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Warehouse equipment should all click together

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Greater pressure is being put on warehouse managers to meet just-in-time manufacturing schedules and faster product times to market.<[etk]>

For the manufacturing plant, inventories have to be minimised and all outgoing product must be handled efficiently, particularly as markets are demanding faster turnaround times – especially when exporting or dealing with perishables.

Obviously the distributors in retail, packaged foods, third-party logistics and those handling stock that varies in shape and size requires warehousing equipment to be extremely versatile.

Crown Equipment marketing manager Craig Kenchington believes far more is needed than a supply line for forklift equipment and services.

“When evaluating warehouse handling needs, the whole fleet must work together to minimise costs.”

Integrating the modern warehouse requires a lot of thought. Apart from the trucks, consideration must be given to floor plan layout, racking, safety barriers, conveyor systems, incoming and outgoing loading and unloading facilities, safety of personnel, production machinery and vertical and horizontal space.

Of all equipment used in the warehouse, the most rapid movers are normally the lift trucks and pallet trucks as they go about handling stock. But these units are merely the thread that sews together every other aspect of warehouse operation.

“Any warehouse setting up from scratch is making a major investment in racking and storage equipment and is mindful of gaining optimal use from the equipment” Kenchington said.

“With this in mind, planning the factory floor, racking its storage, conveying systems (and production machinery where applicable) around lift trucks is highly logical.”

“By making a proper analysis of all the facilities in the warehouse the company’s floor layout concerns can be allayed and the potential for productivity breakdowns is greatly reduced.”


Racking is expensive and is easily damaged by forklift tynes spearing them or the sides or rear of a lift truck hitting it. Setting protective bollards is one solution, but the objective is to set up a very functional racking and floor layout right from the very start so that this type of protection is rarely required.

Bollards are hard objects, and although they can be depended upon to protect racking it will still cause damage to an expensive lift truck and potentially force it away from active service which is costly in repairs and downtime.

Optimising rack position sets out to achieve two main aims. The first is to give the materials handling equipment as much room to move as possible and keep the traffic flowing.

The second aspect is to use the vertical space available to maximise storage and allow fast and safe handling by high reach trucks. It is one thing to go as high as possible, but every consideration has to be given to aisle sizes so that they are operational. Many companies fall into the trap of setting up in the minimum aisle possible which has a negative effect on operator confidence leading to productivity issues and equipment damage.

It is danger of this nature that carries consequences that can cost companies a lot of money in compensation and cause debilitating injury to people. Although lift truck activity can involve the majority of ground space within a warehouse, clever floor layout more or less isolates the heavy traffic areas, keeping vehicles and foot personnel as far apart as possible.

Materials flow is still part of the warehouse equation where lift trucks are concerned. If lift trucks have to frequently make way for one another, queue and wait while other units go about their business, or find areas of the floor where turning and access is difficult or impossible, then the materials handling staff behind the wheel eventually feel as though the racking is a hindrance rather than a storage facility. Such frustrations can generate poor driver judgment, rash decisions, excess speeding in the wrong locations, or a level of anger that poses a danger to other personnel.

Warehouse layout and planning should not end in the main part of the factory/warehouse. Unhindered, direct access should also link this section with whatever dock facilities are being used. It is not uncommon for company staff to put a huge amount of energy into what they see as an efficient layout for manufacturing and the warehouse, only to discover when it is too late that the transport link between factory floor and transport dock is inconvenient, blocked, or worse still, a dangerous path on which to take a lift truck.

Wise use of vertical space is the difference between efficient, “first time” pallet handling and costly double-handling. Racking occupies a large amount of the vertical space of a site but often there is a lack of understanding regarding the best way to set up rack.

Every company is different. Some perform a lot of cross docking. Others store items for long periods or move many different small items between racking spaces. Some operate strictly on full pallets while others handle unusual or large shapes. This means it takes a trained eye to deduce how best to construct the off-the-ground operating space. Racking must work in harmony with the warehouse configuration, with special attention given to end of aisle transfer aisle “tunnels” for changing aisles in long run aisles. Peaked roofs can cause the lift truck to go through the roof while the driver is trying to reach the middle rack.

Racking isn’t merely for storing stock, it has to be optimally positioned for stock handling and then it has to work in harmony with lift trucks and their operators.

Ultimately a well-analysed configuration will ensure increased productivity, effective cost reductions and ensure the safety of employees.

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