DC equipment: no surprises

Although distribution centers have made quantum leaps in technology during the past few years, their material handling equipment has remained pretty much the same. That is the unequivocal conclusion of a survey of several hundred warehousing professionals conducted by Raleigh, NC-based logistics consulting firm Tompkins Associates.

According to the study, the average warehouse is 19 years old and measures 50,000 sq. ft., with a clear height of 22 ft. Its equipment falls into three broad categories: material handling, storage, and dock. The most common method of material handling in a warehouse is a lift truck. The typical facility has five trucks, which can be counterbalance, reach, side-loading, semiturret, or turret; counterbalance trucks are by far the most popular. Sixty-seven percent of the facilities surveyed use electric trucks; 51% operate versions powered by liquid propane gas.

The Tompkins researchers report “little surprise” at the storage equipment the survey respondents use. Pallet racks, shelving, and bulk storage are the most common storage media. Dock equipment is similarly unimaginative and even unsafe — 35% of respondents choose to use portable dock boards rather than permanently installed dock levelers, which are safer.

“Relatively few warehouses have ventured beyond basic material handling and storage methods,” write the researchers. “It is our belief that this continuing trend is not necessarily the result of a logical decision analysis, but is largely a result of resistance to change. The time is now for warehouse managers to make a more objective, economics-oriented assessment of alternative methods.”

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