Do You Have the Right Vehicles?

As your operation grows, the type of powered vehicles that will work best for you may change. Growth often means increasing numbers of SKUs and larger on-hand quantities. If your company provides replacement consumables or spare parts, you may find a growing parts inventory that must be maintained and selected from.

In a business where items constantly change, such as apparel, you will find that SKUs proliferate as the business continues. Fortunately, there is a powered vehicle that can help you to get there faster, and also keep the overall size of your picking area limited.

What about those slower moving SKUs?
If you are landlocked, and can’t or don’t want to pay to expand your floor any farther, consider putting your slower moving SKUs up in the air. While storage in the air is inherently less efficient to pick from than storage on the ground, it sometimes represents a reasonable compromise to buying more real estate. In addition, if you can collect and batch the slower moving orders together, it is possible to increase the density in the high picking areas, and you can actually gain an advantage over making several separate trips to a distant floor storage area.

The answer: a man-up truck
Man-up trucks, or stock pickers, are powered vehicles which excel at helping operators pick from high storage. If you do any significant amount of picking from areas that are 8 foot high or more, consider a man-up truck as a replacement for the ladder. These trucks are much more ergonomic, they can operate in a 5 foot aisle, they enhance employee safety, and they can carry a significant payload, including batching devices such as carts, or full pallets. Man up vehicles can also be retrofitted with cages that can help to organize materials as they are picked. By converting to high storage, you can extend the life of your facility substantially, albeit at the cost of slightly slower order selection.

Suppose you’re in the challenging apparel business. Styles change constantly, and the distribution center must always be preparing for the next season. If you think of a SKU as a single unique item, clothing is of the most challenging businesses around. One style of a T-shirt may have 10 different colors and 8 different sizes of each color – that’s 80 SKUs for just one style! The other problem in apparel is that styles come and go. As a popular item begins to fade, it creates orphaned stock is created this is stock that still remains in the warehouse, but is only a fraction of what it originally was. Space must be found for everything until it is sold.

A man-up truck lets you store items low or high, and enables you to pick individual items from boxes up in the air. This can dramatically increase the number of unique item selection locations you have in your facility. If orders together, picking can still be efficient since the total travel will be reduced between picks. If any items or styles stored together are common to more than one order it is possible to take advantage of multiple orders wanting the same item or an item stored in the same location.

A man-up truck can also work well in a facility with a lot of slow moving items, such as a spare-parts facility. In this environment, it is possible to store small boxes or totes up in the air. The totes can even have individual compartments in them. The man-up truck makes it possible to pick any item at any level. In a spare-parts facility, the older items might be migrated into high storage, but still stored in totes or bins. Throughout the day, orders for slower-moving items can be accumulated, and then the orders can be grouped together and the items picked one bay or one level at a time.

Another application for a man-up truck would be to pick slower moving cases, where pallet locations are visited only one or two times a week. The man-up truck makes it easy to select individual cases, and the cases that are selected can be piled up on a pallet that rides up and down with the operator as the operator makes the selections.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants.