From Southern California to Washington, D.C., new warehouses are springing up overnight to meet market demands. There’s one time-consuming phase of warehouse build-out, however, that shouldn’t be bypassed regardless of how much of a hurry you’re in.
As reported by Site Selection Group, the demand for new warehousing is spurred by e-commerce’s continued exponential growth, where volume and speed-to-market are critical success factors. Warehouses can be constructed relatively quickly – an average of 81 days in the U.S. – but the permitting process for racking systems can potentially slow your build-out to a crawl, extending your timeline and costs.
Of course, the short-term costs of a longer timeline are far outweighed by the long-term costs of injuries and product losses (not to mention fines) in the event of racking system failures. It’s important to work with an experienced storage consultant who will design and install safe, reliable storage racks. Their expertise could help you speed up permit sign-offs from the building department and the fire department.
Building a strictly legal environment for your employees and your products will ultimately save you big-time in terms of safety and liability. Read more here about permitting, and see a video showing what happens when unpermitted racking fails in a seismic event.
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The classic idea of a librarian – a pedantic person who is always shushing people – is giving way to a high-tech version that isn’t perturbed by chatty patrons. By combining high density storage systems with robotic storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), large libraries are expanding their collections without slowing down the retrieval and re-shelving of the millions of publications in their charge. Now libraries can take their storage to architectural extremes without losing document retrieval efficiency. See the remarkable photos here.
And when you have 157 miles of shelving condensed into an ancient building like the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, fetching one particular book could exhaust a human librarian. As reported by Attila Nagy in Gizmodo, efficient robots free up librarians’ time to do what they do best: curating publications and assisting readers in identifying the ideal resource for their needs.
Despite this move toward automation, nothing can replace a librarian’s ability to categorize and connect disparate topics and arcane sources. No one can better encourage a young reader by offering exactly the right book. Librarians are uniquely situated to collect and preserve countless publications and make sure they are stored safely, ideally in a modern high density storage system.
And even though they may dispatch a robot to retrieve your favorite book, librarians will still discourage loud talking.
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Concerns about safety and legalities are restricting the use of drones everywhere, except in one rather surprising place: the great indoors of mega-warehouses.
It’s completely legal to fly drones inside a private space, and logistics experts are putting drones to use inside large warehouses to automate certain tasks. Warehouses are finite spaces, and they can be mapped into drones’ programming for highly accurate flights. With the added ability to read RFID tags, drones can perform the mundane labor-intensive “cycle counting” that maintains an accurate inventory.
Walmart, one of the nation’s largest warehousers, has instituted a pilot program (no pun intended) to automate inventory management with drones. They estimate that a drone will be able to accurately check as much inventory in one day as a human employee can in a month – an impressive improvement in efficiency and effectiveness. And there’s the added factor of personnel safety: warehouse employees don’t have to climb ladders or operate lifts to count inventory.
Indoor drone usage isn’t right for every warehouse and every logistics manager. Ceiling height, interior walls, and racking systems all must be considered before moving to drone automation. And drones themselves are not cheap, particularly when spatial programming and RFID readers enter the equation. But for some businesses, it could be well worth the investment. Consult with a storage professional to see if drones are right for your warehouse operations.
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Warehouses aren’t in the business of manufacturing, so it might seem irrelevant to apply the precepts of Lean Manufacturing to the logistics industry. However, says author Jeff Maree, there are surprising bottom-line advantages to managing a “lean warehouse.”
Lean manufacturing seeks to reduce errors, improve efficiency, and add value – the famous Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Maree, writing in Manufacturing Transformation, outlines five ways to apply the same principle in warehouse management.
- Technology – Barcoding, RFID, AS/RS, and other such systems reduce errors and improve efficient flow.
- Touch – Well-planned and implemented technology reduces the number of times an item is touched. Fewer touches means lower costs.
- Racks – The right storage solution will dovetail with the right technology solution to maximize space utilization, reducing real estate costs.
- Just in time – Tracking inflow and outflow over time lets lean warehouses maintain inventory at just-in-time levels, to keep storage use optimal.
- Partners – From software suppliers to storage providers, the right professional partners will support the lean warehouse in its goal of continuous improvement.
Manufacturers are reaping the financial benefits of lean-manufacturing productivity. Shouldn’t warehouse managers enjoy the same kinds of gains?
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