In the supply chain and across distribution centers, operations professionals are continually needing to maximize space, gain efficiencies and reduce labor costs – all while providing the highest customer service possible. As warehouse consultants we take an objective approach to solving these challenges with clients, which includes evaluating various storage and picking systems.
In our efforts to expose warehouse operators to a broad spectrum of options, we developed this article to help companies understand what is a Vertical Lift Module, and how Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) could be implemented into the operations.
Vertical Lift Modules Increase Storage Density
With facility space at near record highs from a cost perspective, companies must utilize every bit of space in their facility – including the vertical height. VLMs maximize the vertical height by utilizing an independent tray storage system to create a dense storage solution that far exceeds traditional storage methods. Depending on the item dimensions and the facility clear height, some companies can store thousands of parts in a single VLM.
Vertical Lift Modules Reduce Labor Costs
Operations professionals are always focused on minimizing distribution and warehouse labor. In order fulfillment for direct to consumer and business to business channels, eliminating the walking throughout the warehouse required to complete all the picks for a batch of orders is critical. Most VLMs are between 5 and 13 feet wide to maximize each VLMs capabilities. Additionally, labor can be scaled to match daily volume - from a dedicated picker for a VLM at peak to a picker working multiple VLMs in slower seasons.
Vertical Lift Modules Traditionally Have Fast Return on Investment (ROI)
The relative entry point of Vertical Lift Modules is among the lowest of any other goods to person technology or automation. VLMs as a standalone storage solution produce favorable ROIs. VLMs are also an extremely efficient picking solution that can carry its own operational ROI. When a customer can dually utilize the functionality of this equipment, the ROIs are extremely attractive.
. The ROI is driven by:
- Minimal footprint, saving valuable square footage while maximizing product density.
- High throughout rates from a picking perspective compared to conventional picking.
- Ability to train workers and achieve maximum throughput in a significantly brief period.
- Maximum level of security for high value inventory.
- Products stored in a VLMs are fully protected, eliminating labor needed to inspect and clean products before shipping out to customers.
- Extremely high inventory accuracy due to picking aids to eliminate miss-picks and errors during putaway and replenishment.
Vertical Lift Modules Offer the Highest Security Options
For companies with high value inventory, VLMs offer the highest levels of security. VLM units are fully enclosed making it impossible to gain access to inventory. From the picking port, only users granted access will be able to call trays forward to access inventory. With the onboard software, all activity is logged and can be audited.
Vertical Lift Modules Allow for Easy Training
Very few technologies offer the ease of use and ability to quickly onboard new or seasonal workers compared to VLMs. Most VLM manufacturers offer a variety of visual aids to support the putaway, replenishment and picking processes. These include light bars to visually indicate which bin location should be picked from – or putaway to; lasers working in conjunction with light bars to illuminate bin locations; on screen displayed product images to assist with visually identifying products and scanning technology to ensure accuracy of parts. This also allows for an extremely high degree of inventory accuracy.
Vertical Lift Modules can be Integrated with other Automation (Robotics, Unit Level Sortation, Shuttle Systems)
VLMs can be treated as their own picking zone within your facility. This allows for ease of integration to all technology utilized in your picking and replenishment operation. Additionally, onboard software is designed integrates with ERP/WMS to ensure visibility and inventory control is achieved.
Vertical Lift Modules Support a Wide Range of Applications and Solutions
VLMs offer some of the greatest flexibility from a storage perspective considering the internal trays can support items as wide as 10+ feet in length, items as deep as 30+ inches – all with variable heights. VLMs can also store much heavier inventory than other goods to person technologies. Some manufacturers offer trays with a maximum weight limit over 2,000 pounds per tray. This makes the use of VLMs applicable for a wide variety of functions, including:
- Storage for spare and critical parts for manufacturing lines, or even spare parts for material handling systems.
- Supporting order fulfillment for direct to consumer, business to business and manufacturers.
- Storage of manufacturing die and tooling.
While VLMs look the same from the outside, not all VLM manufacturers are comparable to each other. There are various configurations, weight limitations, tray configurations, software integrations, etc. F. Curtis Barry & Company can assist you with understanding these differences, as well as working with your team to get multiple competitive bids and helping you to integrate these into your operations.