Material Handling
Wednesday | 23 September, 2015 | 9:26 am

Growing pains

By Emily Vasquez

Above: About 7,500 tons of material ships out of Ta Chen’s Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, facility every month.

Distribution operations move seamlessly with the help of material handling experts

September 2015 - While change is inevitable, moving an entire service center’s contents can ignite growing pains for any facility, no matter its size. Such projects, although beneficial in the long run, can mean unknown downtime, resulting in lost income that may not be recovered. 

Companies planning the growth of their physical operations must consider moving not just material but also equipment and reinstalling it at a new location. They might ask: “Will we need to resize racking systems?” “Do we have adequate equipment to handle new inventory?” In an industry that demands quick turnaround, any move is a calculated risk that can be tricky to accomplish.

When Ta Chen International Inc. looked to move its 210,000-square-foot stainless steel and aluminum distribution center from Gurnee, Illinois in 2013, it recruited material handling equipment manufacturer Design Storage & Handling Inc. to ease the growing pains. This was not the first time Ta Chen sought Design Storage’s help. In the past 10 years, Ta Chen’s Illinois warehouse has moved two times, and during each move, Fredericksburg, Virginia-based Design Storage was there to assist in making the move a less strenuous process. 

Based in Long Beach, California, Ta Chen has distributed stainless steel pipes, valves and fittings in the U.S. since 1989. Twenty-five years later, Ta Chen has extended its reach to 12 U.S. locations, while expanding its product line to include aluminum and nickel alloys in coil, sheet and plate forms as well as stainless grades in coil, sheet, plate, bar, tube and pipe, valves and fittings (PVFs). 

In early 2004, the Midwest warehouse was located in a 100,000-square-foot space in Vernon Hills, Illinois. In order to accommodate growing volume, Ta Chen built and relocated to the much larger Gurnee warehouse where it remained for seven years. Both moves consisted of relocating heavy equipment, racking systems and material. 

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Founded in 1990 by Rob Alling, Design Storage specializes in importing, selling and servicing quality machinery, including cantilever systems, selective rack systems and German-made Hubtex sideloaders. For the first move, Design Storage assisted in transporting and installing new equipment. “I started with working with them about 12 years ago,” says Ta Chen Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager Fred Nummela. “We started in Vernon Hills when we were in a standard building. We quickly learned we were outgrowing that location and realized the building wasn’t fit for steel products or an efficient, high volume flow.” 

This was all in preparation for Ta Chen’s biggest move yet. In 2013, Ta Chen once again found itself scrambling to meet its customers’ needs at its Gurnee facility. Before making a critical decision, Nummela looked to Design Storage for guidance. 

“We helped them with the site selection process,” Paul Sartore, Design Storage’s vice president and regional sales manager, says. “We were able to visit and review the layout of each building and virtually drop a storage system into the facility they were considering to see how the material would flow and how the storage system would function. Too many companies tend to undertake this process in reverse. A surprising number of organizations will buy or lease a spec building and then want a storage system installed as an afterthought. We helped Ta Chen consider their options upfront,” he continues. 

Ta Chen chose to build a 471,000-square-foot facility in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, about 15 miles north of Gurnee, that more than doubles the size of its previous inventory space.

“We were going from 210,000 square feet to 471,000 square feet. I didn’t know how we were going to fill it then but now we are running at full capacity and still growing,” says Nummela. 

Design Storage supplied Ta Chen rental narrow aisle storage equipment for the move without needing to shut down metal processing and shipping operations. “We didn’t shut down at all. We had over 1,500 truckloads of product to move and we didn’t miss a day of shipping. Our business grew while we were moving, I have to hand it to them, they lent us Hubtex sideloaders, their racking people and installers and together we worked to move and transition,” says Nummela.

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The move lasted four months and consisted of moving about 65 million pounds of product. In addition to moving material, Design Storage took down the existing racks and reinstalled them, installed new cantilever and pallet racks and delivered Hubtex sideloaders. “Our rack columns are 300 inches high, the arms hold 3,300 pounds which enable us to hold 6,600; 9,900; 13,200 and 15,500 pounds per location, depending on the commodity” says Nummela. Hubtex sideloaders allow warehouses to store material in cubic feet, which increases space utilization over square feet. 

The North American distributor for Hubtex Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. AG, Design Storage supplied and relocated Ta Chen’s six MSU 55 series Hubtex four-directional sideloaders. The highest capacity sideloader Ta Chen has is able to handle loads up to 12,000 pounds with lifts up to 288 inches. Each vehicle is powered by AC electric motor technology to keep maintenance costs low compared with other material handling equipment. 

Nummela says the Hubtex has been a positive investment. “They really don’t break down. The AC technology is much better, there isn’t any maintenance compared to the DC technology system. They run on a 72-volt battery and are much more economical to run than propane fueled lifts. My forklifts will burn about two propane tanks per shift which costs roughly $17.50. I can charge a Hubtex for $5 and the battery will last through at least one shift,” says Nummela. He also cites Design Storage’s equipment and service as a cost savings for the whole company’s workflow. 

“We are uniquely positioned to [help service center operators] look at material flow comprehensively. Our goal is to strike a balance between storage density and selectivity. A well designed storage system will address their order fulfillment needs at the same time,” says Sartore. “Increased storage density alone won’t necessarily translate into a more efficient operation. Ultimately, improved selectivity and material flow synchronize to reduce the time it takes to safely fulfill an order.”

Today, Ta Chen has installed Design Storage’s racking and Hubtex sideloaders at five more facilities including its newest warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina. With nearly 7,500 tons of material shipping out of the Pleasant Prairie facility every month, Nummela expects the company to continue growing into its accommodations. “While there is room to expand even more, we’re just making sure everything is running efficiently,” he says. MM

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