Growing pains lead to tripled operational efficiency, optimised warehouse

When a manufacturer goes from production start-up to nearly outgrowing a 60,000 sq. ft. addition in a few years – then optimises its new warehouse, tripling operational efficiency – the growing pains are worth it. That is what The Knowlton Development Corporation (KDC), a Tier-1 contract manufacturer and custom formulator for the North American consumer goods industry, has achieved at its Columbus, Ohio facility.

"We've grown much more than we anticipated," says Todd Lowe, KDC's Senior Director of Operations, noting the facility now produces about 300 million units a year including 1.5 million units a day during peak season. KDC's original 90,000 sq. ft. warehouse, which is used for incoming components, finished goods and label storage, has used a variety of forklifts and racking systems including double deep rack. However, this setup was soon pushed to capacity.

Growing Pains

"Keeping up with the growth of our facility was challenging," says Lowe. "With the double deep rack, we often had to unload two pallets just to get one, which was inefficient." A similar setup, it was determined, would not meet the manufacturer's growth needs in its planned 60,000 sq. ft. addition, half of which would be used for production and half for storage.

"We needed to fit 4,000 pallet positions in 30,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space, but could only fit about 2,500 pallet positions using typical double deep, deep reach storage with 9-foot aisles," says Lowe. "We didn't know how to achieve our required capacity."

The contract manufacturer turned to Raymond Storage Concepts, a material handling solutions integrator and official dealer of Raymond lift trucks in Ohio, Kentucky, Southeast Indiana and West Virginia. After a thorough engineering review that included seven different layout options – including standard selective, drive-in, pallet flow, pushback rack, double-deep narrow aisle rack, and very narrow aisle layout – KDC made their choice.

Accelerating Growth

KDC chose the very narrow aisle layout, Raymond Swing Reach Trucks, and single deep selective rack from Steel King Industries, a leading material handling and storage rack manufacturer.

"To achieve required storage capacity, full selectivity and improve picking efficiency, the solution was to narrow the warehouse aisles to 6-feet, use Raymond Swing Reach Trucks, and Steel King SK2000 pallet rack," says Mike Hoelzle, a Raymond Storage Concepts Systems Sales Engineer involved with the project.

The Swing Reach Trucks allow the operator to pick or put pallets away to either side of the warehouse aisle as the operator rides up and down in a turret with the pallet load. The SK2000 pallet rack is a boltless, closed tubular upright product. According to Hoelzle, the warehouse aisles can be narrowed to 6-feet because the Swing Reach Trucks follow a wire-guided system that maximizes storage capacity and operational efficiency.

To accomplish this, a 1/4-inch x 1/4-inch groove was cut in the concrete floor aisles, a guide wire placed in the groove and covered with epoxy until flush with the floor, and the wire hooked to a power source. The electric current passing through the wire emits a magnetic field that the Swing Reach Trucks track on.

"With the wire-guided system, operators no longer have to worry about steering and centering the Swing Reach Trucks," explains Hoelzle. "Operators can focus on speed, travel direction and lift. The lift allows pallet placement and picking from either side of the aisle and full selectivity, which allows them to run at peak efficiency."

According to Hoelzle, the Steel King pallet rack was chosen for a number of reasons. "Perhaps the main reason we recommended the closed back tubular SK2000 rack design is that it is a nice hybrid between higher cost impact resistant structural steel and lower cost roll formed steel," says Hoelzle. "It's more economical than structural steel, provides the load capacities we need, and is more durable than open backed rack."

Compared to open back roll formed columns, the closed tubular uprights are 44 times more torsion/twist resistant, with 250% greater frontal impact resistance and 68% greater side impact resistance. All beams are constructed of high-strength (55,000 p.s.i. minimum) steel, and holes are placed on the column's face, not the corners, minimising strength loss.

"Customers also like the closed tube rack for its cleanliness," adds Hoelzle. "They do not have to worry about any dust or debris that has accumulated on the floor getting inside the open end of the tube." According to Hoelzle, the boltless design of the rack helped with quick installation within the required timeframe.

Game Changing Efficiency

The end result of the new warehouse layout has been "game changing efficiency," according to Lowe. "With the very narrow aisle layout, wire guided Swing Reach Trucks, and Steel King closed tubular selective rack, we can not only store the 4,000 pallets we need, but also pick and put away the pallets three times more efficiently," says Lowe. KDC's improved efficiency is proving itself in hard numbers.

"Before shipping 750 pallets in a day was the best we had ever done," says Lowe. "Recently we shipped 1,200 pallets in a day – about 37 truckloads of product – with the same workforce."

Lowe says that the improved operational efficiency is allowing his existing operators to take on more tasks. "What used to take two people is now done by one because of the increased efficiency," adds Lowe. "Our Swing Reach Truck operators not only help with product shipping, but also take finished good products from the production floor and put them away."

Previously, a complete warehouse physical inventory required five days with operators going up and down the aisles in scissor lifts. With the new system, KDC recently finished a complete inventory in three days, according to Lowe. "For any volume manufacturer who wants to optimize workflow, I think KDC in collaboration with Raymond Storage Concepts and Steel King may have created a best practice warehouse operation," concludes Lowe.

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