Navigating through supply chain chaos

AS THE world's financial markets continue to provide sleepless nights for businesses, with every sign of growth seeming to be undermined by news of a softening jobs market and weaker demand, many logistics operators and warehouse managers are scratching their heads about how to best manage their operations for the future. 

Throughout the economic downturn, logistics companies looked to streamline their distribution centre operations and cut back on investing in equipment and infrastructure. 

However, now many are realising that to actually improve their processes and efficiencies to encourage business growth, they need to rebalance operations metrics from one traditionally focused on tight inventory and cost controls, back towards customer satisfaction. 

Rebalancing the warehouse

The trend towards a "rebalancing" of key operations metrics is expected to become more prevalent across many industrial, manufacturing and retail supply chains. As many businesses realise it is no longer enough to just operate in survival mode, and commit to more consistent and accurate demand forecasting, they will be more confident to pursue higher levels of customer service. 

But having the inventory and labour available to capture more revenue and market share in spite of the wider economic uncertainty will take more than confidence in demand planning. Being poised to grab their competitive share as the economy improves; many companies will have to re-double their focus on creating the truly agile distribution centre.  

Keeping afloat 

When the global economy began to slow down, almost all companies – large and small – were thrown into some form of planning chaos. The primary impact was adjusting to the radical drop in general demand. 

The loss of visibility through the supply chain impacted most all of the participants. And while the downturn affected some more than others, a majority of companies lost the forecasting capabilities they were accustomed to. Nothing looked similar to past practices. Consequently inventory positions were reduced as fast as possible and orders dried up. The ripple effect hit every aspect of operations including knowing when products would be ordered to ship and having the right mix of labour to fill orders and maintain an effective operation.  

Unfortunately, the companies that fared the worst were those that had not taken advantage of past success by making continued investments in solutions to make them more agile, flexible and capable on the floor of the distribution centre. They simply didn't have systems in place to help them adjust to the impact of the downturn or manage their way out of the situation. Stuck with poor planning tools, less than flexible mobile computing equipment and a workforce that was not fully cross-trained in multiple disciplines; these companies had a lot working against them.  

Those companies that fared the best had previously invested in the kinds of business process improvements and technology solutions necessary to negotiate the perils of the recession. From improved WMS planning and labour management tools, to having flexible tools on the floor with multi-modal equipment that can do everything from voice picking, to near/far range scanning in put-away and inventory applications, to signature capture at the receiving doc, many companies were able to react quickly, manage their labour costs, and retain their best associates.

Especially in areas where labour became the critical cost and capability for creating efficiency and performance, those companies that had seen the future and made the investments found themselves on top of the competition and ready to thrive. And, while they may not have had the optimal inventory availability as before, they were still able to tell their customers what they could expect and when, with timeliness and accuracy, therefore positively managing their customer service in a proactive way. These are the companies that will have the tools and leadership in place to take full advantage of the upturn in the economy and win more revenues and market share.  

The new normal

It is fair to say the jury is still out as to whether the entire manufacturing and retail supply chain will see a return to the pre-recession days, or whether conditions are set to soften again, or whether we will crawl back toward something that may be called the 'new normal'. But for those who made investments that saw them through the difficult days, there are a few things these leaders can do to take advantage of their current position and protect against future downturns. 

Firstly, always be looking out for new solutions to old or nagging issues, large or small. The term 'death by a thousand cuts' can define many small problems, each one bleeding an operation of precious resource. By themselves they don't reach the level of severity that would cause the problem to jump off the metrics report and demand a solution. But taken together, particularly if they are linked and impacting a major financial KPI, they must be addressed.  

Secondly, remember the people on the floor are a very expensive part of virtually every operation and at the same time are a key to unlocking optimal efficiency and productivity. Look to upgrade aging equipment to the latest form factors and system interfaces, especially for companies that are pushing the historical upper limit of their KPI's.

Even a small improvement in user ergonomics, in the motion tolerance of an imager for fast paced scanning operations, or an improvement in accuracy and safety from a voice to WMS interface can create an advantage. For most best-in-class operations, there is typically no silver bullet. Maybe it's planning ahead for new application upgrades, or examining existing data for streamlining best practices. Maybe it's calculating the ROI of replacing current equipment with a new purchasing or services model. 

Regardless, viewing the distribution centre as a highly interdependent system where all the workflows must serve the other, even with the slightest improvement in one process, can have a strong ripple effect. And the added satisfaction for the associates on the floor, from management's investment in their personal success, often yields unexpected and real bottom line benefits. 

It is these combined benefits that will deliver the competitive edge required to regain the optimal operational balance and tilt the table back toward superior customer satisfaction metrics to keep and win new business. But the most important thing for warehouse operators to do today is not to imagine what things will be like at some point in the future, but to ask and decide "what can we do now?" and get on with it.  

Cameron Wilson is the southern regional manager of Australia for Intermec.

