How Carousels and Conveyors Impact Warehousing Operations
Everything You Need To Know About Carousels and Conveyor Systems
The ability to effectively move inventory from point-to-point is extremely important to maintaining the flow of work in warehouses and distribution centers. With a variety of automated machinery available to help move inventory, warehouse managers must make informed choices on which systems to utilize. The correct choice for their specific warehousing needs can help streamline their operations. The most common of these choices are conveyor and carousel systems. They are crucial to warehousing logistics because they help to move and sort products or complete pallets, enhancing the efficiency and productivity of warehousing and distribution operations.
Two of the most popular pick strategies of warehouses and distribution centers are conveyor-based picking and carousel picking. These are not to be misconstrued with picking methodologies such as batch picking or zone picking.
Down The Conveyor Line
Warehouse conveyor systems are mechanical devices that move inventory from one point to the next. They improve warehouse operations by coordinating the movement of products and minimizing human error. In today’s storage facilities and distribution centers, conveyors are common sights. They are especially important in warehouses with:
- A large workforce
- A high percentage of conveyable SKUs
- A large SKU set
Conveyor systems are zone-based. The most basic conveyor systems consist of a frame that supports a belt, rollers, or wheels to transport materials from one location to another. Conveyors are useful in operational processes that require fast and efficient movement of heavy products or large volumes of materials that would be challenging for humans to move manually.
Conveyor systems have become increasingly vital for speedy, reliable production in a variety of industries such as:
- Food processing
Because conveyors provide inherent flexibility, consume less energy and require less maintenance, they offer advantages to warehousing operations. They can do the heavy lifting, lessening the need for forklifts to move orders, even those composed of large pallets. In addition, orders sent to multiple picking zones no longer need a human to physically transport them. This minimizes foot traffic in warehouse space and helps to improve the safety and health of employees. The flexibility of conveyor systems also enables them to be used in distinct functions of warehousing, such as small orders or batch-based picking. By reconfiguring storage locations surrounding a conveyor, they can consolidate fast and slow-moving items to improve pick routes.
Why Use Conveyors?
Warehouses and distribution centers use conveyors in their facilities to:
- Move products from point A to B
- Carry products too heavy for warehouse associates to lift
- Move products while operators are working on them, such as automobile assembly
- Avoid injury to workers from repetitive movement or to prevent damage to products caused by movement
- Deliver or receive products to robots for processing
- Store inventory between processes or at the final process step
- Sequence or re-sequence products between operational processes
Automated Conveyor Systems
Conveyor systems configured to warehouse management systems can automatically move and unload material. This increases the safety and health of employees by reducing the need for manual lifting and carrying. In manufacturing, conveyors enable warehouse associates to stand in one place to complete their tasks, while the product moves from one station to the next. Not only does this decrease time and labor, but it also removes the possibility for damage to products that can occur with manual or forklift transportation.
Around The Carousel
A carousel is a goods-to-person device used to move inventory directly to warehouse associates so it can be picked, packed, and shipped out to consumers. As a goods-to-person device, carousels can increase warehouse:
- Storage density
Carousels are composed of a series of rotating shelving units that bring products closer to their picking zones. There are two types of carousel systems, horizontal and vertical. They can be operated manually or integrated with warehouse management systems to fully control inventory levels. Many warehouses utilize automated carousel systems, which can rapidly increase inventory control and accuracy. Carousels are beneficial due to their speed and efficiency in storing and retrieving items, which allows them to:
- Increase order picking throughput
- Improve inventory control
- Reduce warehouse space usage
Carousels have a fast-picking rate at up to of 400 lines per hour. This makes them advantageous to companies that prioritize storing and processing goods as quickly and reliably as possible. Their flexibility allows for more efficient picking processes by reducing labor and storage costs. Carousel picking minimizes the use of warehouse space by eliminating travel aisles which reduces inefficient picking routes. They also take advantage of a warehouses available height because they can be stacked on top of each other to form two and three-level systems.
Horizontal Carousel Systems
Horizontal carousel systems are considered the original carousel system. These machines have been in use since the mid-1940’s and are used to move bins and containers in warehouses. Today’s horizontal carousels are automated warehouse solutions integrated with software to make managing inventory seamless. They work by moving containers with several shelves along a track throughout the warehouse. Horizontal carousels are positioned in groups of two or more to form carousel pods. While warehouse workers are picking from one carousel container, the other carousels are pre-positioning the next pick. This reduces the time that workers must wait between picks, improving warehouse productivity.
Companies that utilize batch picking often have automated horizontal carousels in operation. By configuring the carousel with an warehouse management system, batches of items that need to be picked can be filled at once. When the system presents an SKU to a worker, the worker chooses the total SKU quantity for all the orders. The worker can then pick all the necessary orders at one specific location or send them further down the carousel for other processes such as consolidation. Batch picking makes warehouse operations more efficient by limiting the amount of picking locations workers must visit.
The advent of 5G and the Internet of Things has enabled advances in automated horizontal carousel systems. Combined with technologies like pick-to-light, the carousel systems improve picking efficiency. Pick-to-light (PTL) is an order picking technology used in warehouses and distribution centers. This tech utilizes lights and LEDs on shelves that point to pick locations to guide workers as to which items to pick for orders.
Vertical Carousels Systems
In use since the 1950’s, vertical carousels are high-density storage and warehouse solutions. Like a Ferris wheel, containers are fixed to them and are guided up and down vertically along a stretched oval path where goods can be stored or picked. Due to their configuration, vertical carousels can double the storage capacity of traditional static racking units. In addition, when connected to an warehouse management system it facilitates movement of the proper containers to order pickers. By moving goods directly to order pickers, rather than having pickers travel to goods, vertical carousel systems:
- Increase pick rates
- Improve accuracy
- Reduce picking errors
Vertical carousel systems also help to improve warehouse occupational safety and health by reducing the wear and tear on workers who perform repetitive tasks like:
- Bending and lifting items that could cause injury
- Climbing ladders for product picking
- The process of moving boxes to access specific products
Vertical carousels are versatile machines that require minimal setup. They can store a variety of products that range from lightweight to heavy in nature. They can also easily integrate into warehouse management systems to automate a facility’s workflow, reducing labor costs. When workers enter product SKUs and item quantities into the carousel system, the WMS automatically tracks the location of the items. Once a worker is ready to pick the item, they can request the carousel to transport it. The vertical carousel then rotates into the correct position so the order picker can collect the product
Benefits of Using Warehouse Carousel Storage Systems
Carousel storage systems can automate a warehouse’s workflow and reduce its overall costs. Although vertical and horizontal carousel systems are different, they both provide similar benefits. Warehouse facilities such as e-commerce fulfillment centers utilize both types of systems. Benefits of carousel storage systems include:
- Improved flexibility and efficiency in the picking and fulfillment process
- High ROI
- Reduced labor – save up to two-thirds of required labor hours
In warehousing and storage facilities, the way that space is used can play a role in a business’s success or failure. Carousels and conveyors have been vital to warehouse logistics because they help companies get the most out of their warehouse space. For numerous reasons, they are useful warehousing solutions for warehouse logistics and supply chain processes.
Both carousels and conveyors can be configured specifically to warehouse needs, transforming unused areas of the building’s footprint into useful warehouse space. These systems also have high organizational optimization, so they can store a variety of items. This enables them to efficiently manage inventory levels with a high number of SKUs, which is vital to e-commerce warehousing. Carousels and conveyors reduce the need for human workers. This minimizes physical labor from walking and lifting products and increases the overall safety and health inside of the warehouse.
Type of Conveyor Systems
Types of Horizontal Carousels
- Standard horizontal carousel – Usually grouped together in pods or workstations. The number of required carousels depends on factors such as the desired throughput.
- Robotic horizontal carousel – An automated system that utilizes a fully robotic picking arm. Eliminates the need for human workers.
- Put horizontal carousel – Typically used for returns or consolidation within warehousing facilities.
Vertical carousels are useful in warehouse processes including:
- Order fulfillment
- Order consolidation
- Inventory storage
- Batch picking
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