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Material Handling
Wednesday | 13 February, 2019 | 11:48 am

Fehr Warehouse Solutions creates storage solutions that improve logistics and increase efficiency

Written by By Lauren Duensing

Above: Honeycomb warehousing systems can accommodate large quantities by making the best use of the available space.

February 2019 - Distributors that process a large quantity of small orders need adequate storage that works hand-in-hand with their order tracking capabilities.

David Veldung, president of Fehr Warehouse Solutions, Charlotte, North Carolina, says service centers should consider implementing an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) when their “typical customer order is for less quantity but increased variety—fewer full bars but more cut-to-length pieces that require more value-added processing and first-step manufacturing.”

The right material storage will be able to “integrate those first-step manufacturing processes, especially saws, flat and tube lasers,” he says.

Data analysis can help companies understand their warehouse requirements and indicate if an AS/RS will improve their bottom line. Veldung says the analysis should outline and compare floor space requirements (conventional storage versus AS/RS), labor requirements and capital investments.

“Do they have the necessary manpower, and how much time does a warehouse worker spend moving around the warehouse trying to locate the right material—in some cases digging it out from the bottom of the pile.”

Adequate manpower is a common issue for service centers, who “are having a more and more difficult time finding operators to work in their warehouses,” he says, “making automation a more viable option than before.”

In addition, there are the obvious cost considerations with increasing the storage density, alongside “decreasing the footprint, minimizing damage and search time for material and decreasing the accident rates.”

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To handle both bar and sheet, the storage is outfitted with cassettes of different widths and heights—from 1,000 to more than 6,000 spaces.

Space saver

In the 1970s, Fehr developed the basis for honeycomb systems—high-rise automated storage and retrieval. “The main feature of a honeycomb system is that an operator is no longer required to go out in the warehouse and hunt for the proper material,” says Veldung. The system “weighs every material movement,” he adds, which allows it to “keep a perpetual inventory, virtually eliminating the need for a physical count.”

Honeycomb systems make the best use of available space for bar and sheet metal. Fehr systems can accommodate cassette spaces ranging from 1,000 to over 6,000 and can achieve up to 60 cassette changes per hour.

One customer, a U.S. service center, has a system with over 2,000 storage locations in one of its facilities, Veldung says, with a stacker crane over 45 feet tall—“and this is the heaviest system in North America.”

Honeycomb systems are suited for use in high-bay warehouses where fast access speeds are necessary. They work on the principle of exchangeable cassettes, and, according to literature from Fehr, “what makes the concept stand out is its absolute consistency and easy handling.” The system can be customized to maximize the available space using cassettes of different sizes.

Because distributors are processing more of those small orders, “it is imperative for the ERP software to communicate with the warehouse management software of the AS/RS,” Veldung says.

Without an AS/RS, if a customer orders four pieces of A and five pieces of B and two pieces of C, the service center’s ERP system will print a ticket, which then gets handed to an operator who heads off to find the material. Material should be selected from remnants first—if possible—but operators don’t always do so. Once picked, the material needs to be relocated to the saw, the pieces are brought to the shipping point, the three or four new remnants are returned to their respective locations, and the finished order is scanned.

“All of that is eliminated by having the ERP system download the saw orders to the warehouse management system of the AS/RS,” Veldung says.

The system compiles electronically sent orders, taking into account the capacity of the cutting equipment, customers, transport paths and deadlines. And it is easy to train workers on the equipment because they “have been using computers and MS Windows since they were kids,” Veldung says. “The user interface of the Fehr honeycomb systems with warehouse management software is so intuitive that it takes about one to two weeks of training for an operator to use the system efficiently.”

This ongoing interaction of hardware with software ensures maximum material utilization and saves money. “The warehouse management system knows if material is available, knows where remnants are that would fit the job, the AS/RS feeds the necessary bars to the saws, and after the cuts are made, the remnants are put back into storage.” MM

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