Service-intensive supply chains: it’s all about the experience

CUSTOMER satisfaction plays a huge role in the success of service-intensive supply chains, particularly those that have a high level of involvement with their field service fleets. 

Poor customer experience due to late or missed service appointments, or multiple call-backs before the problem was fixed or the service was delivered, not only creates a high operational price tag for fleet and field operations management, but also impacts on that company's reputation. 

A 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer study by American Express in the US, released earlier this year, found that 55% of respondents, who expressed intention to go through with a business transaction, said that in the end they decided not to go through with it based on poor service experience in the past. The same report showed that 75% of customers spent more time with a brand or product because of a history of positive customer service experiences. 

The correlation between positive experience and returning business has proven to be rewarding for both the customer and the business. Data from a 2012 Aberdeen report, Customer Experience Management, Using the Power of Analytics to Optimise Customer Delight, also reinforces this trend. The report findings showed that higher customer satisfaction boosted retention and loyalty among the customers, bringing increased profitability for the servicing organisations. In fact, the research demonstrated that field service businesses providing best-in-class customer service are the most profitable. 

Be flexible, but realistic 

People often have no choice but to take time off work to facilitate appointments from service providers. This means existing and potential customers are sacrificing time, productivity and wages to ensure these appointments take place. Consequently, it makes sense for businesses to offer greater flexibility and reliability when arranging such visits as part of a premium post-sales support and customer service experience. If this is not an option, the reasonable thing to do would be to update your customers accordingly at the earliest convenience, rather than set unrealistic or high expectations that cannot be met. It's just as important to ensure that as a business, you are offering realistic expectations that can be met in a timely manner. Offering hour-long delivery windows is also becoming common practice among businesses, with pre- and after-hour visits and support heralded as a bonus, or even a deal breaker for potential customers when considering a purchase. 

Making the most of your data

Data analytics is a powerful tool for any large-scale organisations. Supply chain managers can best utilise data gathered over time to identify the ill-timed hours of the day and the types of jobs that are often missed to better manage the forecasting and planning involved for fleet staff. Understanding and using this data will help businesses address these issues, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and staff productivity, increased likelihood in meeting the set expectations and less chances cost your fleet time, money and reputation. 

Real-time technology

Many businesses have implemented a sophisticated technology solution that will alert managers if an appointment is expected to begin late or if it needs to be cancelled and rescheduled altogether. By staying up-to-date with the job status and the location of field service workers, the system can anticipate any roadblocks and tackle the issues either by reassigning the job to a more suitable mobile worker or at worst, updating the customer in a timely manner as this has been shown, anecdotally, to help ease any customer aggravation.

However, in the real world there are huge numbers of variables to factor in, therefore real-time monitoring plays a crucial role in ensuring that the necessary interventions can take place for a seamless customer service experience, regardless of whatever the changes in the situation occur.

Implementing the right solution can tackle these issues as it monitors the fleet staff's behaviour and uses the data gathered to help improve dispatch speed, increase communication to mobile devices to update work status and assign tasks to workers without having to call all staff back to the office – all of which help the employee arrive at the customer site and resolve the service issue on time.

With real-time updates, fleet management solutions improve overall customer satisfaction with faster and more accurate responses as well as provide better communication with customers and field service staff about service call timing. 

Running supply chains or field service businesses can be daunting and complex. But by implementing the appropriate technology and processes can certainly help ensure a seamless experience for the end-customer. This approach will improve first-call fix rates, the workforce's productivity and increase the company's profitability – but most importantly it will make sure that your customers won't feel let down.

Tom Scahill is Trimble Navigation ANZ business area director for field service management, transport and logistics.

Smart motors keep cold-chain conveyors moving

With Swire Cold Storage's Cannon Hill operation handling over 30,000 boxes of chilled product every day, it is not surprising that the site's vast conveyor system plays a key role in the company's temperature controlled warehousing and distribution operations.

However, as production levels have continued to rise over the years at the Brisbane site, so has the need to improve reliability of the equipment due to an ageing conveyor system and an ever-increasing volume of product.

Colin Carter, Swire Cold Storage engineering manager for Queensland, explained that the problems mostly occurred on the main carton conveyor line, which carries a variety of chilled boxed products, where it splits into five separate distribution lines.

"Because of the high volume of boxes coming down the main conveyor line, the chain drive pushers just couldn't cope at peak times, with the boxes getting caught up and forcing us to stop the whole conveyor line. Any downtime has a major impact on our customers, something we work hard to keep to a minimum," Carter said.

Swire Cold Storage is Australia's largest cold- chain logistics service provider with a network of 17 facilities nationwide.

"The issue had been with us for quite a long time, but only at peak load times did it become critical. However, it became more of a point of focus as our volumes increased. We had tried a number of things to try to fix the problem, but with no success," Carter explained.

Low cost project
In the end, the company managed to fix the problem for far less money than they initially thought. "In fact it was a very low cost project for such a big improvement to our production efficiency," remarked Carter.
Shahry Zand, applications engineer with SEW-Eurodrive, explained that the problem was with the pushers, "they just couldn't keep pace with the main conveyor line".

