By Klaus-Dieter Wurm, Dec 18th 2012

Learn how utilizing the Orbiter™ System as a Shipping Buffer in the loading dock area will lead to shorter load times and improved sequencing for faster trailer turn-around times.

Those of us in the materials handling industry are familiar with Deep Channel Storage Systems with pallet shuttles  - those 8-wheeled robotic vehicles which mechanically pick up and move pallets deep into the pallet rack channel. These shuttles collect and move pallets up to 50 pallets deep, depositing moving pallets onto pallet rails until the entire pallet channel is full.

Deep Channel Storage System technology is used primarily in logistics environments consisting of two principle characteristics: (1) a relatively low number of SKUs, and (2) a large number of pallets per SKU.  For example, let’s look at the Deep Channel Storage of soft drink pallets where there is ‘regular’ soda, ‘diet’ soda, ‘caffeine-free’ soda, ‘cherry-flavored’ soda, ‘one-calorie’ soda, ‘lemon’- or ‘lime-flavored’ soda.  Within a storage channel with only one SKU - in our example let’s consider ‘regular’ soda - different SKUs (i.e., different products) would not be mixed within one pallet.  Why? Because once the shuttle reaches the desired storage location, either the shuttle or human labor would have to remove all of the pallets in front of the pallet to be shipped. This is considered an inefficient use of technology, and the Schaefer Orbiter™ eliminates it.

The other advantage of Deep Channel Storage systems is that uniquely-packaged products normally require single unit floor-stacking. One simple example is pallets of plastic water bottles. The upper pallet’s weight would normally crush the bottles below, but now can be safely stored using Schaefer’s Orbiter™, some 4-5 levels high depending on the reach of the existing forklift truck and/or the total pallet height.

What is new in deep-channel storage technology? Lately we are developing  more applications utilizing our Orbiter System as a Shipping Buffer in the loading dock area.  In standard Deep Channel Storage applications, single SKU pallets are stored in an entire channel.  Depending on the tractor-trailer loading pattern and the size of the load, up to 23 pallets have to be retrieved from the storage channels via forklift. This is an easy task when an entire truckload consists of just one SKU; however, much more time for loading and down-time is required when the truckload consists of 22 or 23 different pallet SKUs.  However, what if a certain number of channels corresponding to the number of outgoing truckloads per day could be utilized as a pallet shipping buffer? In this application, pallets would not only be loaded into the shipping buffer channel precisely to the customer’s order, but also utilized as a sequencing buffer which would prepare outbound orders precisely based on the customer’s business- or warehouse-specific sequencing needs.

Schaefer’s Orbiter™ is such a deep channel storage system.  Using power caps or capacitor technology in lieu of batteries - eliminating battery charging stations, battery replacements, and associated labor costs - the Orbiter™ offers a true cam-operated, mechanical lift, rather than more problematic hydraulics. The Orbiter™ is especially efficient and reliable in deep-freeze environments, while also offering significant, yet standard, safety features protecting both personnel and equipment.

The solution already exists with the Schaefer Orbiter™ Shipping Buffer System.  Even without a warehouse management system, the Orbiter™ will cut the customer’s warehouse footprint and reduce the time needed to load a tractor-trailer.  Delivery trucks can be ‘turned around’ more quickly and efficiently. The Orbiter™ also reduces labor and material handling costs, since outbound tractor-trailers can be assigned to a specific loading dock corresponding to a buffer storage channel for that specific truckload.  Pallets can be forklift-loaded sequentially by specific store location or truck route, reducing the distance between the Orbiter pick-face and the loading dock.  In addition to providing more efficiency in the warehouse, the Orbiter™ also keeps the loading dock organized and therefore avoids accidental pallet mix-ups resulting in improved order accuracy.  

Whether used traditionally as a single SKU deep-channel storage system or creatively as a sequencing shipping buffer for an outward-bound shipping order, the Schaefer Orbiter™ offers an efficient, super-high-density storage system with measurable results that include:
  • Reduction of the overall storage system footprint
  • Storage of more pallets in the same footprint
  • Storage of the same amount of pallets in a smaller footprint
  • Cost Savings through faster tractor-trailer load times
  • Cost Savings through faster tractor-trailer turn-around times due to sequencing
  • Reduction of forklift travel distances – lowering energy costs and the customer’s carbon footprint, while increasing the forklift’s mechanical life
  • Reduction of labor and materials handling costs – resulting in more Cost Savings!

It’s easy to understand why the feedback from our customers is so positive.  Some Schaefer customers have reported an annual savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars simply by getting rid of battery-operated systems.  And putting pallet storage back into a customer’s warehouse allows for the use of existing floor space with several channel levels which means a quicker ROI when off-site storage locations are no longer required.