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,

Dynamic supply chains: a bridge over troubled waters

FROM a business standpoint, the first 10 years of the 21st century have been anything but normal. Economic turmoil is almost constant. Currency valuations shift with the wind. Bank lending vacillates between lenient and tight-fisted. What many people are now saying, in fact, is that this state of volatility may actually be reinforced in 2012: a New Normal characterised by abnormal business conditions. 

According to a recent Accenture survey, executives are acutely aware ― and quite concerned ― about this apparently ceaseless state of sudden changes and rapidly shifting paradigms. Seventy percent of the 3,000-plus decision makers we polled expressed dissatisfaction with their company’s ability to predict future performance. And more than 80 percent said they are worried about the resilience of their supply chains ― the ability to adapt operationally to rapid changes in products, markets and currencies. 

As we embark on 2012, several global and regional circumstances foreshadow ongoing uncertainty and volatility. The economic instability in Europe could have ripple effects in the United States that may reverberate from the Western world into Asia Pacific. While companies monitor the situation and undertake contingency planning, they also have heightened awareness of the concerns associated with natural disasters, as evidenced by the recent flooding in several countries across the region.

The impact of this New Normal on companies’ supply chains is potentially huge. But what sort of changes should companies consider as a result? In our view, one of the best solutions is reinventing the supply chain as an adaptable, malleable ecosystem of processes, people, capital assets, technology and data. 

Simply put, the “dynamic supply chain” we’re proposing facilitates maneuverability in unpredictable markets. This may sound like something companies have always wanted, but the reality is that few organisations have achieved true supply chain dynamism. Most reside somewhere between the functional excellence and integrated enterprise stages. They’ve made tremendous progress but the emerging state of permanent volatility demands more. 

How necessary?

Can a typical company justify the changes needed to create a dynamic supply chain? Most likely, yes, because today’s state of permanent volatility can severely impede the operations of most organisations. Still, there are many questions companies can pose to help determine the intensity of their needs. For example, they can question their current level of adaptability. How nimbly does my supply chain organisation react to changing customer demands?” or “How strong is our ability to respond smoothly to major disruptions?”

Another evaluation perspective might be strategic value. Could my supply chain be positioned less as a cost centre and more as an enabler of key competitive capabilities? Lastly, companies might view the issue from a growth perspective. How prepared are we to operate in new or expanding global markets?

Addressing the above questions won’t produce a final decision, but it could shed more light on the game-changing shifts occurring in the global business community, as well as on supply chain solutions that help respond to those changes in a profitable and competitively advantageous way.

Better future of the supply chain dynamism in 2012

No two dynamic supply chains will be precisely alike, even among industries, geographies or business units within the same company. There is a common trait, however: speed to outcome within each functional domain. There are also at least five universal components of any dynamic supply chain for a better future. 

First is an adaptive operating model. This is a living, breathing design geared to ensuring that supply chains align with growth and innovation strategies, and embrace processes and systems that help companies rapidly scale or shutter operations based on short-notice demand signals.

Secondly, new skills in risk anticipation and mitigation. “Speed of response” is a critical characteristic of dynamic supply chains, and one way to get it is with advanced risk-prediction and identification capabilities. Unfortunately, only 11 percent of the survey respondents actively manage supply chain risk and only 18 percent have formal supply chain risk management systems in place. 

The third component is enhanced visibility and information acquisition. Maximising responsiveness and adaptability means you excel at gathering, analysing and applying information contributed by each link in the supply chain. Leveraging visibility and marshaling better information can also mean integrating your supply chain systems with pricing, promotion, sales and marketing applications. 

Fourth is executional excellence. Companies focused on the development of dynamic supply chains don’t overlook the importance of investing in core business processes. And finally, supply chain sophistication and professionalism. It’s essential that the organisation as a whole understands all components of a dynamic supply chain strategy, and this means developing superior supply chain skills and ensuring that the entire company is receptive to new ways of operating. 

[Olaf Schatteman is the managing director of Accenture Asia Pacific.]


Basic, better, best: mobile technologies on the road

Being  on the road, your delivery drivers may well have been the first of your employees to carry a mobile phone. Your supply chain organisation may even have been an early adopter of mobile and wireless technology. Today though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a supply chain organisation that isn’t making some use of smart phones or handheld computers, GPS, mobile printers and other technology to support its transport operations.

As technology has evolved and become more accessible, it has helped supply chain organisations set new standards for productivity and customer responsiveness. It has also become more difficult for companies to gain a competitive advantage through technology, as mobile computing, real-time communication and the extension of work order, inventory and sales to the on the road workers has become a de facto requirement for many companies. Nonetheless, savvy supply chain professionals continue to drive down their costs, improve efficiency and achieve revenue growth by enhancing their processes and technology. 

In Australia there are those supply chain organisations who are doing just the basics when it comes to automating processes for their on-the-road workers, and there are those who are doing better at equipping their drivers with mobile technology that enables limited support while on the job. Finally there are those transportation operators who have embraced mobile support best practice for their drivers, which affords them the advantage of ensuring delivery accuracy, efficiency and the opportunity to achieve further business promotion.