"The main conveyor line travels around one metre per second with the gap between boxes set at just one metre at peak load times," Zand said.

"This means the pusher must finish its pushing operation and be ready in its home position for the next push in less than 0.7 seconds.The boxes are mainly 0.5 metre x 0.5 metre with varying heights, so basically they have the same footprint."

The chain drive pushers were driven by an older SEW-Eurodrive Movimot geared motor controlled by a PLC via a MFD DeviceNet module.

"The positioning was being done in the PLC based on a home Proximity switch," Zand said.
"However, due to the DeviceNet/PLC delays, the 0.7s total pushing time wasn't quite achievable and the motor wasn't able to stop at the home Prox all the time.

"As a result the next box was crashing into the pusher and the whole main conveyor had to be stopped to clear and home the pusher."

Swire had tried to modify the PLC program by changing the motor speed, ramp times and delay times, but with no success.

Replace cabling
In a perfect world, the high dynamic nature of the application really called for a servo drive with a high-resolution encoder.

"However that option would work out to be quite expensive, with each pusher costing around $10,000," Zand said.

"Plus as the cabling would need to be replaced by shielded cabling and the inverters installed in a control cabinet, the total cost would have been over $100,000.

"Overall, the servo drive option involved a lot of changes and considerable disruption to the building which the customer didn't want to do.

"Instead we were able to fix the problem on the high-volume Queensland line, the most problematic, for less than $2200."

As well, SEW-Eurodrive was able to commission the conveyor in just one day, on the weekend, with no disruption to production at all.

"In order to eliminate the DeviceNet/PLC delays, we proposed that the positioning be done by an intelligent SEW-Eurodrive MQD DeviceNet module coupled close to the Movimot," Zand said. 

"Based on the required positioning accuracy a simple 24 pulse/rev built-in motor encoder was selected."

The six-year-old SEW-Eurodrive motor, which was still in a good working condition, was replaced with a SEW-Eurodrive DRE high efficiency motor.

"We also replaced the original MFD DeviceNet module, which is basically a gateway just for communicating with the PLC, with a MQD DeviceNet module with internal positioning and sequence control (IPOS) capabilities.

"We needed IPOS to directly process the encoder signal and to program it to do the positioning independent of the main PLC. The main PLC would just provide a go command and the rest of the positioning and control of the pusher would be handled by the MQD and Movimot," Zand said.

To achieve the total pushing cycle of less than 0.5s, a speed profile was programmed in IPOS based on the pusher position.

The challenge was to prevent damaging the boxes by hitting them at high speed and also be able to stop the pusher at the home prox within the required accuracy.

"As the required ramp up/down time of 0.15s was really pushing the limits of an induction motor, we decided to add another feature in the IPOS program to make it even more reliable," said Zand.

"If for any reason the pusher stops after the Home Prox, it is programmed to come back quickly to the Home Prox before the next box crashes into it.

"Thanks to the new built-in encoder, the pusher hasn't missed the Home Prox even once and it's pushing the boxes quicker and smoother than ever before.

"At this stage we have only replaced the problem line, the busiest line, mainly to prove that our engineering works," Zand said.

Standardise motors
Carter was impressed with the improvements to the conveyor lines.

"Since putting in the new drive our downtime has decreased considerably," he said.

Carter explained that the one remaining pusher operates on a very slow moving line, "so we don't need to upgrade that at this point in time.

"However eventually we probably will, just to standardise the motors on that conveyor line," he said.

"We only put one in at the beginning to see how it worked, but within the first week we could clearly see the problem had been fixed.

"Our customer sends the boxed product to us, where we basically sort it in our temperature controlled ware-housing and distribution centre, which is set at two degrees Centigrade."

The company is presently running two shifts each working day, starting at six in the morning.

"However, the flow of product is not always constant, with the peak in the morning," Carter noted.
"We probably have close to 1800 metres of conveyor lines here.

"The tunnel from the meatworks is over 250 metres long alone, with three conveyors, plus a return pallet conveyor in the tunnel, plus there are all the conveyors around the site. It's quite an impressive operation.

"We have over 150 of their drives on site and over 200 SEW-Eurodrive motors and gearboxes," Carter said.

Achieving high-bay efficiency with aisle-changing cranes

The latest technology in aisle-changing automated storage and retrieval cranes provide significant advantages compared to using dedicated-aisle cranes in high-bay warehouses.

TO REMAIN competitive in the modern warehousing environment, distribution centres require systems that offer the flexibility to adjust quickly and accurately to market conditions, such as meeting shortened lead times. 

The most streamlined warehouses today are highly automated facilities, with maximised high-bay, high-density storage that utilises automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). Central to the ASRS is its stacker cranes which permit full-pallet load and layered-pallet inventory to be moved quickly, safely and precisely within a high-bay warehouse environment. 

