Material Handling
Tuesday | 10 November, 2020 | 10:10 am

Capacity checklist

Written by By Corinna Petry

Solutions provider measures each dimension to find the right fit for every purpose

November 2020 - For every narrative, there is a beginning, middle and an end. That is how CH Steel Solutions, North Canton, Ohio, approaches a customer’s story: There’s a space, there are large, heavy objects moving around in the space and there are people working to make those objects useful.

“At a 30,000-foot level, we have a site survey procedure we use. We fill in the blanks, based on what our customer provides from the start,” says Ken Ertel. Ertel is president of a company that provides turnkey solutions for storage, racking and material handling needs at industrial distributors, many of them metal warehouses.

“Some customers give almost too much detail, and other customers have no idea where to begin,” he says. “The larger companies usually have someone on staff who has done this before. But there is always something they need that they might not have discovered.”

The site survey and checklist are the tools CH Steel Solutions uses first. “In general, we need to know the warehouse dimensions, the ceiling height, the concrete—whether it’s seismic and adequate for the loads, where the columns, lighting and sprinklers are located.” That’s something often neglected, he says. Warehouse owners may not think about ceiling clearance for the racks and for the forklifts. “We need to know if crane rails are in the way, how high the ceiling is, whether there are heating elements up there.”

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Know the obstructions

CH Steel Solutions’ engineers must possess a basic idea of where the customer wants to place its storage system, its production cells, its laydown area, the locatio of drive-through lanes for trucks. “You then lay the racking out around those elements and any and all obstructions. We take pictures of all the space and the machinery.” During the pandemic, Ertel says, “some customers don’t want visitors in the building so we use Zoom and FaceTime to perform walk-throughs.”

Next, the company has to determine what the customer inventories—sheet, 12-foot-long bars, both? How do they want to store it? For instance, a bar company has long racking arms and a sideloader, but sheet will be stored differently and possibly be moved by forklift.

“Our engineers determine the seismic situation, then design rack space based on loads and heights and how to lay them out based on the interior space. We take into account doors, drive-throughs, building columns,” Ertel explains. “We use software that will perform a basic layout, and then we will tweak it to avoid a heater or to shorten a row, for example, so there is a human touch.”

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Once all the measurements are laid out, CH Steel Solutions outsources the building of the columns and racking arms and specifies and orders the types of forklifts and sideloaders that will be needed if the customer doesn’t already have that equipment. “The racks are made in components, whether structural or roll formed. We supply brace panels, upright columns, arms and all the hardware—nuts and bolts, etc.”

The company has long-term partnerships with contract installers that go all over the country. One of them specializes in seismic standards and is focused on West Coast customers.

“We use ZIP codes to obtain the building codes. We had a case several years ago at a service center that had two adjacent warehouses but in two different ZIP codes, so the seismic requirement was different for each. You must get that right to get the permitting,” Ertel says.

Some of the subcontractors “have been working with us since 1979 and are in the second generation.” The installers erect the columns, anchor and bolt them, and torque the bolts so the racks won’t move. They also install guide rails and other features.

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Racking system configurations and the choice of forklift or sideloader are designed to fit the space, the products and the weight of loads.

Lead times

According to Ertel, “We had a customer that had 700,000 square feet. It required 40 semi-trailers with racking. It was a huge project. We have done other very large jobs and very small ones. Usually, our guys can install a storage system in a week or two. Even large jobs won’t take more than a month. We will adapt the crew to the job so that we don’t halt production. We will allocate more bodies; some jobs use a crew of three, some crews will use 10 people.”

The key to achieving the optimum solution, Ertel says, is to have a great deal of information. “More is better than not enough. That makes it easier for us to fulfill what customers want.”

He hopes “we can soon go in person for the site surveys.” Due to COVID-19, people are buying racks through phone calls and email. “We still have business but it is often difficult to be on site, even for the installers. In some cases, the racking got there and the crew worked nights and weekends to avoid interacting with the customer’s production workers.”

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Flexible storage

Ertel has noticed an emerging trend. “The big thing right now is inventory is fluid and moving. So it’s important for companies to have a flexible storage solution. People are now ordering racks of different arm lengths, which can handle different size loads. So they will place different loads in the same storage pocket.

“This takes greater consideration and maybe a bit more money, but customers are willing to pay for it because they don’t know what their future inventory is going to be.” As a result, “our racking is becoming more universal so it can handle different sized loads safely.”

If the racking is rated to the highest common denominator, that is, the smallest but heaviest load, it can still typically take a longer, lighter load, which means users can mix and match inventory.

“It means possibly laying out columns closer together and making sure capacities are sufficient. Then anything lightweight is fine and you don’t need to have numerous configurations of racks,” Ertel says. Needs are changing, and sometimes quickly, so “we can respond and give customers what’s safest for most or all their loads. Our engineers are very good at helping customers define that.”

Another trend moving forward at high speed is automation. “Automation is coming for the sideloaders, the forklifts and the order pickers,” says Ertel. “There is a lot more coming that is going to make us competitive with international automated retrieval system builders. That’s where we are going. We have prototypes already working. By 2021, we will be able to show them off.”

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Go team

Although CH Steel Solutions’ racking builders use eight to 10 standard color schemes on the equipment, some customers ask for custom paint colors. “The custom colors have to be preordered and can get more expensive. We recommend—and a lot of customers use—dark columns and light arms, because that makes it easier for the operator to see the arms. But there are plenty of options. We are based in Ohio and had a customer who is an Ohio State fan so he wanted scarlet and gray.” A service center based in Michigan requested blue and yellow to reflect the owners’ love for University of Michigan football. MM


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