on this project. “We created three shuttle-transfer systems, two cars four feet wide and one 12 feet wide. All were about 12 feet deep. A critical factor was vibration created by movement. We had an allowable level of less than 0.1G-force in normal moving mode and 1G in high-speed travel mode.”

The reason they had to be careful of the shuttle transfer cars’ vibration was a fear that too much vibration might cause the ink on the precious documents to move.

HK worked with Diebold Co. on the design of the vault systems the transfer cars move into. Safety and security were major challenges and photos of this project were not permitted.

This display transfer system transports the documents at the beginning of each viewing day from secure storage vaults to display windows located in the rotunda. Formerly the documents were transported vertically from the basement. The vertical position of the documents, however, made it difficult for children and wheelchair-bound people to view.

Now the documents, moved on shuttles with programmed logic controllers, are displayed at about 45-degree angles. There is also a manual backup system in case of a power failure.

John Splude, HK’s chairman and CEO, says, “We were honored to have provided this state-of-the-art system that not only provides enhanced security, but expedites the movement of the documents without requiring human intervention.”

Here’s one for the books

This year’s hot novel has been The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. How many readers understood the mechanics in the scene where the hero and heroine were retrieving a secret article from a Swiss-operated bank? It was a great description of an AS/RS machine and the use of automatic identification. Granted, the heroine and hero had to go through a more complicated process to retrieve their item than you might in your warehouse. It did, however, bring basic material handling technology to the reader. Did readers think it was science fiction?

Libraries, early adopters of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, are also discovering the benefits of automated material handling. FKI Logistex’s new automatic return and sortation system (called Library Mate or LMS) for libraries sounds a bit like science fiction to the world outside material handling. It improves service for library patrons and makes work easier for library staffs by automating and simplifying the material return process.

Since library patrons can return holdings to the system around the clock, it also frees patrons from the restrictions of library hours and enables library staff to accomplish more customer-service-oriented tasks.

When a patron returns material, Library Mate scans the item’s bar code label or RFID tag (or both), and sends the data to the LMS. This registers the patron’s lending as complete and prints a return receipt.

An example of this system is the installation in the main library in Aarhus, Denmark. The system at the Aarhus library consists of four customized Library Mate self-service check-in stations and a Crisplant compact sorter with 71 sort destinations. Each check-in station has a capacity of 600 to 900 items per hour, giving the total system a capacity in excess of 2,000 items per hour.

When a patron returns loaned material, each returned item is automatically directed to the sorter and discharged automatically.

The Aarhus arrangement is scalable, with the option of connecting multiple Library Mates to the same sorter. The setup can also be extended so the sorter can operate on more than one level in a library building. It is designed to discharge material into any destination, tote box or directly onto Crisplant Ergo Cart.

Get into the game

When you think about the high-technology graphics and complexity of computer games, it’s hard to imagine that a manufacturer of these products was behind times in material handling. Such was the situation with Acclaim Entertainment Inc. of Glen Cove, New York. Until not long ago, the company lacked the critical systems integration with suppliers needed to manage inventory, shipments, retail requirements and delivery information. Everything was tracked in hard copy and orders were keyed in manually. Even the super heroes of the computer games would have found the task, paper trail and duplication of effort required to manage the system daunting.

What Acclaim needed was a system more powerful than a speeding locomotive and more flexible than any of the morphing characters on its discs. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound was optional. Even X-ray vision could not give Acclaim the inventory visibility required to scale manufacturing to meet the seasonal demand fluctuations of its business.

Enter Inoveris, a mild-mannered company specializing in quick disc manufacturing — and more. It automated Acclaim’s order processing, thus reducing time and costs associated with orders, eliminated duplication of effort and reduced the margin of error in order fulfillment.

“What we do,” explains Chris Munro, president and CEO, Inoveris, “is take the game program [via computer download] created by the interactive game people from the studio floor and print it to CDs and DVDs.”

That sounds simple enough. A supply chain diagram for game manufacturers, however, looks more like rocket launch than it does anything linear. A game producer might take 18 months to create the game, then wants it on the store shelves, in tens of thousands of copies to thousands of retailers, in four or five days.

“We don’t come into play until the game’s release schedule has been published,” says Munro. “Then we have less than a week to create the design, print the CDs, prepare the packaging, along with all the components such as manuals — all on a Just-In-Time basis.”

Inoveris ships directly to retail stores in most cases because the creator of the game is not making any money until the games are sold. “Getting revenue recognition for our customers is the biggest thing we do,” says Munro.

When Inoveris gets the order to produce the game CD at its manufacturing operations in Columbus, Ohio, the scene takes on the appearance of one of the action-packed thrillers it’s creating.

“Historically we’ve always been a ‘quick-turn’ business,” explains Munro. “We developed the skills to procure our material on a JIT basis, make and assemble things, and get product to the stores quickly.”

To facilitate that, Inoveris has developed a Web portal that allows customers to drop in orders from any place in the world. There are links to suppliers that allow the customer to look into the manufacturing process to see what is being made, where the raw material is, or where the product is throughout the process.

“It’s as if the customer is walking into his own manufacturing center or warehouse to see the process,” explains Munro.

