Online shopping is changing the face of retailing fundamentally, but equally it has profound implications for storage and distribution methods. Modern warehouses will need to be designed, laid out and managed accordingly and warehouse mangers are having to adapt their operations. A strong trend has already developed towards more, faster and ergonomically efficient picking methods. This will promote more demand for mezzanines and order picking trucks as warehouses strive to support both case and item picking for direct deliveries to consumers.

Linde believes that their customers will need to ensure that their forklift fleets are as flexible and as productive as possible. One way to achieve this if for customers to deal with suppliers who have the widest range of order pickers. Most leading forklift producers/suppliers like Linde, Toyota, Jungheinrich, Caterpillar and Yale (Briggs Equipment) can also help with their own software/simulation packages, free of charge, up to a point, to ensure buyers obtain the most effective mix of trucks and various storage racking types. Linde certainly expects to see  more demand for its warehouse and simulation tool, Stratos, as more customers recognise the need for effective and flexible warehouse design.

Owing to the erratic levels of demand associated with online shopping, says Linde, retailers often need to maintain much higher levels of stock and free up the necessary space within the warehouse. The potential for damage to products is also higher with online fulfilment and so storage equipment and handling techniques will both need to be modified to reduce the risk.

As is always the case with any building design, it is much easier to address these issues at the start of a project rather than trying to adapt an existing warehouse to change its original function. A major challenge for operators, therefore, will be to ensure any design solutions they implement are as flexible as possible to allow the warehouse operations to be modified easily as customers’ requirements change.

While all leading forklift producers offer software packages to eliminate the guesswork and the risk when adjusting to profound changes in storage/distribution models, and also offer a wide range of warehouse trucks, a word of caution. Such leading suppliers are in the business of selling their own trucks and their software tools may be skewed towards that end. As mentioned earlier, forklift fleets need to be as flexible as possible but wide as a company’s truck range may be it may not be wide enough to meet the customers’ needs most cost effectively. Articulated forklifts, for example, supplied by Translift Bendi, Flexi Narrow Aisle and Aisle-Master, are arguably the most flexible and productive of all forklifts by far. It is important, therefore, that prospective buyers ask their suppliers if an articulated truck arrangement would be best for them and if not, why not.

That said, leading forklift producers have been known to supply articulated trucks as part of a fleet solution but often only when specifically asked to do so by the customer. Buyers, therefore, need to be aware of all the major, different types of forklifts on the market. And they should not lose sight of the fact that simulation packages give only an indication of the level of equipment needed. Knowledge and experience are as important as simulation packages. Understanding the real world needs and that operations depend on both their personnel and equipment to be flexible, can deliver a more operation-focussed solution than a simulation package.

Another word of caution. Briggs Equipment believes that generally speaking there is a misunderstanding on the part of owners and operators. “The belief is that a standard product is the most flexible,” says Briggs’ Warehouse and VNA product manger, Mark Murfet. “In reality this is rarely the case. With good advice from industry experts, a bespoke solution can be created that meets or exceeds the commercial needs of the customer but also designs flexibility into the solution. In short a ‘standard’ solution is the simplest solution but it certainly isn’t guaranteed to be the best.”

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