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Solutions For Problem Warehouses

Furniture World Magazine


Do you have a jam-packed warehouse with clear heights of 12 to 16 feet?

Many retail locations have jam-packed inefficient warehouses that have clear heights of 12 to 16 feet. This situation is one that has traditionally challenged material handling technology. Today's packaging methods present additional problems in storage and handling for these retailers who may not have land to expand or can't comfortably finance a warehouse expansion.
The result is often characterized by furniture that is awkwardly stacked several units high. Labor costs are excessive and safety is compromised. Damage and related service costs distract management from their primary warehouse and delivery mission. Customer service problems increase.

Another factor that has created problems for warehouse managers is today's labor force. When I first worked in a Pennsylvania warehouse in the early 60's, the benchmark warehouse worker could be compared to Hulk Hogan. Today's workforce is maturing and physical capabilities vary from person to person. While more women are entering non-traditional warehouse and delivery jobs, generally the strength of women, on a pound for pound basis, is about two-thirds that for men. Many workers today are not comfortable or capable of lifting heavy objects or working at heights if there is a possibility that they could lose their balance and fall. The solution is to enhance the capabilities of every worker by providing appropriate material handling tools.

Fortunately there have been technology breakthroughs at moderate cost that provide solutions for these challenges. In these brief paragraphs, I will share some affordable ideas that you can put into action. And with some creative lease financing, the savings will pay for the improvements as you go.

Since the sixties, the Raymond Corp. and Crown Corp. have provided many of the furniture pickers for our industry. They built fine equipment for larger furniture warehouses. Recently these companies introduced smaller machines that can boost productivity wherever they are used. Each company has taken a different tack, and I'm confident their ingenuity will result in even more breakthroughs in the near future.

By using vertical space more effectively through racking and new narrow aisle equipment, the capacity and efficiency of low furniture warehousing space can be dramatically enhanced. Damage is slashed, labor productivity is boosted and warehouse capacity is increased. Gains of 30 to 60% are typical.

Crown Corporation's innovative machine is called the "Wave". It can be very useful in the accessory area for lamps and similar items. The "Wave™" vehicle overcomes many downfalls of traditional ladders used to reach elevated heights. It transports the load, the worker and itself in a smooth motion. It eliminates climbing and the possibility of stumbling or losing one's balance while climbing. It reduces lifting requirements, allows travel at elevated heights and helps accomplish tasks faster, safer and more efficiently. Light weight and maneuverability also make it useful on the showroom floor to change light bulbs and set up displays. Capacity is 250 pounds and the primary detraction is that everything has to be placed on the platform.

Raymond Corporation's machine is called the "Gofer" Orderpicker. The "Gofer" does almost everything the "Wave" does and more. It blends the agility of a walkie with the operator-up capabilities of an orderpicker. It looks like a regular orderpicker that has been shrunk. A huge advantage is the ability to attach a platform just like it's big warehouse cousins so you can handle full size sofas and case goods. For instance, the load capacity is 800 pounds at a height of 10 feet.

For very low warehouses there is a model that doesn't require an overhead guard to meet OSHA regulations. In twelve foot warehouses you might have three levels of racks. The first two could be serviced with a level transfer from the orderpicker, and the top would be used for lighter items like dining room chairs and accessories.

In 16 foot high warehouses, you can have up to four levels (or three levels to accommodate two levels of case goods and one of lighter products).

Aisles for the Raymond and Crown trucks can be in the 42-50 inch range because the trucks are narrow and very maneuverable. Prices start at under $9,000 and full payout leases are available so you own the equipment at the end of the lease. Both are operator friendly, but you must remember that only trained operators can use powered material handling equipment under OSHA regulations.

Whether you use cantilever furniture racking or conventional racking will depend on your specific operation. Both are readily available new or used at attractive pricing. Each has advantages depending on your mix of merchandise. Conventional racking is essential for heavy flat pack items and cantilever racking has flexibility advantages where the weight of product doesn't exceed the rack capacity, typically 30 pounds per square foot.

Daniel Bolger of The Bolger Group helps companies achieve improved transportation, warehousing and logistics. Questions can be directed to Mr. Bolger care of FURNITURE WORLD at dbolger@furninfo.com.


Operations Articles By Dan Bolger

Articles in Operations Articles By Dan Bolger