Getting packages from one place to another in a warehouse might seem like a simple concept, but as beverage distributors are dealing with a continuously growing number of SKUs, in warehouses that sit on acres of land, the task is quite a difficult one. Conveyors are used to get cases from the stacks to where they need to be before getting shipped off. And as the products distributors are handling continue to change in not only size, but also packaging material, the role of the material handling technology in the warehouse—including conveyors and automated storage and retrieval systems—must adapt. At ProMat, held in Chicago last month, Intelligrated showcased ZoneFlex, a flexible zone control for the company’s Accuglide and IntelliQ zero-pressure accumulation conveyors. It’s part of the latest high throughput conveyor and sortation solutions designed for high-capacity operations that demand gentle product handling and are designed to maximize throughput at minimal speeds.
“What we’ve seen in beverage operations with the changes in packaging is there has been an increasing emphasis on the zone control of accumulation conveyors with gentler bottle packaging handling due to the decrease in package content, eco-friendly bottles, etc.,” says Bryan Boyce, product manager of conveyor products for Intelligrated.
With built-in logic and selectable release modes, ZoneFlex is designed to move previously accumulated product downstream quickly by monitoring and automatically responding to accumulation conditions. This capability simplifies control logic and increases available product for downstream applications, according to the company.
ITW Warehouse Automation (ITWWA) also introduced new technology at ProMat, its StorFast cart-based, ultra high-density, AS/RS solution. The cart-based AS/RS maximizes storage capacity with higher density and throughput than traditional crane-based systems, the company says. StorFast designs are modular and can be easily expanded as capacity requirements and SKUs increase. How it works: Carts operate on each level of the system and can even change levels.
“Our sweet spot is being able to maximize the number of pallets that can be at an existing facility so that eliminates the necessity for building additional bricks and mortar or relocating your facility if you are land-locked, which can be very expensive,” says Jeff Stingel, vice president of sales, Vertique, which joined ITWWA by bringing its case picking and StorFast AS/RS capabilities under one roof. “We are working with one customer right now where we were able to almost double the number of pallets that are in the facility.”
Case picking is another area where distributors are looking for more improvement. Materials Handling Technologies Inc. has introduced a pick to zone feature to its conveyor technology. Different from pick to voice or pick to light, pick to zone focuses on picking cases by zoned sections in the warehouse. When a picker is working in a particular zone, those conveyors will be activated to let him or her know that they are in the right location, explains Jim Smith, senior engineer at the company. A TV monitor tells the picker how many cases of a product to pick and counts down as each case is put onto the conveyor. Smith estimates that with this pick to zone technology, pick rates would be greater than 99.9 percent equating to one pick error per 10,000 picks.
“The biggest benefit is the accuracy...and we have no maintenance cost,” says Smith, adding that there is no language translation requirement and no annual software maintenance fee. The technology is currently being used at beverage wholesaler Bay Area Beverage Co. based in Richmond, Calif. Using pick to zone for about five months, the company has seen an improvement in pick rates and speed. Transitioning from not using any automated picking system, Rodney Rutledge, director of operations, says: “We were looking for something that was going to be faster and we also wanted to tie it in to the rest of our conveyor system and this gave us that option.”
According to Rutledge, Bay Area Beverage, which handles about 6 million cases, says that he is seeing a pick rate of 99.9 percent or better as a result of checks on the conveyor like height sensors and the fact that cases are being counted for the picker in a particular zone. “The accuracy is probably the biggest bit of it and then the speed as well,” he says. “Just from the fact that that zone turns on, it guides you to where you are going. It helps you minimize your mistakes.”