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By Sheila Kennedy
The automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) of yesterday are being upgraded or supplemented with innovative technologies that solve specific operational challenges. New products on the market are faster, more efficient, have additional safety features, and are easier to learn and use. Outside consultants and industry organizations are offering new perspectives on material handling.
Quick to learn: Intuitive design is more important today because workforces are aging, skilled labor is harder to find, and the average tenure on the job is shrinking. Language barriers also are becoming more common. This means training time and effort must be significantly curtailed.
Self-explanatory material handling systems help achieve this goal. SJF Materials recommends “pick to light” systems. These AS/RS systems minimize the effort required to determine where a product or part is located by illuminating markers beside the bin. This eliminates errors that can occur when an operator is faced with items with a similar appearance or part number.
Some pick-to-light systems also display the quantity of items required, and remain lit until the last item in the order is picked. These systems do the counting for you, which improves pick accuracy and inventory control. It reduces the cost of returning excess inventory to the storeroom and the cost of delayed maintenance when insufficient quantities are picked.
Efficiency and control: Material handling efficiency is essential for maximizing production effectiveness. Maintenance technicians need ready access to the right spare parts and tools to minimize downtime. Management wants to make the most effective use of floor space and minimize material damage and loss. New storage and retrieval systems are answering these needs.
One example is the Commissioner mini-storage system by TGW-Ermanco. It saves space because its compact design exploits more of the warehouse height, reaching vertically to 40 ft. It’s fast, traveling 300 fpm and lifting to 400 fpm, allowing the self-contained AS/RS warehouse to store and retrieve as many as 200 loads per hour.
The double-deep or single-deep totes, trays and cartons only move when needed, which reduces the risk of product damage. Being completely enclosed, the system also is useful for securing smaller and more valuable tools, components and spares.
Design and maintenance services: If you’re interested in new approaches to material handling, Retrotech, a material handling engineering company, offers consulting services including system design, upgrades, retrofits and custom solutions.
If you want to ensure your existing material handling systems are up to par, consider an AS/RS audit or inspection. During its operational audit, Retrotech will assist you to document your material handling processes and equipment history, and evaluate your maintenance strategies and operational performance. An AS/RS preventive maintenance inspection determines which of your material handling systems require service or replacement to improve operational performance. Finally, you’ll receive written recommendations.
Online education: The Material Handling Industry of America’s Material Handling Institute (MHIA) has begun offering self-paced, electronic lessons (e-lessons) on its Web site. The free online training is available to anyone interested in professional development. The courses also are an excellent preparation for the Materials Handling and Management Society’s (MHMS) certification program.
Currently, more than a dozen lessons are available, and the number is growing. MHIA has introductory courses in material handling concepts and basic material handling equipment. Also available are the first of 10 “Tools of the Profession” lessons, which focus on analyzing, designing and modernizing production and warehousing operations, and the first of “An Introductory Guide to Controls and Information Systems” series. Each lesson incorporates optional quiz questions to test your understanding of the content.
E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at Sheila@addcomm.com.
PlantServices.com is an MRO (maintain, repair, replace, retrofit, overhaul and operations) resource site that features problem-solving articles and editorials for plant maintenance professionals.