 Efficient, flexible design

Modern cranes operate within a set of top and bottom rails, eliminating the need for any flat-floor requirements. Since the crane is stabilised by the rail connections, greater load capacities are available, as well as higher rack heights, when compared to free roaming lift trucks. ASRS cranes have a high efficiency of cycle time, a calculation of the movement of product within a DC's storage system.

Many manual operations in a warehouse transport product in only one direction, then return with an empty load. Stacker cranes place a load into a rack position, and then retrieve a load from storage on their way back out, optimising the crane's movements. This helps to reduce operating and distribution costs in the warehouse, including the number of people required to operate the warehouse, thus allowing DC's to operate at a more cost-efficient level.

The latest generation of cranes incorporate a unique flexibility, allowing single-deep, double-deep, triple-deep and up to 20-deep pallet stacking utilising telescopic forks and shuttle cars, with the flexibility to handle one load at a time or multiple loads. 

High-speed PLCs with integrated controls architecture monitor the movements of the cranes. Receiving directions from the distribution center's warehouse management system (WMS) and warehouse control system (WCS) via Ethernet, the cranes utilise barcode technology to direct their movement in the high-bay and the crane's movement of pallets.

The most efficient stacker cranes that provide the lowest operating cost per hour are now fully A/C powered. This eliminates the costs associated with DC batteries, charging, and associated maintenance. Such cranes have also eliminated hydraulics, which greatly reduces maintenance costs.
Although aisle-changing capability in stacker cranes has been around in some form since the early 1990's, the speed and efficiency with which these new cranes can now execute aisle changes makes them a serious option for use in any DC interested in reducing operational costs while improving throughput.

Reducing costs

Most high-rise warehouses use ASRS cranes that are only capable of travelling in a straight line, in one aisle. The limitation of such a dedicated-aisle crane is that one crane is required to service each storage aisle in a warehouse. 

As cranes are a major part of the cost of high-bay warehouse solutions, by reducing the numbers of cranes significant savings can be realised. The number of stacker cranes can be matched to the warehouse throughput instead of the number of aisles, therefore reducing the capital investment.

Unlike earlier models of aisle-changing cranes which had limitations in their aisle-changing flexibility, some of the latest stacker cranes have been designed with efficient aisle-changing capabilities. For example, warehousing stacker crane manufacturer LTW Intralogistics has produced a crane that travels to the end of an aisle, then travels perpendicular to the aisle and enters another aisle to continue storing and retrieving pallets. 

The company has designed a specialised track to facilitate the move, which requires no transfer mechanisms, supervision equipment or costly and time-consuming maintenance, problems that have plagued earlier aisle-changing cranes. 

The track enables the crane to smoothly rotate around the end of the aisle on a curved track, without leaving the track. It makes for an easy and fast transition between aisles. The ability to switch aisles increases redundancy, in the event that a crane would go out of service. Each pallet position then becomes 100 percent accessible. This also allows cranes to be easily moved off line when service is required into an off-line maintenance area. 

If an ASRS solution in place in a distribution facility has ten aisles and is employing ten stacker cranes each operating in its respective aisle, if a stacker crane breaks down there is no way to get products out of that aisle. With aisle-changing cranes operating in a situation like this, the DC operator could easily move the disabled crane to the maintenance area and the remaining cranes could complete the tasks required in that aisle. The redundancy system would assure that the pallets are retrieved. This is very important to maintaining a high level of delivery assurance. 

Patrick Roberts writes for Logistics Automation.

How to safely replace pneumatic tyres

A RECENT fatality in NSW where a container handling reach stacker’s five piece split rim wheel assembly exploded has again brought attention to the danger of wheel removals and replacements on forklifts with pneumatic tyres for the local materials handling industry.

Incidents of this kind, while not a first, is not a rarity. MLA Holdings says technicians and tyre fitters need to be especially wary around big trucks with multi piece rims and pneumatic tyres, and follow safety regulations in regards to these pieces of equipment.

A relatively minor crack or fault on the tyre or rim can quickly develop into an explosion due to the high air pressure within, which can reach up to 1100 KPA or 155 PSI.

Removing, replacing wheels

When removing a wheel from a heavy truck or container handler, the tyre must be fully deflated, neutralising all the inside air pressure. This will reduce the risk of a catastrophic wheel explosion during the process.

MLA Holdings says it uses a wheel and tyre safety supplement to instruct tyre fitters and technicians on how to safely and correctly remove and replace tyres.

When removing wheels, the truck should be parked on level ground in a safe working area. The technician should chock the wheels and isolate the ignition and batteries.

Jack up the truck at the jack points and secure with an axle support device. It is important to not rely on just the jack.

Before removing any wheel nuts fully deflate all wheels that are to be removed.

Remove the wheel nuts and use a suitable lifting device to remove the wheel.

When replacing the wheel, inspect the tyre and rim for damage and cracking, and reject if faulty.

The wheel should be placed into the tyre safety cage and inflated to the recommended inflation pressure.

