This is the first in a series of blogs discussing factors to consider when designing modern lift trucks.
Space is at a premium in the modern warehouse. Cost of land is the major driver, but escalating demand caused by trends in e-commerce shopping and fulfillment also contribute to the space restrictions. There is a wide array of strategies being used to make every square meter more valuable. Construction and technology solutions can be deployed to reduce your total cost of adding and operating your warehouse space.
As populations increase, land values continue to escalate. The shift from retail to online shopping continues to place greater demands on warehouse operations. Fierce competition for warehouse space has driven up costs in global industrial markets. There is increasing pressure on warehouse operators to maximize the capacity, throughput and revenue generation of their space.
New warehouses are being built with higher and higher ceilings to maximize the cubic capacity of a building built on a specific piece of land. During the last thirty years, the industrial real estate market has seen buildings grow from clear ceiling heights of 6 meters to 10 meters, 13 meters, or more. Construction costs are higher to support the greater weights, and sprinkler requirements will also change with more height, but the incremental construction costs are quickly recouped by the increased storage capacity. New warehousing practices and technologies are needed to support these higher ceilings.
Of course, the aisles between racking is generally unusable space, and the increasing value of each square meter drives a trend to minimize the number and width of aisles to maximize storage space.
Installing double depth or even deep-lane racking systems can reduce the number of aisles. Double-depth racking systems can be installed inexpensively, and pallet positions can be accessed with extended reach lift trucks. These machines allow for double-depth loads to be placed in racking, increasing capacity by about 30%.
Deep-lane racking systems can be implemented where high volume storage of a narrower range of products is required. These automated systems can be configured for a wide range of pallet depths. These systems can be expensive to install but can bring tremendous value. Configure them for LIFO or FIFO inventory management.
Another way to increase racking density is to reduce aisle widths as much as possible. Standard aisles measure 3.2 meters or more, while narrow aisles can be anywhere between 2.6 and 3.2 meters. Using narrow aisles exclusively can increase storage capacity by more than 10%. Very narrow aisles can be as narrow as 1.5 to 2.2 meters, which can add a further 10% or more to your storage capacity.
Each aisle choice brings equipment decisions. Counter-balance lift trucks typically do not fit in these types of spaces. Narrow aisle reach trucks have been widely deployed for many years. Reach trucks have two outer legs that help distribute the load, and in addition to the weight and ballast of the drive unit and operator, prevent loads from tipping forward. A single set of wheels under the operator helps create a tight turning radius.
Very Narrow Aisles (VNA) can be accessed using stock pickers or turret trucks. These vehicles do not turn while in the aisle – so require significantly less width. Stock pickers do not allow the operator to place a pallet on racking, so do not need a turning radius to be able to operate. They will lift a worker and pallet up to the appropriate rack height and allow the operator (fully secured of course) to either load or unload items at the desired location.
Turret trucks can help deliver maximum storage capacity, with high reach and weight capability, plus the ability to rotate loads from side to side and extend to place pallets on racking on either side. They are fun to operate and watch, but can be large, heavy and expensive. These can be combined with gravity-fed double depth racking or deep-lane racking systems for even greater overall storage density.
Lift Truck Designs
All types of lift trucks with higher weight capacities and higher reach capabilities will require more ballast to remain safely balanced, so it is important to understand all your operating requirements before selecting a lift truck, and before finalizing your racking system design. The design of your optimal warehouse space requires consideration of current and future requirements. Your final design should be developed in consultation with your racking and lift truck suppliers.
OEMs of lift trucks must continue to design equipment that will safely allow operation in tighter and tighter spaces. There are many trade-offs to consider in lift truck design, including size, weight, height, lifting capability, reach, turning radius and operating duty cycle. Energy storage systems are moving towards lithium for increased energy density, and the possibility of reducing vehicle size to allow for narrow aisle reach trucks to operate in ever-narrower aisles. Continued advancements in technology will bring down the Total Cost of Ownership of more advanced lift truck solutions. Lithium batteries combined with on-board chargers can help make narrow-aisle reach trucks, stock pickers and turret trucks more productive.