Racking and shelving may seem the most prosaic part of any warehouse but if not chosen well it could cost far more to run a warehouse than is necessary. This is particularly so with energy-hungry cold stores, which are also much more costly to build than conventional stores.
Choosing the most appropriate pallet racking and shelving is complex and should not be considered in isolation from the chosen means of handling and the stored products’ dynamics, shapes, fragility, etc. Fortunately, there are warehouse simulation tools to help test the various pros and cons of different racking solutions.
It might seem hard to believe, but racking can impart substantial carbon benefits in an age when carbon is the big, long-term challenge. The consensus is that the future of warehousing will be driven by the carbon challenge, epitomized by local ‘carbon’ sites using electric delivery vehicles serving in a 25-mile radius. Trends also suggest there will be a fundamental shift away from the ‘golden triangle’ national distribution model towards port centric logistics, partly to cope with the expected surge in container traffic. The challenge to cope with strongly growing e-tailing will also emphasise the need for faster, more accurate picking and that means much more reliance on part or full automation like mini stackers and ASRS storage backed by highly accurate picking instructions like voice and pick-to-light.
Racking manufacturers are keenly aware of the need to contain costs and meet carbon targets for their clients. As an example, RediRack has developed its RediTechniX, an automated pallet storage, retrieval and sequencing solution, which has just won the UKWA Technology and Innovation Award. It integrates vertical/horizontal transporters, conveyors and shuttles within the welded racking, and compared with VNA racking can increase storage density by 80%. Only one work station is needed to control the whole system, and pallet throughput is sharply raised.
The cost of such automation is high relative to conventional, APR racking served by forklifts but as with forklifts it is the running costs that should take precedence. As a good example, RediRack quotes Frederick’s Dairies, who bought the RediTechniX system for its 4,500 mt2 cold store. The total construction cost was 30% less than a building to house a conventional racking system. The company achieved 13,500 pallet places as against the nearest competitor’s offering of 9,500 pallets. But the cut in running costs from this highly dense form of racking would also be impressive because the highest single cost in any cold store is usually energy, which typically accounts for 25%-30% of total running costs. By obtaining the densest form of storage, the dairy can deservedly take a bow for minimising its energy consumption and therefore carbon generation.
The remorseless surge in online shopping will drive demand for automated warehouse storage/handling in two ways. E-tailers are expected to deliver fast and accurately, usually by the next day. The days of waiting up to a month from mail order providers are unacceptable to many. This means automated storage is critical for success. But there is a problem for e-tailers, and that is the burden of high returns. To cope with this efficiently, retailers are turning more to automation. The future for warehousing is challenging in so many ways but undeniably it is a future that favours automation.
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