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10 warehouse problems | 10 innovative solutions

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Running a warehouse at maximum efficiency is extremely challenging. You may not always have the best tool for every task, but you’re getting the job done with your current equipment and systems. Meanwhile, warehouse problems — and potential opportunities — don’t always get the attention they deserve because the work needs to get done. Right now.

Despite the urgent demands of everyday business, sometimes it can help to slow things down for just a moment, step back and take a closer look at the big picture. More manpower or another forklift may solve some issues. However, many warehouse challenges can be better addressed by finding the right piece of materials handling equipment for key tasks, streamlining existing systems or even adopting new technology.

Here, we’ll examine a few ideas for increasing efficiency — some that may sound obvious and others you may not have thought of — from specialized equipment and technology to innovative warehouse and storage solutions.

Problem #1
Your warehouse has narrow aisles, making it tough to navigate, slowing down operations and causing occasional damage from forklift operators bumping into things. It’s a scenario that is all too common.

Solution
Nowadays, there is an incredible variety of narrow aisle forklifts specifically designed to operate in tight spaces, including at least one model that is so compact it’s capable of driving through a standard-sized doorway. Some narrow aisle forklifts (and very narrow aisle forklifts, an industry term describing equipment capable of operating in the very tightest spaces) allow the operator to stand up instead of sitting down, yielding a better view of the material they are picking or stocking. Most can be equipped with a variety of hydraulic attachments to further enhance their versatility.

Utilizing narrow aisle forklifts can also be a way to maximize your space if you’re designing a new warehouse or overhauling an existing space, enabling you to add more racking to your warehouse configuration and store more in the same footprint.

Problem #2
Many warehouses and outdoor jobs require workers to perform hands-on work at high elevations. Such tasks often require a stable, portable work platform that provides access to high, hard-to-reach spaces.

Solution
Personnel lifts come in a range of different styles, each offering unique functionality to help you get work done in high places.
• Telescoping boom lifts, for example, dramatically extend your vertical reach and can be maneuvered by the operator from atop the work platform.
• Articulating boom lifts, drivable at full elevation, can enable operators to reach elevated positions not easily accessed by a straight telescopic lift.
• Scissor lifts can be an excellent option when you need more workspace and more lifting capacity, because they generally feature larger work platforms on top and can handle heavier loads than boom lifts.
• Additional options include mast boom lifts, vertical personal lifts and a handy, portable device called the LiftPod

Problem #3
You need more vertical reach when it comes to picking orders.

Solution
Most order-picking equipment works quite well for low-level needs, but may lack the ability to reach higher positions to access needed items. By utilizing a mid-level or high-level order picker, your operator can move about the warehouse just as easily while gaining the ability to reach upper-level racks.

Problem #4
In many warehouses, employees are counted on to constantly carry items from Point A to Point B, taking up time that could be spent on more important tasks.

Solution
Have you considered equipping your warehouse with a Weasel? An innovative product from SSI Schaefer, the Weasel is a conveying system in which automated carts navigate along an easy-to-install optical tracking system to efficiently transport goods throughout your facility.

Problem #5
Your operation has been running smoothly, but you think there may be opportunities to boost efficiency through automation.

Solution
Say hello to Balyo, a Paris-based company now partnering with Hyster-Yale to produce cutting-edge robotic self-guided vehicles. The system uses laser mapping to create a map of your facility. Advanced software then enables the self-guided trucks to perform a full spectrum of materials handling functions while working collaboratively with employees. Balyo’s devices can be programmed to know when and where to pick up an item, then move it to the correct location and even analyze the rack to determine the best possible position for placement.

Problem #6
You run a busy warehouse, but the ongoing need to charge and maintain the batteries on your electric forklifts and other materials handling equipment can be a major headache.

Solution
There are several game-changing developments on the horizon when it comes to power sources. Lithium ion batteries, for example, charge much faster then lead-acid batteries, are safer and require little to no maintenance — meaning no more watering, acid, spills or fumes. Though they are more expensive, they deliver significant savings in annual maintenance costs. Plus, they come with an extend warranty compared to a standard lead-acid battery.

Lithium ion batteries do not hold a charge for as long, but can be fully recharged in as little as an hour and a half. In addition, installing one in a pallet jack can potentially shorten its chassis length by several inches, which can be helpful when it comes to maneuverability.

Problem #7
You run a fleet of more than 60 trucks, but are concerned that you are spending way too much time and money just keeping your vehicles charged and fueled.

Solution
Hydrogen. Powering your fleet with hydrogen gives you the ability to create your own fuel right at your own facility. Currently, the ROI calculations favor larger companies, but advancing technology means it will soon be possible for even modest-sized operations to efficiently produce hydrogen fuel, commonly made from natural gas and water through a process called steam methane reforming.

In addition to instant refueling that practically eliminates downtime, you’ll also be able to reclaim any space currently taken up by battery charging and maintenance rooms. A Massachusetts-based hydrogen fuel cell innovator called Nuvera is among the industry leaders when it comes to charting the future of emissions-free hydrogen fuel technology.

Problem #8
Your operation is growing and you need more trained forklift operators to handle your ever-increasing workload.

Solution
Some materials handling equipment companies also offer on-site, truck-specific training for the operators who will be using the equipment. Such training helps companies stay in compliance with OSHA regulations. Safety is obviously the most important consideration, but additional benefits of forklift training include increased productivity, reduced insurance premiums and lower equipment costs.

Problem #9
Continuing growth has your warehouse at or near full capacity and soon you will need additional space.

Solution
Technology has brought new opportunities to help maximize your existing warehouse footprint. For example, cutting-edge CAD technology utilizes 3D modeling to help determine the optimal organization for your physical environment and your workflow.

In addition, there are less high-tech physical improvements that can help you squeeze more storage rack capacity out of your existing space. And for some applications, it may make sense to explore adding mezzanine structures to create a second or third level inside your facility.

Problem #10
You suspect there may be significant opportunities to design a more efficient workflow, but the daily pressure of running a bustling warehouse leaves little time rethink or improve specific processes, let alone to step back and analyze the entire operation.

Solution
You may decide that it makes sense to get another perspective from someone who specializes analyzing your physical space, your equipment and systems, and your workflow; and then recommending customized solutions that are tailored to your unique and specific needs.

* * *

NITCO works with customers across a wide range of industries and applications to create innovative warehouse and industrial solutions designed to boost operational efficiency and help your business grow.

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