Making better use of pallet locations
Gates deploys Storeganizer


When pallet racks are used to pick smaller items, a great deal of space sometimes remains empty. Above all, it is not always easy to pick boxes or individual items from pallet locations. That’s been the experience for quite a while at the Gates Distribution Centre in Gent, Belgium. So the organisation carried out a test project with the Storeganizer solution, a simple yet clever shelving system for utilising pallet pick locations more efficiently. Furthermore, picking from these locations is more rapid since the arrival of the new system.
Marc Van Impe (continuous improvement manager).

From its Distribution Centre in Gent, Gates carries out the distribution of high-tech power transmission belts. The warehouse was established in 2006 and replaced an older warehouse a few kilometres away. Since then, the warehouse has also taken over the logistics activities of sites in Germany, France and Poland. The Distribution Centre is roughly split into two sections: In one half, the more voluminous automotive sector products and in the other, industrial sector products, in smaller quantities. Gates uses pallet racks for storing roughly 20,000 SKUs in this 20,000m² warehouse, which is home to no less than 36,000 pallet locations. Boxes or individual items are picked from about a third of these locations. The warehouse has 80 staff who ensure that orders received before midday are sent out the next day, or for express orders, on the same day.

Unfortunately for Gates, not all products are equally suitable for selection from pallet locations. Such goods are to be found in the industrial product category. Marc Van Impe says, “for instance, we store some items in cardboard boxes that just stand free on a pallet. Thus a lot of space is left over in the racks and in the boxes as well. And staff using our pick trucks, which can go one metre high, sometimes also have to collect goods from the first level. That obviously costs extra time. We had of course already sought solutions for better utilising the space.  We set the joists closer together, installed smaller pick bins and mounted drawers in the racks. But still we couldn’t shake off the feeling that it could be even better.
Gates had been seeking solutions for better utilising the space for some time. For instance, joists were laid closer to each other, smaller pick bins were installed and drawers mounted on the racks. But the organisation still couldn’t shake off the feeling that it could be even better.

Test installation
Gates contacted Storeganizer in mid-2014. For the last eighteen months Storeganizer has been active in Benelux with its system, that enables space in pallet racks to be better utilised by storing slow and/or medium movers in a more compact configuration. “We instantly saw the system’s potential after watching the video Storeganizer sent us. But we still wanted to see it before believing. Storeganizer proposed placing a test installation at our site, so that our order pickers could directly try out the system in practice. That won us over,” said Marc Van Impe.

Gates decided to carry out the test with relatively slow moving items, rolls of 38cm width, from which power transmission belts are cut with a cutting machine. “A tricky product to manage well in our WMS – the DLx package from RedPrairie – and with handling. A maximum of five items can be rolled up together.  In other words, whether it’s two or five, the volume stays the same. In short, a product that takes up an enormous amount of space in our warehouse and thus with the greatest added value for making storage more compact.”

Custom-made system
Together with Gates, a thorough data-analysis was carried out from which the ideal compartment size was derived to enable all items to be optimally stored in the system.  After preparing the system layout, Gates installed the Storeganizer at four adjoining pallet locations, which were two levels high.  The entire system is attached to three overhead rails that are fixed one behind the other.  Plastic columns with their multitude of shelves to store the products – 40cm wide in this case – are hung from these.  The back row is completely filled with columns. The two front rows each lack columns so that the others can be slid right and left to pick items from locations further back. The slowest moving products are placed in the back column, while the most popular items are placed in the front row. “Storeganizer is custom-made for each customer regarding the height and width of the sections, the size of the compartments, and so on. That offers the advantage of being able to design the system around the size of the product”, explained Marc Van Impe.
“Our Storeganizer contains a total of 288 locations where items are stored in a very dense configuration. In this way, compared with the earlier situation, we have saved no less than 90% of the space, both in square and cubic metres.  
The pick time is significantly reduced as well. Pick locations are now an eight-second walk from the spot where the items are cut into drive belts.   As the products were previously spread over a number of pallet locations, this means a great reduction in walking distances. Previously a picker had to walk up to 45 seconds to collect a product and sometimes with an order-picker as well, to get a product from a higher level. In addition, the Storeganizer provides a very ergonomic work method as the picker does not have to reach so far to get a product. Sliding the columns also demands little effort.  No wonder the staff are so enthusiastic about the new system. ”

Although permanent pick locations are traditionally used in the warehouse, the Storeganizer ensures that Gates’ WMS allocates each product a location according to the available locations. “Every time we place a product at a new location, we want that location to be allocated a new bar-code. At first we thought we could work with mobile printers to speed up the identification process, but they turned out to be not so practical, so we are still seeking a suitable solution to be able to identify locations as efficiently as possible.”

The Storeganizer solution at Gates consists of three rails to which plastic columns with various shelving compartments are attached: The items are stored in these. The back row is completely filled with columns. The two foremost rows each lack two columns so that the others can be slid right and left to pick items from locations further back.

Future perspectives
Because of the positive experiences with the system, Gates not only wishes to keep the test installation, but is also already considering expansion. Marc Van Impe commented, “we would certainly like to equip a further number of sections with Storeganizers. Hence we are currently looking at the areas where the system can offer the most added value for us, taking into account the articles that we would like to allocate accessible places. For example, our zone with ‘private brand label’ products would be suitable.
We would save less space, but mainly labour because staff now often have to reach to the back of the pallet to get a package. The Storeganizer is also an option for product returns that we want to have reshipped as soon as possible. At the same time we can give more room to other larger products with a better turnover.
However the products must of course be suitable for the system. They can’t be too heavy – no more than 100kg per column – nor too bulky.”

For Marc Van Impe, one of the greatest challenges is to calculate how much a Storeganizer can save per section. To lend a helping hand there, Storeganizer is collaborating with the University of Leuven on a tool to better visualise the possible savings. “The WMS does monitor a few things, but the software doesn’t know if a box is at the back of a pallet location or at the front.  This information is crucial for pick speed. We do carry out ad hoc productivity measurements, but, even so, it remains guesswork some of the time.  We know very well that the system pays, but naturally we have to able to justify our decisions with figures to management. Thus we initially chose to store products with a reasonable turnover in the Storeganizer, otherwise it would have been even more difficult to see the total picture.”

Storeganizer will be exhibiting at the IntraLogisteX show on 16-17 March 2016 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, where a demo bay will allow visitors to experience this innovative solution first hand.

For information about Storeganizer in the UK, please contact:
Luke Simons – 07749 322 333