Customers can even change the order, in real time and track it through Inoveris’ system regardless of the shipping method or transport company being used.

Less cost, more space

Not that long ago, and occasionally it still happens, if you requested a special volume at the library, you could expect the waiting time to be figured in days if not weeks. Now, thanks to automated library retrieval systems being installed by HK Systems, that delay is calculated in minutes. To date, the company has 15 systems up and running with more in the construction stage.

The library systems are basic AS/RS machines with special features, such as humidity and temperature controls. They are also, for the patrons and librarians who use them, high-density media archives.

So what’s the difference between what’s in a distribution center and what’s in a library? “The trick is that we have an extensive software system that runs the machines on the back end, and links to the cataloging system on the front end,” says Jeff Hedges, director, market development, HK Systems. “We’ve been able to offer an integrated system that is seamless to the catalog system.”

Like a duck crossing the pond, the automated library system (ALS) appears quite simple on the surface. All the important action is unseen. The patron does a search for a book at a computer terminal. If the book, or other media, is not in the open stacks, a request is entered via the terminal.

This request sets into action a chain of events that activates the AS/RS, most often unseen by the patron. The crane moves to the book’s location in the storage racks and retrieves a pan of books containing the requested volume. Depending on the ALS installation, several things can then happen. The book can come forward to the end of an aisle where a picker is directed to the requested book. Some of these delivery points are located directly behind the circulation desk, others are located in another area of the library. If so, the books are transported to the desk via hand cart, conveyor or monorail.

“The systems have grown to do more than just deliver books,” says Hedges. “Because of the interface with cataloging software, libraries can use the data to determine which books have higher or lower request frequencies. Automated auditing is also possible, saving time and effort on the part of


Eastern Michigan University uses the system to keep track of the frequency of circulation. If a book is requested on a regular basis, librarians can pull that book out of the AS/RS and put it in the stacks. Getting books that are popular back into the stacks is important. One of the pleasures of using a library, particularly in an academic setting, is the ability to scan the books located on either side of the volume you want, seeing what might also be related to your research subject.

More often, however, the person making the request through the ALS picks up the book at a circulation desk. In some instances, special conditions have to be met for handling the books. For rare collections that require specific temperature and humidity conditions, HK has created special delivery shunts to controlled rooms where the requester can view the volume under temperature and humidity controls similar to the AS/RS where the book has been stored.

What if department

And what do we have to look forward to, coming from the entertainment world to the material handling world? Toyota Material Handling Co. (TMHC) is developing related equipment that helps create a better material handling environment, regardless of where the need for handling might be. Products such as non-contact power supply systems and non-contact power-line communication systems are in the works.

Non-contact power supply systems provide electrical power to bodies (mechanical objects such as trains, not human bodies) that move at high speeds, without requiring the establishment of contact with those bodies. These systems have a broad range of applications, including transport vehicles in factories and warehouses, mobile robots used in factory automation and even in amusement parks. It should be noted that these systems are not yet available in the U.S.

Power is traditionally supplied to moving objects using the movable cable and trolley method, an approach often accompanied by a variety of problems including difficulties posed by high-speed motion, part wear arising at the point of contact, and the generation of sparks.

Against this background of difficulties, non-contact power supply systems have made high-speed motion and maintenance-free parts a reality because of their innovative approach to the problem: They supply current to a power cable laid next to a rail track, and that electrical power is picked up by a non-contact method. Can the early 1950s promise of Buck Rogers or Captain Video and the Video Rangers be far behind?

The entertainment industry has learned a lot from us, so what can we in the material handling industry, who only dream of fame, learn from them? Chris Munro echoed what many interviewees hinted at, and probably says it best: First, you have to forget what business you’re in. It’s all one supply chain. It’s not management by silo. Munro says to create value in a supply chain, you want velocity and movement, coupled with transparency of information. “I have to share what my requirements and needs are to everyone who will be affected by my final product,” Munro says. He sees this as a common problem, regardless of industry. “It should be people first, process second and technology third.” MHM

Fleeting Fame and Material Handling

Jeff Hedges, director, market development, HK Systems, tells a great tale of how fickle fame can be when the spotlights are pointed in your direction. A couple years ago, producers from the television show Alias called. They had seen his company’s automated library system (ALS) in action at one of its California installations and felt it was perfect for a scene in their show. It seems the spy-heroine had to retrieve a rare copy of War and Peace secreted away in an automated library in Russia. The ALS offered that high-tech, computer-game feel they were striving for in their show.

Excitement soared around Jeff’s offices as everyone prepared for the big event. The night of the show, VCRs were spinning miles of tape. Everyone wanted to capture this moment of glory to pass on their grandchildren.

“Well,” says Hedges, “we had maybe [and he emphasizes the maybe part] a second-and-a-half of exposure. And if people were not familiar with mini-loads, they probably missed the whole thing.”


For more information, contact any of the following companies:

• FKI Logistex, http://www.fkilogistex.com/

• HK Systems, http://www.hksystems.com/

• Inoveris, http://www.inoveris.com/

• Menasha Corp., http://www.menasha.com/

• Toyota Material Handling U.S.A., http://www.toyotaforklift.com/

• Transbotics, www.transbotics.com

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