For many food manufacturing facilities, the loading dock and warehouse can be busy areas. With employees passing through, forklifts and hand pallet trucks moving about, and conveyor systems and storage racks fixed to the ground, space is often a premium in these areas.
But while loading docks and warehouses are often landlocked, they don’t have to be, as the answer to additional space can frequently be found by looking up. Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) and work platforms offer food manufacturers a new level of storage space by going up and adding a second level. These options are not only a cost effective solution to gaining new storage space, but provide food manufacturers the flexibility to adapt to their changing needs.
Evaluating your needs
When evaluating your storage needs, there are some things you should first consider. For starters, how is the product flow from the time materials are offloaded from a truck to the time they enter production? Do materials generally accumulate faster in the loading dock/warehouse area than when they enter production, or do materials quickly enter production and spend little time in storage? Are pallets or cases being broken down right on the dock, or are they being stored in a separate area to be processed at a later time? The same material-flow dynamic works in reverse for post-production. Does the final product remain in storage for a while before being shipped, or does it leave the facility immediately after manufacturing?
Some practices may involve offloading materials from a truck and simply mix-matching pallets, cases and boxes on a floor for processing at a later time. Even though it may take just a short period to finish unloading the truck, this lack of organization is inefficient and wastes employees’ time by having them hunt through pallets looking for specific items. With adequate storage space available, workers can properly stage in-process materials, as well as ship out finished goods, in a more controlled, proficient manner.
A thorough evaluation of the way you ship and receive materials, along with your loading dock and warehouse will ultimately lead you to determine if you have enough space to consistently and effectively handle incoming and outgoing product. If the answer is that additional storage capacity is needed, a VRC and work platform can be the solution.
As companies grow, evolve and expand their offerings, so do their storage needs. If additional space is warranted, companies have two main options to choose from: expand their current operations by building a larger warehouse or maximize their existing space. The cost-effective solution is to maximize existing space, and in many instances that can be achieved by going up with a VRC and work platform.
VRCs comply with ANSI/ASME B20.1 safety standard for conveyors, and are a safe way to move materials from one elevation to another. VRCs act much like an elevator as materials are loaded onto an enclosed platform, secured and then transported to an elevated level. They can be connected with a conveyor system so pallets, cases or boxes can slide onto the VRC, raised or lowered to a different level and then slide onto a second conveyor for processing. VRCs, which can have a lifting capacity of several thousand pounds, are designed solely for moving materials and not people. The baking industry uses many VRCs in production. Bakeries tend to use trays and carts, and since it’s really difficult to move carts vertically on conveyors, VRCs are a popular option to move them.
VRCs are also more compact than vertical conveyor systems. For example, if a manufacturer is looking to move materials on a conveyor to a work platform that’s 10 feet high, for the conveyor to be installed to code the ratio is one foot per inch of rise. That means you have to have a 120-foot long conveyor to move goods to an elevation of 10 feet, and 120 feet of conveyor takes up a lot of floor space, as opposed to a VRC which may only have a 6x6 foot print.
Using a VRC brings along an added layer of safety to a warehouse. Moving goods on a VRC to an elevated level eliminates the dangerous practice of using a forklift to raise pallets to load and offload to a second level. If something falls off a pallet from an extended forklift, it can create a hazard to workers below, not to mention damage to the goods.
Work platforms are designed to fully utilize the existing overhead space, allowing food manufacturers to operate more efficiently. They are often outfitted with a VRC for safe material movement and maximum storage capability.
A work platform effectively allows you to split a space in half and double up your storage area. To install a work platform, a facility needs to have at least 20-foot tall ceilings; a work platform effectively allows you to split that space, double up the work area and utilize HVAC systems that may already be in place.
End-of-aisle rack protectors and barrier guard rail are often overlooked components that can greatly increase safety to both employees and facility equipment. Loading docks and warehouses are busy areas with forklifts and vehicles constantly on the go — and eventually they smash into something. It’s easy to see how an accident can occur. Many loading docks and warehouses have tight lanes for forklifts to drive. If a turn isn’t executed properly, the wheels or forks could sway into a designated safe area occupied by employees or equipment. Place an inexperienced driver behind a forklift and the risks increase. Well positioned barrier guard rail can help reduce the chance of accidents by preventing forklifts and other vehicles from straying into dangerous or off-limits areas.
For guard rail to be effective, it has to be used. However, many plants don’t use it. Guard rail is mistakenly viewed as a commodity item that people historically don’t think much about for their facility. They’ve never had equipment damaged or personnel injured as a result of a vehicle accident, and as such, guard rail isn’t given too much thought. Of course once an accident occurs, facility managers quickly see the value that protective guard rail can provide. But the importance of installing guard rail to protect people and equipment prior to an accident seems to be resonating with food manufacturers. Despite the downturn in the economy, sales of protective guard rail have increased. One rationale is that since companies don’t have the resources to purchase new equipment, they’re looking to protect what they have, and guard rail is a relatively inexpensive way to provide that protection.
Why would you want to put a costly addition onto your current facility when you likely have adequate overhead space that can be more fully utilized? Adding new space to an existing loading dock and warehouse by going up is a more cost-effective solution when compared to adding a new building. The combination of a VRC and work platform can effectively double a facility’s storage space, and they can be installed in just a few weeks with minimal disruption to your daily operations. When it comes to safety, guard rail with a high impact rating can provide excellent protection for employees and equipment against forklifts and other vehicles. Storage space is a concern for everyone. But as companies look ahead to expand and accommodate growth, the answer to their needs may be found by simply looking up.
This informative paper has been provided as a service to the industry by Wildeck, Inc., a premier U.S. manufacturer of space enhancement, material handling, and safety guarding products. Based in Waukesha, Wis., Wildeck is a 100% employee-owned company and the largest manufacturer of industrial steel work platforms (mezzanines), vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs), safety guarding products, dock safety gates, stair systems and industrial ladder equipment. For more information visit www.wildeck.com, email [email protected] or call 800-325-6939.