Reconfiguring racking/shelving is likely to exercise minds more frequently than ever before owing to the revolution in distribution channels caused by e-commerce retailing but how best can that be done and need it be a costly, disruptive exercise? Before looking at one method of racking movements, however, it is important to see if there is any alternative to the racking reconfiguration. One possible solution could be software changes. If a warehouse operation does not have a slick stock forecasting program then there is potential to cut warehouse stocks by up to one third without harming customer service levels, delivering a ROI in weeks, depending on the circumstances. This could create the space needed to, say, install new picking areas to meet next-day home deliveries and a returns operation, now a much bigger problem and cost issue given the huge rise in e-tailing deliveries serving customers directly. It could also allow some leeway to cope with future growth.

It is, of course, possible that one’s warehouse has already optimised its space usage and so cannot profit from any racking rearrangements. This might, therefore, suggest having to build a warehouse extension, assuming the land is available, a very costly choice. However, it might be possible to reduce that cost impact by installing a temporary warehouse that could be erected in days and fully equipped. Another option might be to look at gaining more space through installation of mezzanines. A third and cheaper option than a new-build could be to use a third party logistics provider (3PL) that has a shared user facility, a much cheaper prospect than using a dedicated 3PL site.

It might also help, in the struggle to cope with pending warehouse alterations, to have some activitybased costing, broken down to SKU level. This would show the cost of holding very slow-moving SKUs, the space they take up and the profit contribution they make, prompting the question of whether or not it is worth continuing to hold such stocks. This is something that the food discounters ruthlessly exploit as they seek to stock only, as far as possible, fastmoving items because the cost of holding inventory can dwarf all other warehouse costs combined.

To some extent the ability to rearrange racking/shelving systems to gain more storage space depends on variations in racking aisle widths, which typically range between 3.6 mt and 1.5 mt. It may be necessary to retain some wide aisles for conventional c/b trucks to allow for fast-moving stocks but if some of these wide aisles are used only for medium and slow movers then they are inefficiently using space. This is where a switch to articulated forklifts can reduce those wide aisles down to VNA of only 1.5 mt and so increase pallet positions by up to 50%. These articulated forklifts are significantly more costly than conventional counterbalance and reach trucks but there is now an alternative thanks to Translift Bendi’s new breakthrough with its SpaceMate attachment that will fit any conventional forklift, allowing it to work in 1.8 mt wide aisles at a small fraction of the cost of a new articulated truck.

Until now, moving existing racking was a costly, labour intensive task involving much disruption. That task is now made much easier and cheaper for non-fixed structures by Gondola Skate’s Rhino II, introduced to the UK this year. Comprising two core components, a heavy duty bevel gear lift mechanism and a patented rack connection system, Rhino II provides a wheeled rack mobilisation solution for every make and model of rack. In Swansea, it allowed Amazon to cut the time required for a job from 400 man hours to 60. In Canada, over one year, Rhino II has saved Walmart $8.7 million spread over 24 projects. Obviously, the system is limited to lighter loaded, non-fixed racking/shelving but it is one more warehouse innovation with widespread appeal.