Delivery management process

Basic: The good application of technology is to use software to automatically generate schedules and routes for delivery drivers. Software can make the most efficient use of resources, especially applications that can factor in each driver’s location and past delivery records. In basic operations drivers receive jobs and other instructions via paper at headquarters at the start of the shift and report their progress periodically throughout the day via cell phone.

Better: Equip drivers with mobile computers and automatically push assignments, routes and driving instructions to the devices. This not only eliminates the need for paper, but eliminates the need for drivers to check in at a central location to receive assignments. By reducing drive time, organisations can increase efficiency. Drivers use the mobile computer to record job completion and can submit this information to headquarters using a modem or wireless connection.

Best: Use a rugged mobile computer continually to update job status and driver availability to enable real time dynamic dispatch. This practice helps organisations hit delivery windows and meet order compliance. The process is enabled by taking advantage of mobile computers’ real-time wireless communication capability, which provides the best possible data to deliver device management applications. 

Workforce management process

Basic: Use standardised forms for time and expense reporting in order to promote consistency and to simplify data entry. Periodically analyse completed job records to monitor productivity and costs for each driver.

Better: Free transportation drivers of the task of recording their hours, mileage and expenses on paper, and office staff the time and trouble of entering it into the computer system, by using electronic forms on mobile computers.

Best: Deliveries and other activities are automatically time stamped by the mobile computing application, which eliminates the time-recording requirement for technicians and prevents arbitrary time estimates. GPS systems can apply location stamps to transactions, automatically record mileage, and flag miles driven outside of assigned routes or work hours.

Driver and vehicle tracking procedures 

Basic: Technology enables managers to monitor a delivery driver workforce that is spread over a large area. As a starting point it is helpful having mobile workers periodically call in status updates to a dispatcher or manager. A GPS unit in the vehicle also promotes productivity by helping drivers get to their end destination as promptly as possible.

Better: Handheld computers can also support voice, data communication and GPS, and this gives users all the functionality they need in a single device. Combining functions also simplifies the delivery driver’s role as it means less devices need to be purchased, kept charged and maintained. It is helpful to set the mobile application software to send status updates to the office automatically, either at periodic time intervals or when certain jobs are completed.

Best: Proactively using location data, rather than simply waiting for updates. Vehicles can be tracked in real time to aid dispatch decision making and to provide up-to-date information for customer service. The GPS unit within a handheld computer can automatically attach a location stamp to all activities, which improves documentation and can help resolve any disputes. GPS-enabled location data can also be used to power route analysis and dwell time analysis that can suggest more efficient routes or alert managers to potential abuses.

Product or goods delivery 

Basic: Manually record products delivered on paper forms.

Better: Use RFID or bar code to support the delivery process by scanning and recording products that are being shipped from the warehouse to the customer. Share delivery data with inventory and billing applications so the products delivered can be automatically listed and billed on invoices that are generated at the customer site. This integration will speed up the payment cycle for products and enable maintenance of more accurate inventory levels. 

Best: Update enterprise inventory systems with real-time data from the field. Expand basic product tracking to give delivery drivers access to customer delivery information such as – which door they prefer to have goods delivered to, and which times might not be appropriate for delivery to occur – to support customer satisfaction.

Product tracking & management

Basic: Use barcode technology to automatically identify assets from the time the goods arrive in the warehouse to the time the products are delivered to the customer. 

Better: Link product ID application to databases and customer records so that delivery drivers can validate the authenticity of the product upon delivery. Accurately identifying products assures customers of delivery competency.

Best: Fully integrate delivery operations with head office customer intelligence so that customers can track the delivery of their goods in real time and ensure that the right product arrives to them at the right time. 

Revenue assurance

Basic: Upon completion of a job, record all time spent, and goods delivered while still on site in order to prevent errors and omissions. Obtain customer signature for the delivery job.

Better: Automate the data recording process with mobile computers and bar code scanners. Upon delivery, immediately present customer with a work order and invoice that is generated on site with a mobile printer. Obtain customer signature at the same time. 

Best: Attach a digitised image of the customer’s signature to the transaction record on the computer. Enable delivery drivers to accept payment at the time of service via a credit card reader. Payments can be authorised immediately using a wireless connection, or processed in batch later.


The optimisation of delivery operations represents low-hanging fruit for supply chain organisations in Australia, whilst still providing more experienced organisations the ability to improve efficiency levels. Optimising delivery operations can encompass tasks such as delivery job management, data management and productivity management. 

Scheduling software provides the foundation for automating these operations, while electronic forms, mobile printing, GPS, mobile computers, scanners and imagers can further increase the benefits. Australian Supply Chain organisations should continually look for ways to improve their operations. Those that don’t look towards the future to see how new technologies can support their delivery processes could find that their business has quickly fallen from ‘best’ to ‘basic’ in the eyes of the customer.

About the author: Tony Repaci is Intermec managing director for Australia and New Zealand.

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