BlogSupply Chain Automation

The pace of business in the grocery and pharma industries is relentless. Meeting the standards of consumers and regulators means constantly refining processes to increase efficiency. But sometimes maintaining the required productivity and accuracy is beyond the capabilities of mere mortals, particularly in the warehouse. For this reason, many companies are choosing Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS), which ensure that the process of storing and handling goods can move with speeds far greater than any forklift driver can manage. A warehouse with an ASRS can increase throughput and move shipments through the supply chain more efficiently while saving on labor costs.

An automated warehousing system reduces the time it takes to put goods into storage, retrieve them, and ship them out.

To a large extent, the speed of an ASRS is the result of fewer mistakes. Since the system is automated, it will dutifully execute its tasks in the order they are inputted without fail. An ASRS will never put a pallet full of product off to the side while it moves other pallets to make room, then forget and move onto other tasks, leaving the original pallet in a holding area while the truck drives off without it. On the other hand, in a warehouse that relies entirely on people, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Since it uses barcodes to identify product, an ASRS will also never confuse two similar-looking loads. For all these reasons, an automated warehousing system reduces the time it takes to put goods into storage, retrieve them, and ship them out. An ASRS also never gets tired, slows down, or takes a break, lowering product turnaround times even more.

Taking things a step further, a specially built warehouse with an ASRS integrated directly into the structure allows more product to be stored vertically, making warehouse space more efficient and saving on the horizontal footprint of the building. The result is less expensive storage, greater efficiency in moving product through the supply chain, and a reduced Total Cost of Business (TCOB). Yet automated systems aren’t invincible. They can be disrupted, and the most common causes of disruption are wood pallets used to move product around.

Wood Pallet Issues That Cause ASRS Failures

The diligence and focus of the ASRS can be a double-edged sword. The system cannot recognize failures that are outside its programming and doesn’t necessarily know how to cope with a problem even if it recognizes that one exists. Usually, its ability to manage problems is confined to stopping until a human technician can resolve the issue. In a highly automated warehouse where time means money, this can result in a lengthy delay, missed shipments, and a huge cost to the company. If the problem is something the system cannot recognize, it can lead to damage to the ASRS itself as the machine keeps trying to move a load that is improperly secured or off-balance, or it can lead to product damage as the machine unwittingly damages or contaminates what it is storing. The typical wood pallet is a weak link in an automated warehouse; it introduces an imperfect, easily damaged variable into the ASRS equation. The following are just a few ways wood pallets cause problems in these systems.

  • Platform Failure: Wood pallets are held together by nails, which can fail at any time. Even though wood pallets are regularly inspected, there’s no way to tell if a nail isn’t secure in the wood until it starts to pull loose. If this happens when the pallet is being moved in an ASRS, the result can be a rain of falling product along with loose wood and nails that can get caught in tracks and gears.
  • Uneven Loading: A wood pallet doesn’t have to fail completely to damage or bring an ASRS to a halt. A broken nail or a single loose slat in the deck can cause a load to shift in unpredictable ways. In turn, an unbalanced load can damage forks and carefully balanced hydraulics, and can cause product spillage or damage.
  • Systemic Contamination: Wood pallets are absorbent, taking in moisture and harboring bacteria and fungi within the wood grain. They can also absorb chemicals as well, and since ASRS don’t have a sense of smell, a contaminated wood pallet can move throughout the system contaminating all parts of it without being recognized. This can necessitate a costly decontamination before normal use can resume.

While the programming for an ASRS is thoroughly and intensively tested before being placed into full operation, a wood pallet creates so many potential issues that there is no way to account for every contingency. The obvious solution is to adopt a platform that matches equipment dimensions, doesn’t use nails or other fasteners, and resists both biological and chemical contamination. In short: a durable, GMA spec, non-absorbent plastic pallet.

Plastic Pallets Are an Ideal Platform for Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems

Plastic pallets are integrated pieces of plastic, and their construction reduces focused points of stress. This means that the forces involved in moving loads are evenly distributed across the whole of the pallet rather than focused on a single fastener like a nail. Plastic pallets have numerous advantages over wood; these are just a few that make them ideal for use in an ASRS.

  • More Stable Loads: Their uniform weight and a deck that supports the load across the whole span of the pallet reduces the chances of product shifting during transport. This minimizes the likelihood of damage to the product, pallet, or equipment.
  • Reduced Downtime: High-quality plastic pallets won’t crack, split, or change size or shape, meaning your ASRS can spend more time running and your employees can spend less time fixing issues and machinery.
  • Reduced System Wear and Damage: Lightweight plastic pallets that keep loads stable reduce the wear and tear on equipment, from the ASRS to the trucks that take the product to its final destination. This results in savings on costs and maintenance time.
  • Limited Vectors for Contaminants: Plastic pallets are non-absorbent, reducing ways for biological and chemical contaminants to reach products undetected or enter product storage.

Plastic pallets complement the benefits of an ASRS and maximize both the efficiencies and reduced costs of using an automated system. A plastic pallet pooling program maintains and manages the plastic pallets your company needs and ensures an adequate number is always available to keep your ASRS running smoothly.

To protect the safety of your customers and workers, maximize the benefits of your Automated Storage and Retrieval System, and lower your Total Cost of Business with the iGPS pallet, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.

Image 2: Flickr CC user Darkday