Vertical Lift Modules Rise Above Order Pickers for Speed, Safety and ROI
In a traditional warehouse with high ceilings and tall shelving units, there are two kinds of order pickers scurrying about. There are human order pickers who pull items from boxes, shelves, and baskets for shipping. And there are mechanical order pickers, the fusion of a forklift and lift truck, steered into a warehouse to pull inventory off high shelves to place onto an onboard pallet.
Those responsible for materials management have long known the chief value of aiding a human order picker with the mechanical order picker: maximizing storage. The forklift order picker means shelving can be stacked to heights far above what an unassisted human could reach. But an alternative allows warehouse managers not only to take advantage of high ceilings, but increase productivity and reduce safety risks at the same time.
Why order picking is slow and potentially dangerous
The limits of the order picker forklift come into focus as warehouses strive to boost productivity while maintaining or improving quality control. There’s no way around the fact that the picking process is slow.
The forklift has to be driven from one aisle to another, elevated to allow the driver to retrieve the item, set in a storage area, lowered again, and driven to the next item. Sometimes operators are further slowed because they’re required to do split-case picking (also called each picking or piece picking) when they reach the right shelf. That is, they’re picking items from bins or opened cartons. As they move from shelf to shelf, they have to keep their speeds down to avoid hitting people walking down the aisles or other forklifts.
At best, this results in a throughput of some 30-50 items per hour. Because the process relies on humans retrieving the right item, there’s a likelihood of mispicks and the costs associated with shipping the wrong item.
The people operating order pickers also face potential safety risks. The expectation is that the operator will work from within a fully contained order picker. But sometimes these operators venture off to the shelving itself, risking a fall. Additionally, it can be hard ergonomically for operators to spend their days retrieving boxes that weigh as much as 60 pounds. When the volume of work increases, the people picking orders risk back strains and other injuries.
Finally, not every warehouse worker is trained to run an order picker nor is willing to do so. (Fear of heights is common, and sometimes items to be retrieved are 30 feet above the floor.) This can make it difficult for the warehouse manager to properly staff operations when regular forklift operators are unavailable. Staffing is also constrained because workers picking by hand at floor level can’t easily share aisles with the order-picking forklifts due to safety risks.
A waste of space
Increased SKUs also put pressure for better use of storage space, which is a limitation of conventional shelving. There’s an inherent waste of space on and between the shelves.
Even though order pickers can squeeze through aisles as little as 66” wide with special guidance mechanisms, when multiplied by multiple aisles that represents a lot of wasted horizontal and vertical storage space.
An alternative to order pickers: a vertical lift module
There’s a much simpler, safer way that can boost lines per hour to dramatically higher levels – up to 300 lines per hour. This is what’s feasible with a vertical lift module (VLM). A vertical lift module is essentially a vending machine in which parts are stored securely and efficiently until a warehouse worker retrieves them. All the retrieving is done internally. There’s no walking between aisles and pulling items from shelves. That’s why it can happen so quickly.
And while an order picker forklift can reach impressive heights (up to 32 feet above the floor), a VLM can store items even higher – as much as 46 feet. Consequently, a warehouse that has high ceilings can match or exceed the storage heights reached by the mechanical order picker.
VLMs are particularly adept at zooming in on individual parts as needed, and they can hold a great number of them – both by quantity and weight – on their internal shelves. This gives tremendous storage flexibility. They also take up much less space than a traditional shelving system, reducing the storage footprint by up to 90%.
The increase in productivity and the savings in valuable warehouse floor space means VLMs often break even on their investment in months, freeing up capital and expanding profits for the companies employing them. The order picker can take advantage of high ceilings, but the traditional shelving systems don’t offer as much flexibility if there’s a need to change locations or types of products stored. VLMs can be readily moved or reconfigured by adding or removing modules. A VLM can be adapted quickly to a new location with different height requirements.
Add VLMs where speed and accuracy are essential
There are some situations in which items are best loosely stored in large boxes, such as a carton of shirts to be shipped to a store. Other items are best handled individually, such as accessories that are ordered online and shipped to individual customers.
In such cases, it makes sense to have a hybrid storage solution – the mechanical order pickers for the large, bulky items and the VLMs for the smaller ones retrieved individually. You could segment your warehouse into different areas — one section in which smaller, individual items are handled by VLMs, another section in which the order picker forklifts retrieve the large cartons from dedicated storage racks.
Modula’s Made in the USA VLMs
Modula is the only company manufacturing VLMs in the United States. This provides significant advantages for warehouse managers, starting with how quickly they can be made and delivered. Other manufacturers have to ship their VLMs from overseas, which typically adds weeks to the delivery time. Modula’s VLMs can be ordered and set up by Modula specialists much more rapidly. And when it comes to training and service, Modula has a team of experts throughout North America, ready to help at a moment’s notice.
Whatever your needs, there’s a Modula model that fits your requirements. Our most popular model is the Modula Lift, the workhorse of warehouses and factories throughout the world. The Modula OnePick adds automation to the Lift, eliminating the need for a human operator.