The inflated wheel should be inspected for defects, then fully deflated for removal from the tyre safety cage. If defects were found, the technician should rectify them.

Using a suitable lifting device, place the wheel onto the truck and tighten wheel nuts in correct sequence to recommended torque setting.

Even at this stage, precautions need to be taken in case of a tyre explosion.

A protection device placed near the wheel assembly will minimise the potential trajectory of explosions.

Inflate the tyre to the recommended inflation pressure from outside the trajectory zone, once again inspect the wheel, before remove the protection device, axle support device and jack.

Test run truck and retighten wheel nuts in correct sequence to recommended torque setting.

Return the truck to service, but after 10 hours of use, the wheel nuts should be retightened in the correct sequence to the recommended torque setting.

No fizzle for green forklifts

Demand for more "green" power options is expected to grow as Australia moves to become a more carbon-efficient economy. Annie Dang writes.

SHIFTING towards more environmental friend equipment options has allowed many manufacturers retain if not gain a competitive advantage in the market, however the up-take of "green" power source technology has largely remained slow in the local market.

Nathan Tiles, Adaptalift Hyster's engineering manager said 'green' power options in the local materials handling equipment field is still in an early phase with experimental work being conducted primarily in Europe and North America in relation to both hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid technologies.

"However in less exotic ways, emission footprints of material handling equipment are steadily reducing due to the implementations of smarter battery charging, for example intelligent HF charging, and or higher level compliant internal combustion engines, such as Tier 4i compliant diesel engines," he told Logistics & Materials Handling.

While it is not clear how the new tax will be applied or administered, Australian manufacturers have been gearing up for its arrival through embracing cleaner energy options for forklifts and lift trucks, even if not at the same pace as it European and North American counterparts.

"Certainly Blue Chip companies and those with high potential carbon tax liabilities are interested and running internal programs to reduce overall emissions in any manner possible," said Tiles.

Electric forklifts are by far the most popular alterative source for clean power in Australia. This is largely due to Australia having more relaxed environmental laws and standards compared to European, UK and North American markets, where alternative as hydrogen fuel cell powered forklifts are being rolled out.

"At present fuel cell technology can be described as immature, and a business must assess whether the benefit outweighs the risk in their particular application," explained Tiles.

Green option for Australia

While speculation is that fuel cell technology might fizzle out of interest in the local market, its uptake abroad, this year alone, proves the technology has market pull.

In January, Air Liquide deployed France's first hydrogen fuel cell powered lift trucks at its Vatry Air Liquide welding supply chain platform. The two hydrogen-powered Crown lift trucks are part of a larger upgrade of the Vatry platform and follows news that Air Liquide subsidiary, Axane, would be working with Plug Power to bring its successful GenDrive technology to European forklifts.

In February, Air Products said it is bringing fuel cell material handling vehicle hydrogen refuelling stations on stream in the US for a new customer with warehouses in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Texas. The refuelling stations are expected to fuel more than 1,000 fuel cell forklifts daily.

Coca-Cola has also revealed a fleet of 37 fuel cell forklift fleet and 19 fuel cell pallet jacks for its huge San Leandro bottling plant in California. Plug Power supplied the GenDrive fuel cells, which are designed as drop-in replacements for the lead-acid batteries used in electric lift trucks. 

In the UK, Marks and Spencer has signed a pilot agreement to conduct the UK's first fuel cell materials handling trial with on-site hydrogen production. 

How to give your distribution a competitive edge

Most successful businesses make promises about the availability of their products through creative marketing programs. The responsibility of delivering on the promise falls fairly and squarely in the lap of the supply chain team. It’s not an easy job to get the right product to the right place, in good condition, just when the customer wants to buy… but someone has to do it.

To meet these business objectives many companies make substantial investments in their supply chain. Whether that be in state-of-the-art distribution centres with purpose designed automation interfaced with sophisticated controls and software, or outsourcing to a third party logistics provider,  the desired outcome remains the same: an operation that performs reliably to achieve its targets week-in, week-out over the life of the system.

But as any logistics professional will tell you, there are traps and pitfalls. Unexpected peaks in demand, changes in product profiles, errors in picking or despatch and – despite the fact that most modern systems are highly reliable – mechanical, electrical, controls or software malfunctions can adversely affect results.

Logistics practitioners place great emphasis on finding new ways to increase uptime, optimise system performance and ensure they meet their customer’s highest expectations. Your logistics and distribution systems can be a powerful competitive strategy and there are many new ways in which your ongoing performance can aid in the creation of a more powerful brand and a more respected position in the marketplace.

In this article, we explore what you can reasonably expect of a service organisation and how they should ensure that your system is finely tuned and highly responsive. We also consider the changing capabilities of a modern service organisation and how advances in processes and technology can give you an extra competitive edge, even as product profiles and demand changes in the future.

