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Minimize Downtime with Industrial Parts Storage that Evolves as Production Does

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When production equipment breaks down, every minute it takes to get back up and running can cost thousands of dollars in lost production and idle labor. While technicians strive to reduce downtime, if they spend precious minutes searching for the right replacement parts in inefficient parts storage then, despite their best efforts, many thousands of dollars in production and labor will be lost.

Whether a company manufactures machinery or food products, whether it drills for offshore oil, refines petrochemicals, processes wastewater, or produces electricity, to stay competitive production must be extremely efficient and minimize downtime. Yet traditional, inflexible, restricted parts storage space can increase downtime and negatively impact production, operations, and maintenance efficiency.

Too often parts storage and maintenance capacity does not evolve, even as new part sizes, shapes, weights, quantities, and configurations are introduced. The challenge increases when multiple generations of products or equipment must be manufactured or promptly serviced using the same unchanging storage and service space. Changing demand and products, along with line expansion, parts consolidation, facility renovation, and a host of other factors can also require a flexible parts storage capacity that evolves as production does.

Fortunately, a new flexible type of storage system that starts from raw shelving and evolves as needed is allowing parts managers to create denser, more space and labor-efficient parts storage capacity as market, budget, or storage needs change.

While traditional modular drawer cabinets on casters are fine for some applications, their main drawback is that they are essentially unchangeable steel boxes, unable to efficiently accommodate changing part sizes, shapes, weights, quantities, or configurations. Once the size of the drawers and box frame is set, modular drawer cabinets have virtually no future adaptability. As storage needs change, for instance, storing washer-sized parts in 6” drawers wastes a lot of storage space.

Traditional storage shelves offer more space than modular drawer cabinets, but a tremendous amount of storage space can be wasted if, for example, 3”-high parts are stored on 24”-high shelves. Because moving a shelf to create more storage space often requires removing and reassembling 10 or more nuts and bolts, this is practically never done on a large scale.

When parts storage capacity lags behind the need, clutter results with parts too often stored on the floor, on top of cabinets, and stacked in boxes—which can lower productivity if parts are not easy to store and retrieve.

“The goal in maintenance is to strive for zero production downtime, but that depends on getting the right parts into the hands of technicians for needed repairs as soon as possible,” says Jeremy Miller, a DC Maintenance Foreman for JBS USA LLC’s Marshalltown, Iowa facility, a subsidiary of JBS, the largest animal protein processing company in the world. “Delay in locating the right parts in storage translates into unnecessary downtime.”

The Marshalltown facility carried a production parts inventory of over $1 million, mostly in a central parts area, with parts ranging from tiny nuts, bolts, and screws to gears, sprockets, and cabling to motors, chain drives, and sensitive electronic boards.

While the facility had initially used an open rack, cabinet, and bin storage system for parts storage, Miller knew there was room for improvement.

“We felt trapped by our old system of parts storage because it forced us to adapt to it,” says Miller. “The shelves on our open rack were essentially fixed. So too were the cabinets and bins. Because nothing would fit the storage space exactly, we constantly had to search for a spot to put the items. If the parts didn’t fit, we had to store the items in multiple locations, or buy entire new racks when all we may have wanted was a larger drawer to keep related parts together.”

“Parts for certain equipment ended up being scattered in as many as ten different locations,” adds Miller. “This made the parts hard to locate. It could take ten minutes or more to retrieve all the needed parts for some repair jobs. The inefficiency of our storage space crowded our parts area.”

Miller turned to a flexible modular storage system called V-Grip by Equipto, a Tatamy, Pa.-based supplier of industrial storage designs and solutions.

What makes the V-Grip storage system unique is that it starts as raw shelving and allows parts managers to adapt and create denser and denser storage capacity as marketplace, budget, or storage needs change. The modular storage system is more flexible than modular drawer cabinets or traditional shelves because it is designed so shelves, drawers, and other accessories can be interchanged in the shelf cavity. Since each shelf, drawer, or accessory is individually mounted to upright posts using a proprietary bracket system, they are individually adjustable and can be added at any time without disassembly of the unit.

The modular storage system begins with heavy-duty uprights, and top, bottom, back, and side panels. Shelves from 400 lbs. to over 1000 lbs. capacity can be added and adjusted at 1 ½” increments for storage of bulk items and items of different sizes. For more efficient storage of small to medium sized parts, drawers 3” to 13 ½” in height can be added, along with in drawer divider sets or shelf dividers to keep small parts from mixing. For more security, locking steel and see-through doors (for visual inventory capability) in various combinations can be added anytime.

“Since the V-Grip storage system adapts to our needs, we can quickly add, move, remove, or change the size of drawers or shelves to fit the size of our parts,” says Miller. “Adjustable dividers also help to separate items and maximize storage space within drawers. Because of this, we were able to consolidate our spare production parts in equipment-specific locations in a small central parts room. This left enough room for me to build a small office inside, which further improved inventory control.”

“Now instead of our techs having to search for spare parts in 10 or more spots for a single repair job, they can go to one equipment-specific location to get the parts they need for a job,” adds Miller. “It has cut part retrieval time for repair jobs about 70%, from about 10 minutes per job down to about 3 minutes per job. Faster job repair translates into less production downtime, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars or more in annual savings.”

If adequate ceiling clearance is available, increasing storage capacity with a freestanding or shelf supported mezzanine is straightforward. Due to engineering and design innovations, no attachment to existing structures is necessary other than floor anchors.

If existing V-Grip shelving is to be utilized for mezzanine support, often all that is required is minor reconfiguration allowing a second floor to be placed right on top of the shelving. This capability alone can virtually double storage space.

“We’re looking at increasing our flexible parts storage capacity even more by using more of our vertical space,” says Miller. “Once you’ve switched to flexible parts storage that adapts to your needs, you won’t go back to inflexible, fixed storage.”

For more info call 800-323-0801; Fax 888-859-2121; email; visit; or write to Consolidated Storage Companies/Equipto at P.O. Box 429, 225 Main Street, Tatamy, PA 18085.

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