Customer winning storage solutions

The right storage and order picking technology will help companies win new customers, writes Edward Hutchison, Managing Director of BITO Storage Systems

BITO Storage Systems is one of the largest subsidiaries in the international BITO group and celebrates 20 years in the UK, having been established in 1999. The UK head office is centrally located in Nuneaton, from where an experienced team offers a full range of services including solution design, project management, customer support and after sales service. The company also holds extensive stocks of products for nationwide delivery. A very important aspect of the head office is the ‘Experience Centre’, which enables customers to see how BITO products can help solve their storage and picking requirements.

For many companies, these requirements are based around optimising their logistics processes to meet the demand for faster delivery of goods that can be carried out as cost effectively as possible. This has become critical for businesses success – whether they are involved in omnichannel retail, manufacturing, shipping or any general logistics process.

Choosing the best storage system to create the right conditions for keeping delivery times as short as possible will make a positive impact on the bottom line. It will also give the competitive edge required to win new customers.

For many businesses, the requirement is not just for high capacity for holding stock: they must also be able to expand or rearrange their storage systems, so they can react as flexibly and quickly as possible to constantly changing market conditions.

Depending on order volumes and the number of items sold, it is worth considering whether manual or automated storage makes more sense. It might be that a combination of the two system types would be the ideal option for storage and picking.

Live systems for dynamic storage
Many companies are already realising this and have installed live storage systems – which essentially replace solid shelves with racking housing lanes of rollers. This is due in large part to the ability of live storage to have goods automatically replenishing themselves on each shelf, enabling constant item availability.

Functioning on the ‘operator-to-goods’ principle, live storage systems are also ideal for supplying cartons in the grocery sector. They enable storage and picking on a FIFO basis: goods can be sorted by, for example, expiration date, so the picker can take the product with the nearest best-before date.

Also with live storage, picking and replenishment routes are kept separate, which prevents staff carrying out these tasks from getting in each other’s way. This results in faster picking, which in turn accelerates the process of assembling online orders and, therefore, the delivery process as well.

Carton live storage allows businesses to drastically reduce travel times (by between 40 and 70 per cent) compared with conventional shelving. The amount of floor space required is also reduced (by up to 30 per cent). These factors can save operations significant amounts of money.

How should goods be picked? Multi-level picking is an increasingly common choice for online retail. Here, items are picked individually and only later consolidated into specific orders. Shelving systems with adjustable shelf dividers can be used as ‘put’ shelves for collecting orders in individual trays. Here, the trend for picking directly into the despatch carton has become particularly prominent.

The fastest sellers of all, and the top products in general, are sometimes held in an outer warehouse for cross-docking so that they can be picked direct from the pallet they were received on, which saves time, money and travel distance.

Shelving systems: a flexible storage solution
With manual storage systems offering the greatest flexibility, shelving is often a key component of warehouse design. BITO shelving systems can be easily assembled, reassembled or expanded to meet the user’s needs. They can be serviced from both sides and are ideal for storing and picking containers, cartons and items of various sizes. Various shelving depths are available depending on the items to be stored, or the containers or cartons in which they will be stored. Easily adjustable shelf heights allow various numbers of shelves to be positioned at varying heights within a racking structure.

High-quality shelving systems avoid sharp edges and corners. This is particularly important for storage solutions in the fashion sector, keeping sensitive textiles safe during storage, and significantly reducing the risk of accidentally damaging delicate materials and items of clothing.

Using dividers maximises the density of the storage space within a shelving system, making unused space available once more. This smart sorting aid efficiently simplifies every imaginable step in the storage and picking process, including the all-important returns process for online retail, saving time and money and making everyone’s jobs easier.

Returns need to be received, sorted and returned to the warehouse as quickly as possible so they can be placed back in their proper position ready to be sold again. Where return rates are extremely high, it can make financial sense to set up complete returns warehouses using shelving systems with multiple tiers and shelf dividers. These ‘pigeonholes’ help with sorting and directly restocking returned goods.

Racking & shelving make up about 70 per cent of our business in the UK. The majority of products we sell are manufactured in Meisenheim, near Frankfurt, however we also work with UK fabricators to design and produce components to enable us to supply bespoke solutions.

The stable long-term solution for cartons
Another solution for storing goods that need to be protected, conserved, well sorted and clearly organised is the use of highly stable and moisture-resistant plastic containers. Units can be individually labelled and are available in many different sizes and colours, with numerous printing options for identification, dividers to better sort small items, and optional lids.

