Material Handling
Thursday | 23 April, 2009 | 8:13 am

Handling the details

Written by By John Loos

April 2009 - Packing a suitcase is an art form. Dress shirts have to be laid a certain way to avoid excessive wrinkling, ties have to be handled with care and toiletries have to be separated from everything else to avoid spilling out and ruining clothes. Of course, one can just stuff everything in, but that only creates messier problems once it’s time to unpack.

For service centers, mills and manufacturers, storing metal inventories isn’t much different. Getting the most metal into a limited space without cluttering or putting the material or employees at risk for damage is a challenging endeavor. The solution for many is to invest in sideloaders, which can traverse skinnier aisles.

That is a good start, but Design Storage & Handling Inc., Fredericksburg, Va., the exclusive North American distributor of sideloaders manufactured by Hubtex Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG, Fulda, Germany, has gone beyond such transactions and become a consultative resource for companies looking to revamp and re-envision their material storage situation.

Since partnering with Hubtex in 1990, Design Storage has served the aerospace, automotive, building materials, glass, metals, paper, plastics and lumber industries with its array of Hubtex industrial lift trucks and high-density storage solutions. For the metals industry, along with 40 models of Hubtex sideloaders, Design Storage offers turnkey solutions for handling steel and aluminum extrusions, bar, sheet, pipe and plate.

"Material handling is often an overlooked area for productivity improvements, cost reductions and enhancements on the bottom line," says Paul Sartore, regional sales manager for Design Storage. "That’s because material handling isn’t seen as a profit center; it’s seen as a cost. In reality, material handling plays a much larger role in a [metals industry] business, whether the company realizes it or not."

Reshaping storage
Because material handling is often begrudgingly looked at as a necessity, companies don’t recognize how their inefficient methods might be impacting productivity. If inventory is floor-stacked, the time spent digging through piles of metal for needed materials, not to mention the increased chance of damaging the material or injuring an employee incurred by these extraneous movements, amounts to wasted costs in the long run. With a Design Storage rack system, a company has 100 percent material selectivity, meaning each item can be selected without having to displace others.

During the construction of a new facility or implementation of a significant new process, material handling is often an afterthought, Sartore says, which can severely limit system design possibilities. Be it low ceiling height, inadequate concrete floor strength, building columns smack dab in the middle of aisles or doorways that can’t be maneuvered, by not considering its material handling situation early on, a company may end up with an inefficient and potentially problematic setup, hampering throughput and bleeding costs.

"Too many people think they’re going to construct or lease a new building and sort out the material handling details later," says Sartore. "What they end up with is a less-than-optimal system that doesn’t flow well within the parameters of their building. Poor material flow is a major cause for lost productivity."

Doug Nass, regional sales manager for Design Storage, agrees. "The time to address material handling is in the building design because you can tell a customer what will work best with whatever piece of equipment you’re specifying for their storage system."

Because of these mindsets, Design Storage takes a magnifying glass to a customer’s material handling situation to determine how to best use space, organize inventory and direct material flow.

"We go in and take a closer look at such things as their inventory levels, the number of SKUs (stock-keeping units), their throughput requirements, the number of orders they need to process per shift and how many line-item picks per order," says Sartore. "We analyze the distribution center operations side of the business, all the way down to verifying physical load dimensions on an inventory sheet. It’s a fairly straightforward process, but there are a lot of details that need to be attended to."

Saving metal
As for the Hubtex sideloaders, the 40 models Design Storage offers range in capacity from 1 ton to 40 tons, are four-directional and have steer-angle speed control, keeping the speed of the machine safe relative to the steer angle of the wheels. In other words, during abrupt turns, the sideloader automatically slows itself down to keep the load stabilized.

Hubtex sideloaders also come equipped with an onboard, color-screen computer called the Hubtex Information Terminal, which provides a host of functions, including operator pass code protection, self-diagnostic capabilities, hours of use and maintenance cycle notifications.

For Fred Numella, regional manager of Ta Chen International Inc., Chicago, a manufacturer and distributor of stainless steel, Design Storage’s thorough, consultative approach to revamping its storage systems at its Gurnee, Ill., Cleveland and Houston facilities has been enhanced by the technology of its Hubtex sideloaders.

"We really like the Hubtex lifts, and they’re probably the best of what’s on the market right now," says Numella. "Hubtex uses newer technology, they’re built better and run more efficiently, which leads to little or no downtime. They’re also AC-driven instead of DC-driven, so in switching to [AC technology], we now avoid all costs associated with DC products. Design Storage has been an excellent resource for not only supplying and servicing the lifts but also for planning the maximization of our storage space and providing and installing the most efficient racking solution."

In fact, according to Sartore, Design Storage hasn’t had a single motor failure on one of its sideloaders in the six years since it implemented the AC electric motor technology.

The dependability and enhanced safety features of the Hubtex sideloaders, as well as the overall storage solutions it received from Design Storage, have helped protect the inventory of Southern Aluminum Finishing Co. Inc., Atlanta, an aluminum sheet and extrusion distributor. The company used to depend on an outmoded overhead crane at its Atlanta location and standard forklifts at its Villa Rica, Ga., facility, both of which put its material at risk for damage and caused unintended inventory shrinkage.

"The amount of damage after installation [of the narrow-aisle storage system] decreased significantly," says Penn McClatchey, vice president of marketing for Southern Aluminum Finishing. "It just seemed like everything was easier. It paid a lot of dividends, and there were a lot of good, unintended consequences. It enabled us to do our next-day-out extrusion program, where we take an order during the day, pull it and anodize it on second shift, and pack and ship it the next day. That would’ve been impossible with the old storage system we were using."

Prior to its collaboration with Design Storage at its Villa Rica location, along with troublesome forklifts, Southern Aluminum Finishing had an inefficient tree rack and conventional forklift system that was affecting productivity and increasing costs.

"The issue here was space," says McClatchey. "We had 25-foot-high ceilings but the tree racks were only 10 feet high. We just needed to store more material. We had grown the material to the point where we had tree racks everywhere. There were some issues with damage. The main issue was space and its cost per square foot. Since we didn’t have any more room to grow, we went up, and it felt kind of similar to the first installation in that everything just became better."

And improving the entirety of a material handling process is Design Storage’s ultimate aim.

"We’re trying to take a long-term and solutions-oriented approach with our customers and provide them with the most valuable service we can," says Sartore. "We’re interested in helping people implement the most cost-effective material handling solution for their specific application rather than trying to shoehorn them into something more generic."

On its own, a high-tech sideloader can only enhance the material handling situation of a company so much. But in conjunction with an organized and space-efficient storage system tailored to a company’s needs, it can help reinvent and revitalize a company’s overall productivity.

"We’re trying to make a business better, more efficient and more productive," says Nass. "We’re doing more than just selling a piece of equipment." MM


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