Smart ColbyRACK storage solutions and new logistics IT systems from Dematic have improved order fulfilment efficiency and occupational health and safety (OH&S) for Australia’s leading manufacturer of lubricants, Australasian Lubricants Manufacturing Company (ALMC).
Among the many storage system innovations at ALMC’s Sydney distribution centre (DC) are:
- Custom-made, heavy-duty UU-beams which support three pallets per bay and provide extra space for accessing picking stock within floor level storage locations
- A new type of heavy-duty carton live storage (CLS) system designed to handle cartons and pails
- An ultra space-efficient drive-in/drive-through pallet racking system.
Transforming picking on the floor
When ALMC decided to upgrade outdated storage systems at its Guildford DC, a key driver was improving the safety and ergonomics associated with the manual handling of its product range, which includes heavy cartons and pails.
ALMC’s Facility Manager, Jackie Wall, said: “We wanted to eliminate a number of potential safety issues with our previous storage system configuration, and improve order fulfilment accuracy and productivity.”
Working closely with ALMC and its business process consultant Portland Group, Dematic developed a range of innovative ColbyRACK storage solutions to improve distribution and order fulfilment performance, with special emphasis on improving access to stock and the safe handling of ALMC’s SKU range of around 1500 products.
Smart racking design improves order picking ergonomics
“With fixed beam heights, our old storage system was inflexible, which created on-going product slotting, access and OH&S issues,” explained Wall.
“A relatively low first beam level meant some of our taller staff would have to bend over when picking stock on pallets stored on the floor, and accessing stock at the rear of pallets required a lot of reaching, stretching and awkward product handling.
“This is not ideal when you are picking products weighing up to 20kg, so improving access to stock at all of our ground floor pick slot locations was a key driver for our new storage system design,” she said.
“Dematic came out and reviewed our operation and came up with a number of storage system configurations for us to evaluate,” added Wall.
“The solution we preferred was moving from the industry-standard two pallet-wide racking set-up to a three pallet-wide configuration. Placing only two pallets on the floor within the new three pallet-wide bays creates sufficient space for our order pickers to be able to walk around the pallets when selecting goods.
This significantly improves the ergonomics associated with the operation and eliminates the need for them to reach or stretch when picking. It also reduces the physical effort required in lifting our heavier SKUs, and has substantially improved the safety of our manual handling activities,” she said.
“By making the new racking three pallets wide and closely following the DC’s roofline profile, Dematic also managed to implement our new and much safer storage solution without adversely impacting our total pallet storage capacity.”
Extra heavy-duty ColbyRACK UU-beam makes new layout possible
The majority of pallet storage systems enable two pallets to be stored within each bay of racking. However, so that ALMC could create space for its warehouse staff to walk around pallets at the ground floor level without compromising the total storage capacity, Dematic utilised its new, heavy-duty UU-beam design.
[Pictured alongside are Soeren Schauki and Jan Gilfrich]
“Made by seam-welding two 75mm deep high tensile steel beams together, the 150mm deep UU-beams for ALMC are the largest and strongest we have manufactured to date,” said Dematic’s Key Account Manager, Soeren Schauki.
“The extra depth of the beams significantly increases their stiffness and load-carrying capacity, making it possible for them to safely support the weight of three pallets instead of two,” he said.
“Storing three pallets within a single bay of racking instead of two does, however, create potential put-away issues for the forklift operator,” added Schauki.
“If the forklift operator does not put the first two pallets away in the correct location on the beam, it could potentially make placing the third pallet within the bay difficult. Accordingly we investigated a range of options to ensure pallets would be placed correctly within the racking system, including the use of pallet guides.
“However, after trialling a couple of options with ALMC’s operators, we found the most effective solution was, in fact, a very simple one. By marking the position of each of the three pallet slots on the front face of the UU-beams, the forklift operators had a simple visual guide to follow, which has proven to be very successful,” explained Schauki.
Custom-designed ColbyRACK CLS for cartons and pails
In addition to a new pallet handling strategy, Dematic also assisted ALMC with an innovative discrete order picking solution for its slower moving products.
ALMC’s Customer Service Manager, Jan Gilfrich, explained: “We have a long tail of SKUs with a very slow movement rate – typically specialised types of lubricants and auxiliary products contained in a variety of cartons and pails weighing up to 20 kg.
“Because of space constraints, we used to store up to four of these SKUs on a single pallet within the pick face. Having mixed SKUs within a single pick face location slowed the picking of such orders, and also contributed to an unacceptably high level of picking errors,” he said.
Custom-made, heavy-duty UU-beams support three pallets per bay.
Dematic’s solution to the problem was to develop a new type of heavy-duty carton live storage (CLS) system for ALMC’s slow-moving products. The space-efficient system, over three levels in some areas, created a discrete pick face slot for every SKU, enabling accurate product identification and reducing the potential for picking errors.
By locating lighter products on the upper level and the heavier SKUs on the lower levels, the custom-designed CLS solution also significantly improves the ergonomics associated with picking pails and heavy cartons weighing up to 20kg.