The changing role of a modern service organisation

Service has evolved from the stereotypical image of the mechanic in greasy overalls. Today’s service technicians are multi-skilled, multi-disciplinary professionals, who use a range of sophisticated tools and software to monitor the performance of logistics and IT systems, responding immediately to any equipment failure and, in many cases, identifying problems which could affect system reliability even before they happen.
The advent of high speed communications means keeping controls, software and IT systems up to date often doesn’t even require service personnel to be present, with security updates, software patches and the like being delivered electronically.
A modern service organisation will be able to provide you with previously unattainable levels of service and support in the following impressive ways.

Field Service and Support is essential

At a very basic starting point, any good service organisation will provide a team of field service and support personnel who are available around the clock, 365 days a year. These highly trained service technicians provide emergency support for those unplanned events that disrupt your systems. They can also maintain your system through regular servicing to maximise availability and minimise breakdowns. It’s during peak demand times that systems failures are most critical to your business.  A regular service program will minimise the risk to your operations.

Operational Audits highlight improvements and identify safety issues

Operational requirements invariably change over time. Often the original business and product mix the system was designed for has to be changed as customer and market forces dictate.
Whether it is a full functional audit to assess system and operator effectiveness, or specific safety and equipment-related details that are needed, a thorough and professional operational audit is an economical way to highlight productivity and safety improvement ideas. Any operational audit should include Equipment Condition Assessments and recommend upgrades and improvements to mechanical, controls and IT systems, in addition to safety and productivity reports.

Residential Service

Reliability is the key to achieving service targets week-in, week-out over the life of a system, and many larger distribution systems users – for whom uptime is absolutely critical to meet demanding order turnaround cycles – are taking a new approach to service.
Residential Maintenance Programs provided by the system integrator are becoming more commonplace. They typically provide trained, mechanical, electrical or software technicians who can perform preventive, corrective and emergency maintenance as well as providing operational assistance to ensure systems function at optimum efficiency.
These programs reduce operating cost and improve system performance by providing a systematic approach to service.  Additionally, KPI reporting provided under a Residential Program can give management insight to other benefits, such as reduced parts usage and increased system longevity.

Remote Monitoring & Diagnostics

Today, the internet and high speed communications networks mean that service centres don’t need to be located on the actual DC site. Monitoring can take place at a remote location.
Centralised teams of skilled engineers can significantly reduce the impact of faults and the time taken to rectify them, and ensure systems are fully supported 24/7. Trained operators have the expertise to provide immediate advice about the best course of action to respond to any issue, or to actively intervene to correct system faults often before they become a problem. 
Remote access, help desks and programmers can be on standby to ensure software and IT systems meet operational needs. Software support programs can include regular database checking, server architecture and software applications.

Seeing into the future with Early Warning Systems

Sophisticated software has enabled the development of predictive tools to further improve system performance. Diagnostic software has the capability to monitor systems performance, look for potential malfunctions and analyse events and issues that could affect system reliability.
The aim of early warning system software is to optimise DC performance improving delivery, accuracy and reliability. But there are added advantages. Unscheduled stoppages are reduced, maintenance cost is lowered and system working life is maximised.

Modernising your Distribution Centre operations

With supply chain demands changing at a faster pace than ever before, keeping your distribution operations up to date – even if they’re only a few years old – is vital to responding efficiently to changing customer and market demands, including regulatory requirements.
Systems may have provided many years of excellent service, but should performance levels fall, or business model and requirements change, then a modernisation program can breathe new life into an existing system at relative low cost.

Older systems can also become expensive to repair and maintain as parts and software become obsolete. Alternatively, and without scraping the whole system, performance can be enhanced by introducing automation and new technologies.

As businesses grow and develop, so too can systems, especially when the initial design is based on modular and scalable components. As no two logistics operations are the same, a range of options can be evaluated and a modernisation plan tailored specifically to suit business requirements and timescale. Proven modernisation and upgrade technologies can transform systems and deliver increased efficiency, ease of maintenance and reliability, quick smart.

Updated controls, software and mechanical components are also available, and they may be all that’s needed to increase operating efficiency to meet current needs.


Service can no longer be looked at as a necessary evil. It plays a crucial role in fulfilling the delivery promise. An unreliable supply chain can quickly bite into profits and, more importantly, business reputation.
The high cost of disruption to the supply chain means keeping logistics systems operating reliably is a key driver for all DCs. Advances like remote monitoring and early warning systems, and constantly evolving IT connectivity, are revolutionising the approach to service, enabling users to achieve high uptime levels while lowering total distribution costs and optimising service levels.

Michael Jerogin is the general manager, customer service at Dematic .

Driving logistics innovation in Australia: The Living Lab

For the 1650,000 or so Australian businesses in the transport and logistics sector, the launch of Australia's first Future Logistics Living Lab in February last year represented a new age of innovation and commercial opportunities for one of the nation's most lucrative sectors.

More than a year on, the Living Lab has helped to initiate two working projects that are set to reshape how logistics and transport companies do business. 