Trays are ideal for transporting goods or cartons, which cannot be transferred to containers for time reasons. These particularly stable holders allow operations to safely move loads of various sizes on conveyors. They also help protect goods, since cardboard cartons are not impact-resistant and do not have a very long lifespan.

Containers represent about 30 per cent of our turnover and, to facilitate further growth, capacity for the production of plastic containers almost doubled recently at our plant in Lauterecken, not far from Frankfurt. BITO offers a wide range of plastic bins and containers that meet the requirements of all aspects of storage, picking and shipping. Our range starts with small parts storage & picking bins, including the very popular RK bins, progresses in size through industry standard European stacking containers, attached lid distribution containers to large heavy duty containers for use with forklift and pallet trucks. We also offer a range of standard sized containers designed for use on conveyors and automated bin storage systems. A recent addition to the range is the U-Turn Stack & Nest large capacity container that can stack as well as nest to save space when not being used.

Order picking cost savings
Well thought out storage solutions will help companies seeking cost savings in order picking through reducing costly mispicks. If, for example, a company sends out 99 instead of 100 items they will then have to repack the missing item and send it separately. On the other hand, if too many items are picked, stock quantities will be out, which could lead to letting another customer down.

A company may wish to opt for a pick-by-voice or pick-by-light system combined with flow shelves to save time and give accuracy. They could spread their investment over several years with an initial investment in flow racking, with good labelling before moving to the new technology when it is appropriate.

These solutions allow the creation of pick zones. This means that instead of a picker trawling round a warehouse with a trolley, covering miles in the process, that member of staff can instead look after a small section of the warehouse, picking from that zone and then passing the order to the next zone. This will not only improve house keeping and picker productivity but will also give the picker a feeling of responsibility for that stock and for its accuracy within their zone. Furthermore, any mispicks in that zone will be easily identified.

Warehouse automation is becoming easier to justify economically for more operators who need to juggle higher volumes and demand for faster order fulfilment, with rising staff costs. The logistics sector has always leaned heavily on manual labour, but a shrinking labour pool is changing the cost equation. More warehouses will therefore be investigating an automated approach for maintaining high service levels.

Continual developments in modularity, sophisticated control systems and performance will increase warehouse automation’s practicality and flexibility for a broader variety of applications – from fulfilling omnichannel retail to supplying line-side manufacturing. Automated, ‘goods to picker’ based installations will increasingly be integrated into intralogistics systems. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RSs) are relatively commonplace today, but warehouses will be looking to also automate other integrated tasks. For example, internal transport between goods-in and order picking zones, installing robots to feed an AS/RS, and then place picked items for packaging back on the transport.

Some of the most exciting developments are likely to evolve from solutions that address a specific customer need such as shelving to suit a robotic picking system.

Automating more of the intralogistics process will reduce cycle times, which will enable operations to extend order cut-off times, thus improving their service offering. However, many warehouses will continue to seek a stepped approach towards automated systems by adopting lower cost, ‘mechanised’ systems.

Many BITO products, such as carton live and integrated conveyors, can be described as low level automation. BITO also recently launched the LEO Locative – an entry level driverless vehicle for simple repetitive tasks that can be automated.

BITO’s LEO Locative driverless transport system is suited to any operation. With no Wi-Fi or IT required LEO is easy to set up and run in-house – keeping procurement costs low.

The first UK installation of LEO units is at Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery’s new Global Service Operation Centre (GSOC), which separates human and busy forklift truck areas by using LEOs to transport goods.

Floor staff productivity is maximised by LEOs taking over simple transporting duties, and reducing travel time by 30 per cent. To match this increased productivity would require two extra full-time operatives on start up and a further three as business ramps up.

The system gives Return on Investment (ROI) within a year, compared to the typical five-year period for conventional AGVs. Unlike other AGVs, LEO installation is simple and quick with the units following tape laid on the floor, giving complete flexibility to reconfigure and maximise efficiency by simply pulling up the tape and relaying new routes. Siemens can scale up if required by buying or hiring extra LEOs straight off the shelf.

As the Siemens application demonstrates, by contributing to a reduction in delivery times and helping to win customers as a result, investment in any storage systems can be returned quickly.

Edward Hutchison is Managing Director of BITO Storage Systems. With its head office and main production facilities in Germany, BITO is an internationally operating manufacturer of storage and order picking systems. BITO Storage Systems, one of the largest subsidiaries in the group, has its UK head office in Nuneaton where an experienced team offer solution design, project management, customer support and after sales service. The facility has extensive stocks of products for nationwide delivery and hosts the ‘Experience Centre’ to help customers solve their storage and picking requirements.