Planning for and optimally using space is key to the smooth and successful function of an operation. This month, Material Handling Network asked experts in the industry about how to best implement containers and storage in the current business environment.
At AutoStore, Jon Schechter, business development manager, focuses on retail and fulfillment center and distribution planning in the North American region.
The company, founded in 1996, is a warehouse robot technology company that invented and continues to pioneer cube storage automation, the densest order-fulfillment solution in existence, according to the business website. “Our focus is to marry software and hardware with human abilities to create the future of warehouses,” the site said. The two recent challenges Schechter’s team most often hears from clients are labor shortages and space pressure. On the labor front, the need is more pronounced in logistics cluster areas, according to Schechter. “They are seeing competition for the labor force they do have, which is driving up cost,” he said.
A second reason AutoStore clients consider automation solutions is the need for space. “Every facility and operator is always looking for more space,” said Schechter, who said AutoStore provides systems for storage that are four times denser than the comparable manual storage. Some clients are at the critical decision juncture of whether to buy more land and expand a facility, move and potentially disrupt operations, or do more with the real estate already in the facility, according to Schechter. AutoStore has five core modules that are assembled into all products: bins that store, the grid that holds the system together, the robots that drive on top of that grid and deliver through ports, and the controller or software, according to Schechter.
He noted that all of the trade shows and industry events have been back this year. “People are thinking about how they use their labor and their space in new ways,” Schechter said.
The need for speed
The demand for optimal storage systems has been evident at Quantum Storage Systems, as well. “Our business is booming. Last year was a record year and this year we are at 22 percent over last year,” said Ed Granger, director of sales. “The orders keep coming in every day,” he said.
Quantum started in the 1990s as a specialty injection molder, and then business leaders decided to pursue a niche in the market by manufacturing industrial bins for the marketplace, according to Granger. What began as a six-page catalog of product offerings is now over 100 pages long today, he said.
The company sells in the industrial marketplace through distributors, reaching schools, food service, electronics industry, medical services, national retail chains, and the military. “We really do cover the full gamut of potential end users,” Granger said.
Quantum Storage Systems bills itself as offering the largest selection of industrial plastic bins and warehouse bin storage systems. “From rugged and strong stackable storage bins to tough durable nesting shelf bins for the industrial, material handling and consumer markets,” the company website said.
Quantum opened a distribution and sales center in Chicago in 2010, creating a stronger presence with the 2,000-square-foot center, according to Granger. “What we’re experiencing is our customers need our standard product and they need it as quickly as possible,” he said, noting business orders range widely, from as small as $12 up to $120,000.
Granger said the current boom has followed pandemic shutdowns. “Everybody turned on their business at the same time. Everybody needed products at the same time,” he said, describing businesses operating “on all cylinders.” He projected that the need to fill pent-up demand will continue. The desire for quick delivery will also continue, with speed being more important than cost in some situations, Granger said. “They need what they need and as quickly as possible,” he said.
In general, Granger said maximizing storage space is a more cost-effective solution than expanding. An operation can look to vertical storage ideas, utilizing floor space effectively and using wall space, he said.
Quantum Storage offers panels that can be attached to a wall where bins can hang, along with wire shelving solutions. Granger said the business’ wire shelving is popular with customers. “We can really do a very dense storage operation,” he said, noting that design services can be helpful in storage planning. “Any end user who has a warehouse, I would suggest they have a storage specialist from the outside” for design ideas, Granger said.
The demand for reusable plastic containers and pallets has been on the rise recently, according to Alex Hempel, senior director of the retail supply chain for ORBIS Corporation.
The company is a reusable packaging manufacturer offering pallet, totes, bulk containers, metal racks, and multiple kinds of dunnage for use in a wide range of material handling applications, said Hempel, who said the durability of the packaging products allow them to last through many cycles of the supply chain. “For example, the Odyssey reusable plastic pallet from ORBIS has 36 times the lifespan of a white wood stringer pallet,” he said.
The company helps customers evaluate their supply chain, and design and execute a reusable packaging program.
“COVID has been a catalyst for change due to supply chain disruptions, desire for hygienics and cleanliness, and increased automation because of labor shortages,” Hempel said, noting sustainability is also top-of-mind for many companies. “This emphasis extends all the way through to packaging choices,” he said, noting reusable packing solutions offer benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a good return on investment thanks to a long useful life, and recyclability.
And certain reusable plastic containers can be stacked when collapsed or nested when open to provide efficient use of space on the manufacturing floor, in the warehouse, or inside a truck trailer, according to Hempel.
For those who are expanding facilities in the near term, Hempel said it is a good time to rethink packaging. A new facility often means new equipment and processes, offering “a great opportunity to integrate reusables,” he said. “It is important to work with your packaging provider early in that process, so you can specify the right packaging for your application in terms of fit and function. Then they can be part of the decisions,” Hempel said.
Operators will want to ensure that nothing slows down their ability for them to do their job effectively and having a packaging solution that is reliable and efficient is key, according to Hempel. “Warehouse labor is getting increasingly difficult to find. To meet these needs, automation and robotics are becoming increasingly widespread,” he said. “That’s where reusable plastic packaging comes in to provide dimensional consistency and repeatable performance for all types of automated systems.”
About the Author:
Eileen Mozinski Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com