A vital part of meeting the growing demands of consumers is getting more of your goods to market. Producing those extra goods is often a relatively simple matter of assigning extra shifts to production or working more fields. In the supply chain, though, those extra goods pose more difficulties. Attempting to fit more product into a fixed storage space can severely slow operations by reducing the room for employees and machinery to operate. Expanding a warehouse to meet demand, on the other hand, is an expensive and time-consuming project that can take a warehouse out of operation until it is done.
Operations managers can appreciate the problem. Often it is their job to coordinate the movement of goods through storage and distribution spaces which may not be adequate for the amount of product being handled. One solution to the space issue is thoughtful cube utilization in the warehouse, which involves using the vertical spaces of your storage areas as well as the length and width. Vertical stacking and other methods of cube utilization vastly increase the available space in a warehouse without the expense of new construction or the hassle of taking a warehouse out of commission. There are several different ways this can be done.
Methods of Cube Utilization in the Warehouse
So, how do you go about increasing the capacity of your warehouse without adding on to it? There are a variety of methods to better utilize your warehouse space, including:
- Stacking: The most basic method of cube utilization in a warehouse is to simply stack loaded pallets on top of other loaded pallets. Some products, like canned goods, easily support the additional weight. However, this method is heavily dependent on product strength and stability and isn’t always an option.
- Racking: A pallet rack provides a support for a pallet above ground level, allowing more pallet positions in the warehouse. Pallet racks are usually bolt-together assemblies that can be installed quickly to minimize the time a warehouse is out of operation. However, placing and retrieving inventory can be a challenge as the vertical height of racks increases.
- Automation: An Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) maximizes cube utilization in the warehouse both vertically and horizontally. Fully mechanical load retrieval systems require less space to access inventory, allowing aisles to be narrower and minimizing the areas that need to be accessible to vehicles.
Before implementing one of these systems to improve cube utilization, it’s important to keep in mind the type of goods being handled and whether they are compatible with the method being considered. Stacking pallets is very effective if you are shipping high-strength goods like canned food or packaged beverages that can support the weight of a loaded pallet without sustaining damage. More delicate goods may require a pallet rack in order to make use of vertical space in the warehouse. Automated systems allow effectively limitless use of cube utilization in the warehouse, but require perfectly balanced and packed loads to do their jobs effectively. This brings us to some of the challenges of cube utilization: worker and product safety.
Solving Problems With Cube Utilization in the Warehouse
The chief difficulty of effective cube utilization is that using vertical space creates a whole new dimension in which things can go wrong. Operations become slightly more difficult, with potential problems higher up and more difficult to see and address. The height also makes it more likely that if something does go wrong it will result in a loss of inventory or pose a hazard to employees. For this reason, any warehouse doing stacking, racking, or using automated storage systems should ensure that every part of their warehouse inventory management is as durable and reliable as possible. One of the more pernicious causes of problems in warehouses–particularly in automated systems–is the wood pallets used to store product. Wood block platforms have several weaknesses that are magnified when they are stored vertically, including:
- Lack of Uniformity: Wood has natural variations in weight and dimension that can vary still further through swelling or shrinkage. These variations can lead to pallets getting stuck on forks or can interfere with an even load distribution, creating a possible hazard at ground level and a much bigger hazard high in the air.
- Joined Construction: Wood pallets consist of separate pieces of wood held together with nails which will eventually protrude from the wood and even come out altogether, weakening the pallet. A single joint pulling free three levels up can drop a heavy load of product with considerable force onto personnel and equipment below.
- Degradation and Decay: Wood is a natural material that can break down over time, sometimes aided by bacteria and fungi. The decay of wood makes it less reliable as it ages and can lead to cracked and broken boards. These splinters and loose pieces of wood can damage product and equipment and can even cause a load to fail.
Particularly as part of an ASRS where expensive machinery is at stake, wood pallets’ tendency to break and splinter can be a major risk.
The disadvantages of wood pallets make cube utilization more difficult. In fact, stacking loaded wood pallets without a rack may not even be an option. Without a full bottom deck, reusable wood block pallets often aren’t capable of providing adequate support stacked this way. In racks as well, particularly as part of an ASRS where expensive machinery is at stake, their tendency to break and splinter can be a major risk. For those looking to significantly increase warehouse efficiency by utilizing vertical space, a more durable platform is a crucial starting point.
A high-quality plastic pallet has the reliability that cube utilization calls for. Even with rough handling, a plastic platform will remain intact and will bend rather than break, a vitally important feature when dealing with thousand-pound loads high above the warehouse floor. Plastic pallets are ideal for use with ASRS, as they won’t shed wood debris or nails, clog tracks, or get caught on machinery. Plastic’s non-absorbent surface also allows it to be easily cleaned and–if necessary–sanitized between trips, making it ideal for warehouses that store food or sensitive pharmaceuticals vertically. Plastic platforms are also dimensionally stable, allowing for tighter tolerances in cube utilization.
The consistent, light weight of plastic pallets allows companies to maximize the cost of transport by leaving less leeway for weight variations and transporting more product in each shipment.
All this strength and reliability comes with a lighter weight than wood pallets as well, allowing companies to reduce some of the wear and tear on their machinery, whether it’s operated by computers or an experienced warehouseman. The consistent, light weight of plastic pallets allows companies to maximize the cost of transport by leaving less leeway for weight variations and transporting more product in each shipment. This combination of factors makes plastic pallets the only truly practical choice for warehouses looking to improve their cube utilization in order to save money and increase efficiency.
The iGPS pallet rental program provides a lightweight, durable, GMA spec plastic pallet with an edge rackable load of 2,500 pounds. To optimize your warehouse’s cube utilization, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.