The invention of the forklift truck, in the early 20th century, led to a huge increase in warehousing efficiency. These units travel the aisles between rows of shelving, allowing drivers to swivel to the left or right, using its mast to insert or remove goods mounted on pallets and stored at multiple levels. They enable a single operator to transport loads that would otherwise require several workers to handle them manually. First introduced during the ‘60s, a system known as shuttle or mole racking was responsible for sparking yet another revolution in storage and retrieval technology.
Invaluable to any organisation that may be required to store very large volumes of stock, the technology offers owners a means to utilise all of the available space as effectively as possible. This is achieved by dispensing with the aisles normally required between rows for picking and packing to create lanes of up to 50 pallets in depth. While this serves to nearly double the storage space, it also means that forklifts must now access goods from the ends of each row rather than from its sides. This feat is made possible with an electrically driven shuttle mounted on tracks within the racking.
Each operation begins with the placement of the automated vehicle at one end of the appropriate rack upon which the forklift operator then deposits a pallet and its load. Next, the vehicle lifts the load and then proceeds to transport it to the most distant vacant position in that row. When finished, it returns to its starting point, ready to transport another pallet. As each row is filled, the shuttle is moved to the racking level above or below.
When it is time to retrieve a stored pallet, essentially, the storage operation simply needs to be run in reverse. However, while some warehouse operators may choose to work on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis, others prefer to maintain a last-in-first-out (LIFO) routine.
As well as extending the available warehouse storage space, among the other benefits of installing shuttle racking is the fact that this type of semi-automated storage and retrieval system can normally be modified to operate according to either of these protocols. In addition, the system acts to limit forklift travel distances, operating times, and overall productivity, which, in turn, could also reduce a company’s staffing requirements and the associated costs.
The purchase price of a shuttle racking system will be more than justified by the combination of these savings, coupled with the added storage space and increased productivity, as well as the initial investment should, therefore, be recovered quite quickly. It will, however, be a wise move to arrange for a specialist to evaluate your needs and propose the best solution.
Widely recognised by existing owners of these systems in South Africa as a leader in the field of storage solutions, Krost Shelving and Racking already supplies sophisticated shuttle racking. In future, as automation and artificial intelligence continue to advance, there is no doubt that they will also leverage these new technologies to further improve the user experience.