Paul Berry, Dematic’s Senior Structural Engineer, said: “In typical CLS systems, cartons are supported on inclined roller tracks, so that when a carton is removed from the front of the system, the next carton rolls forward into place. Because cartons are rectangular, the weight is evenly spread across the roller tracks, as is the impact when two cartons collide.
“However, this was the first time we had been asked to come up with a CLS solution for pails and cartons. As well as the fact that many of the pails were – at 20kg – much heavier, and also much taller than the cartons typically housed in CLS systems, the circular shape of the pail concentrated any impact forces on a much smaller area,” he said.
“We set-up some test bays of CLS and trialled a range of different roller track configurations and incline angles until we found the optimal solution that would enable the heavy pails to roll gently to the front of the system without causing any product damage.
“Another challenge – because of the height of many of the SKUs – was working out how to prevent some of them from tipping over when they reached the front of the CLS,” added Dr Berry.
“Again we trialled a number of options before settling on the use of a sloping skid plate which runs along the front of the CLS roller tracks. The skid plate acts like a brake and gently stops the pails in a more vertical position, eliminating the potential for them to tip over,” he said.
Ultra space-efficient ColbyRACK Drive-In Racking
At the other end of ALMC’s product movement curve, fast moving SKUs are housed in a very space-efficient drive-in/drive-through pallet racking system (below).
The space efficiency of the nine-pallet deep system is optimised by closely following the DC’s varying roof profile, and by utilising spaces where it would not be safe to handle pallets for the drive-through racking system’s spine bracing.
“All of the new storage systems were progressively installed at the Guildford DC, with minimal disruption to day-to-day operations,” said Wall.
“We would empty out one aisle at a time and worked with the Dematic installation team hand-in-hand during the day. Dematic would pull the old storage system down, install the new racking and we would be able to start putting stock away after a couple of days,” she said.
“The storage system, which provides capacity for over 2100 pallets and around 1100 pick faces, was replaced within less than five weeks in this manner,” continued Wall.
National rollout of state-of-the-art wireless IT systems
In addition to updating storage systems at ALMC’s Sydney DC, Dematic has also transformed the efficiency and performance of ALMC’s logistics IT systems operations.
Following trials and evaluations of different equipment at ALMC’s sites in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, Dematic Real Time Logistics updated the wireless networks at all four sites and rolled out more than 100 new state-of-the-art cordless Intermec SR61 RF scanners and Intermec CV41 vehicle-mounted RF terminals nationwide.
The new integrated logistics IT systems are fitted to a fleet of more than 100 new forklifts and reach trucks, supplied under a national fleet management program by Linde Forklifts.
Dematic developed a new type of heavy-duty carton live storage system for ALMC’s slow-moving products.
“Our forklift operators really enjoy the freedom the new Intermec cordless scanners provide, as our previous scanners were tethered to their RF terminals, which hindered their use. Now, if operators have any difficulty in scanning a location, they can simply take the scanner with them to the pick face,” said Gilfrich.
“The scanners are also capable of reading both 1D and 2D barcodes, which will ensure their suitability for many years to come.”
Gilfrich added: “Our operators also really appreciate the difference in the quality of the displays on the new Intermec RF terminals.
“We handle a lot of large drums and IBCs in our external storage yards, and the visual display screens on our previous generation RF terminals were, depending on the weather and lighting conditions, often very difficult to read.
“Now, thanks to the excellent all-weather displays on the CV41 RF terminals, our forklift operators can read the screens even in sunlight,” said Gilfrich.
“Another significant benefit of the new logistics IT systems supplied by Dematic Real Time Logistics is that they are voice-ready, which was critical as we later plan to further improve our order picking productivity and accuracy by introducing voice-directed picking,” he said.
“Dematic’s contribution to improving the efficiency, safety, accuracy and productivity of our order fulfilment operations has been excellent from start to finish. Its willingness to work with us to find the right solution for our business was first class and we are very happy with the results and improvements throughout our logistics operations,” said Gilfrich.
Linde helps raise forklift safety at ALMC
Safety at the DC has also been improved with the fitting of Linde’s Fleet Focus system on ALMC’s entire forklift fleet.
Linde’s Fleet Focus system provides us with very valuable utilisation information and reports, and improves OH&S, said Wall.
“Before any of our drivers can start their shift, they must answer 10 questions relating to the safe operation of their equipment. To prevent the operators from simply memorising the answers, the questions are always presented in random order so they really have to think about their answer,” she said.
“Another feature of the Fleet Focus system we are very happy with is its incident detection system,” added Wall.
“If any of the operators have a collision, the forklift automatically enters ‘tortoise-mode,’ and can only be reset by one of the supervisors. This provides a high level of accountability and can help identify if a particular driver is having problems, so that we can arrange retraining if necessary.”
ALMC, a joint venture between Caltex Australia and BP/Castrol Australia, supplies more than half of the lubricant market in Australia, and is also a significant exporter.
The business operates manufacturing plants and warehouses in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, and a warehouse facility in New South Wales.
It manufactures millions of litres of lubricating oil and grease annually, with key products including engine oils, transmission fluids, gear and hydraulic oils, process and cutting fluids, and agricultural spray oils.
ALMC also distributes a variety of related products including detergents, degreasers, environmental products, grease guns, hand cleaners and pumps.