Case study

Warehouses are looking to their existing storage structures to help keep safe distances

In these current unprecedented times our main focus as individuals has changed dramatically and our number one priority is to help protect lives and our wonderful NHS. We have all taken specific steps to help shield ourselves and others from covid19 and although the new social distance measures are absolutely essential there is currently no indication on how and when the restrictions will be lifted.

For businesses and the economy this has brought extreme challenges with many businesses forced to temporarily cease operations because they are unable to practice social distancing within the workplace however, there are some businesses still in operation, many of which include warehouses which are storing and distributing both essential and non essential goods.

For these warehouses changes have been introduced and measures have been put in place to ensure work can continue safely.  These include canteen closures, swapping hand towels for disposable ones, replacing standard taps with touch free ones, using devices to open doors, reorganising work stations and layout, introducing shift patterns to reduce employee numbers at any one time and of course the introduction of personal protection equipment (PPE).

With these measures in place warehouses across the UK are also looking to their existing storage systems to assist them in striking the balance between social distancing and operational continuality. So how can your pallet racking system, shelving system or even mezzanine floor help warehouse staff keep their distance from one another? 

Automation

Before the covid19 pandemic more and more warehouses were introducing automation simply to streamline the process, improve speed, reduce human labour costs and in many cases implement automatic stock rotation. Now warehouses are also using their automated systems to support safety measures in the workplace because they reduce the need for human interaction allowing better control of social distancing.

The pallet live racking system is a great example of this because the only two activities where human labour is required are carried out in completely different zones, so operators are segregated. The deep storage system is highly compact with a loading aisle on one side and a picking aisle running parallel on the other side. The slightly sloped structure uses rollers to automatically move an uploaded pallet from the loading face through the deep running lanes towards the picking face and gently stops once it meets the pallet in front or the mouth of the picking face. Designed to maximise storage space whilst supporting the fast flow of goods the system also works on the first-in first-out (FIFO) method, providing failsafe stock rotation. For these reasons the pallet live racking system is widely used across the food and drink industry however, it also brings great advantages when it comes to the two meter rule.

For none palletised goods where automatic stock rotation, speed and high density storage is required alongside social distancing measures Carton live shelving works in a similar way. Wearing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) the goods are manually loaded onto the shelves from one side where they will automatically move down the slightly sloped bed of rollers towards the picking face. Carton live shelving is very versatile and adaptable so warehouses are taking full advantage of this by extending or adjusting their system to ensure employees on both sides are adequately spread out. Where lanes are normally quite busy warehouses are introducing shift patterns and one way walking zones to ensure distance is kept between employees

Adjustments and reconfigurations

Although standard pallet racking  also known as APR or wide aisle pallet racking is not automated it’s very flexible and can be easily adjusted to suit changing needs, so many warehouses have reconfigured their standard pallet racking systems to create safe working zones for employees. This could involve extending or relocating the racks to suit social distance measures, inventory requirements and space. Reorganising the pallet racking can help create one way routes and segregated areas for both picking and replenish with many warehouses introducing time slots to stagger activities for extra assurance.  Equally a shelving system both long and short span can be adjusted, extended or relocated to ensure productivity continues with social distance measures in place.

Warehouses are using reconfigurations and using the mezzanine floor to separate operations and spread their workforce out. Goods lifts, chutes and pallet gates can ensure departments can still work together whilst maintaining their distance. Spreading their operations across multiple floor levels can help employees maintain their distance. If you don’t have a mezzanine floor already but do have sufficient headroom, it may be worth considering the installation of a mezzanine floor.  The semi permanent structure can be utilised in other ways when operations return to normal and help improve your long term prosperity.

If you’re considering the prospect of reopening your warehouse before the lockdown ends or if you are still in operation, look at your storage structure creatively. You may find additional support in your system even if a few temporary adjustments are required, it’s certainly worth consideration.  Short term adjustments can be reverted once the official government guidelines on social distancing within the workplace have been relaxed.

For advice how you could temporarily adjust your particular storage system call our Director Brian Varley today on 07587 035 034 or you can email him at brv@wslmail.co.uk

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