Racking at the heart of retail logistics

With the warehouse now the heart of most retail operations, Edward Hutchison, Managing Director of BITO Storage Systems, gives advice on sourcing storage and order picking solutions to keep it pumping.

No longer the back end of a business, the warehouse is now at core of retailer’s drive to ensure complete customer satisfaction. Within the warehouse, racking and shelving plays a vital role in maintaining the flow for highly accurate order picking and can generate cost savings by eliminating the need for outside storage, handling and transport. The right design will also improve productivity.

There are incredible investment opportunities for retailers to improve their warehouse with racking and shelving – whether it’s a small, medium or large facility.

Order picking solutions

Retailers want order picking solutions that will help them to ensure that when items leave their warehouses and distribution centres, they are in the best condition, they have been accurately picked, they are well packed and the customer gets exactly what they want on the day they want it.

order picking solutions

They want a storage system that meets their requirements precisely and is designed to gain maximum productivity. It needs to be competitively priced and delivered on a short lead-time.
They need storage density, because optimising space is critical in any logistics operation.

No retailer wants to lose a customer due to the product not being in the right place yet cost pressures mean stockholding needs to be optimised. Minimal occupation of floor space is also critical in omnichannel retail facilities. These operations require a large number of pick spaces for a broad range of SKUs and will be handling a mixture of slower and faster goods – often all in a single system.

Adaptable solutions are required and this starts with the basic racking components: the uprights and beams. Bolted frame components will allow a fast exchange of damaged components. Uprights need to be available in a range of widths and different material thicknesses to allow an ideal upright geometry for frame heights of over 20 metres and bay loads as heavy as 40 tonnes. Detailed planning will maximise the efficiency of racking and shelving. Sometimes this will require multiple drawings until the right solution is determined.

A ‘one-stop shop’ supplier that can provide the bins and containers to be used in the racking and shelving will be a boon. Providing containers that are compatible with the racking and shelving will eliminate problems such as bins rolling properly in the carton live lanes. It also makes it easier to achieve the maximum density of stock – designed correctly, containers and racking can combine to generate considerable space savings.

The latest developments in storage tend to evolve from customers requesting bespoke solutions. For example, at BITO we were approached by a major online retailer who wanted a shelving product, of a set width and a set depth, which didn’t exist. The retailer also wanted dividers to be spaced so that they would suit a robotic picking system. We manufactured a bespoke design to suit these specific requirements. The client was able to bring its own staff to test it and adjust it, to make sure it worked exactly as required and that its investment was maximised.

To ensure long-term integrity of the racking system, choose a supplier whose racking components are manufactured with state of the art machinery that will ensure all products are true to size and are of a consistent quality and tolerance. Pay close attention to the quality of the materials used in the racking and shelving and how they stand up to the rigours of everyday warehouse operations. For example, galvanising and epoxy coating ensures high corrosion resistance and guarantees a long service life for all components.

Reference site visits are a great way to assess the standard of a product in a working scenario. It is also useful to have a close look at the equipment in a showroom environment wherever possible.

Safety is high on any list of considerations and the right system will help you avoid work accidents that are costly both in human and financial terms. Safety starts with the integrity of the system, which is enhanced by stable floor anchoring, while pallet support bars add additional strength in depth direction. Corner-ends and gangways should be secured by column guards. These are particularly robust components mounted directly in front of the uprights and fixed by high-quality floor anchors. Other safety equipment to consider includes: high upright protectors, fencing to protect the short sides of a racking run, solid backstops and wire mesh back cladding to prevent items falling at the rear, spray paint, marking tapes, protection and hazard warning profiles as well as bumpers and buffers.

Many racking and shelving projects will need to satisfy a variety of criteria and this will draw on a supplier’s experience and its ability to work with other companies in the storage equipment sector – such as systems integrators, mezzanine floor suppliers and forklift truck companies.

order picking solutions

Retailers will often have their own concept and look to a supplier to turn that into reality – usually within a very short period of time. Both the project management and the physical installation need to be handled professionally. The staff advising on and designing the systems should have a thorough knowledge and be highly professional. The resulting system should perform exactly as promised.

Many projects require installation in facilities that continue to be operational to ensure sales are maintained. They must be built and installed without disrupting picking and dispatch operations. Be prepared for the unexpected: the quality of the supplier will be measured in terms of how they go about meeting these challenges. They should be open and honest – notifying the client of any issues and then devising a solution and delivering it to agreed timescales, without being chased.

Ultimately, when it comes to storage and order picking solutions, retailers are seeking high quality – not just of the physical products, but also of the installation team and service support. As a retailer about to make a large investment on racking, you need to look a company in the eye and ask: ‘can you deliver and will we get a system that will pay dividends?’