Shaping Australia's logistics future

Launched by German enterprise software company SAP in collaboration with Australia's ICT research centre NICTA and Europe's largest application-oriented research organisation, Fraunhofer, the Living Lab has attracted over 700 visitors since opening. 

Visitors to the lab include New South Wales government ministers, members of federal parliament, international delegations from Germany, China, Japan and the U.S.A., and as well as students from Australian universities. Most are interested in the Living Lab's tours, which run on a quarterly basis. Tours attendees over the past year have included academics, SME enterprises, and large logistics companies – within this, supply chain mangers up to CIOs, CEOs. The popularity of these tours has contributed to the growth of Living Lab participants and the Lab's network for potential collaborative projects. 

Since inception, the number of Living Lab participant companies has grown to 24 participants, up 10 from February last year. Comprising of mainly companies in the logistics and transport related industries, participant companies collaborate with the Living Lab's research teams to develop, test and demonstrate new product and service prototypes. 

According to SAP Research practice and Living Lab manager, Nina Trunk, the benefits of participation is that companies or individuals can fast-track innovation through the lab. 

"Participants can reduce innovation risk because the Living Lab is a test space designed to fast track rapid prototyping in a low risk environment in a collaborative way," Trunk says.

"The fact that participants come from different background, they have different expertise, and they share some of their expertise – that is one of the core values of the Living Lab – the exchange of expertise."

Demonstrations or workshops are held regularly in the lab to allow stakeholders and visitors to explore, interact and understand how the latest prototype technology will work in practice prior to commitment to real products.

Successful prototypes developed in the Living Lab will be commercialised by participants. Their adoption will serve to encourage further development of new products, process and services by other logistics companies looking to efficiently and cost-effectively address challenges, such as rising fuel costs, road congestion, carbon emissions and safety. 

Linfox brainstorms prototype

The collaboration between SAP and Linfox was initiated during a Future Logistics Living Lab workshop in April last year. SAP Research hosted the workshop to showcase a new prototype technology to Living Lab participants. 

Linfox, who was present at the workshop, expressed interest in the new technology – IdeaWall, a brainstorming mobile application that transforms any flat surface into a smartboard via an iPhone and a projector, in their business environment. The company is now one of the first companies to validate the prototype in their day-to-day business. 

Previously called Holodeck, IdeaWall is designed to supports participation, collaboration, brainstorming and business modelling across different locations.

The technology captures content from meetings using the mobile phone's photo camera. It then extracts objects visible on the whiteboard and distributes them to remote participants. The projector is used to project objects from other locations, so that every participant sees and works with the same content on their whiteboards. 

According to Linfox supply chain solutions group manager, Chris Hemstrom, IdeaWall gives Linfox the potential to brainstorm ideas between team members located at various sites. The company used it when initially scoping and determining the direction of projects, as well as for strategy development. It will also use IdeaWall for value stream mapping for projects that run across multiple sites. Linfox is currently trialling the use of IdeaWall on several projects. 

Container tracking solution

 Having identified a common interest in wanting to tracking container movement during a workshop last year, Hamburg Sud and Casella Wines initiated their own project to investigate container movement in Australia onshore, and from Australia to overseas.

Both companies wanted to analyse and understand container movements in order to reduce the movement of empty containers between ports and container parks. 

The two companies devised a project to test different sensor technologies for containers in different container environments to find a functional and accurate tracking solution.

The project is currently is in the first trial stage. This first phase comprises of a short supply chain from Australia to overseas, involving road, rail and sea transport, in which the tracking technology is to be tested. 

"At the moment it is at a stationary trial, but in the long term the companies will conduct a trial over the short haul supply chain, and then over a  longer supply chain from Australia to overseas to really extend the trial," Trunk says.

While, the Living Lab facilitated the commencement of this project, it is not involved in the project. Trunk says that this particular project is a good working example of the sorts of industry collaboration the Living Lab can bring about. 

Hamburg Sud and Casella Wines anticipate that the tracking technology they are developing will help reduce business costs, as well as carbon emission levels.

New standard offers safer, more economical storage systems

A NEW standard covering the design of steel storage racking systems was released on February 29th 2012 and will bring Australia up to date with the latest international knowledge and experience in the design of storage systems and cold-formed steel structures.

Compliance with the new standard, AS4084-2012 Steel Storage Racking, is a rack-by-rack, application-dependant proposition.

It is the designer's task to create steel racking systems that are fit for purpose, meet the user's requirements and budget, and provide acceptable safety margins to ensure safe, long-term operation.

However, when it comes to day-to-day operation, the onus of responsibility to ensure the systems are being properly used and maintained, and continue to meet the standard, falls squarely on the user.

Key changes

The major change contained in the new Australian standard for steel storage racking is the switch from using a "permissible stress" design philosophy to a "limit states" design approach – a move which brings Australia into line with most of the advanced rack designs codes in the world, including the European racking standard EN15512: 2009 and the Rack Manufacturers Institute Specification from North America. 

It also brings the standard into line with the relevant cross-referenced companion Australian standards, including AS/NZS4600: 2005 Cold Formed Steel Structures and AS4100-1998 Steel Structures.

From a structural design perspective, the limit states approach offers advantages over the permissible stress format. 

It allows the designer to consider the application of different margins of safety to different types of loads (dead loads, storage loads, live loads, seismic loads) to facilitate design optimisation, while guaranteeing a prescribed level of safety across different combinations of loads. Limit states design also provides the designer with greater insight as to how the structure will behave in the event of an overload that approaches the true collapse load of the system.

Other significant changes in the new standard include vastly expanded and improved testing provisions, including statistical evaluation, and the inclusion of advanced methods of structural analysis and finite element analysis.

Compared to the old standard from 1993, the new standard has the potential to result in more structurally efficient and finely tuned designs. 

The result is that the storage racks of today are generally lighter and cheaper than those of yesteryear, while still possessing the required minimum level of structural safety – and that's good news for end users.  

AS4804-2012 Steel Storage Racking contains a number of important changes storage system users should be aware of:

  • No changes to storage system configuration allowed without the approval of the equipment supplier or a structural engineer.
  • The vertical clearance requirement for pallets stored above heights of 6m has been increased from 75mm to 100mm. This is aimed at reducing the risk of accidental impact with beams during pallet put-away and retrieval.
  • The "flue space" between pallets backing on to each other has been increased by 50mm, reducing the risk of an adjacent pallet being accidentally dislodged when storing or retrieving pallets. This increase in flue space also better accommodates the needs of insurance companies who often insist on a minimum flue space of 75mm to allow adequate penetration of water from roof and rack-mounted sprinklers during a fire.
  • A minimum of two ground anchors must be used per baseplate on racks where forklifts are used.
  • Minor changes to rack load signage whereby the dimension from ground to first beam level, and from first to second beam level must be noted explicitly on signs.

What AS4808-2012 doesn't cover

Like the standard before it, the new steel storage racking standard is only relevant for closed-face racks such as Selective, Narrow-Aisle and Double Deep racking. It does not cover open-face racks such as Drive-In or Cantilever racking. 

When designing open-face racks, designers will need to seek guidance from other international standards and codes such as FEM 10.2.07 for drive-in racking and FEM 10.2.09 for cantilever racking. These codes can be used in conjunction with AS/NZS4600-2005 Cold Formed Steel Structures to obtain structurally sound racking designs consistent with world's best practice.

As per the previous standard, storage system users should ensure their system is professionally audited every year.

[Dr Murray Clarke is a member of the Standards Australia committee for steel storage racking and Structural Design Manager and Structural Design Manager with Dematic.]

LMH Q&A with MLA Holdings’ first female mechanic

MLA Holdings’ third-year apprentice diesel fitter, Amy Chetcuti talks to LMH about being the company’s first and only female mechanic.

LMH: Why did you consider a career in mechanical trade?
There isn’t any one thing in particular that influenced my decision to undertake a career in the mechanical trade. I have always enjoyed a challenge, such as troubleshooting, and love working with my hands. I don’t mind getting dirty and I gain a great deal of satisfaction when I can solve the problem at hand. Another aspect which influenced my decision was gaining the additional skills and abilities to use outside the workplace, such as working on my own vehicle. At this point in time I am the first of my family to undertake a mechanical trade. 

LMH: What do you like about your job at MLA?
The things I like most about working at MLA is the variety of work and challenges that are set before me. I enjoy taking pride and pleasure in fault finding and successfully restoring the forklift in working order. Overall, I love the challenge of the position and love continually learning new things. 

LMH: What does it mean to be MLA Holdings first and only female mechanic?
AC: I think it is amazing and it is an honour to be the first female mechanic within MLA Holdings; and also a great opportunity for which I am grateful for. I’m not sure why there isn’t more female mechanics within the industry. It can be quite daunting at times being such a male dominated trade, especially when going out on to site. I do enjoy the satisfaction of undertaking and completing jobs of which some people think a woman cannot do. I love it! 

LMH: What advice would you give to other females interested in a career in mechanical trade?
If you’re interested and want to pursue a trade I say go for it. It is very rewarding. It takes a bit of persistence but definitely worth it. Show these boys how it’s done!  

More about Amy

AMY is based at MLA’s Brisbane branch. In December last year, Amy travelled to Northern Territory to assist with the installation of two Vulcan C400/5. 

The project entailed taking the Vulcan C400 machine out of port to assemble it, test it, and commission it in Darwin, before flying to Alice Springs to repeat the process before delivering it to the customer. Amy’s role on the project involved her assisting with these tasks and putting the truck together. 

MLA said the 10-day project, which concluded on on 12 December, was an excellent platform to showcase Amy’s capability and strengths within the industry as "she excelled at all given roles".

Amy completed a Certificate IV in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering- Mechanical at Aviation Australia, before successfully applying for an apprenticeship with the forklift rental company in January of 2010.

MLA Holdings 131 652,

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