Even in today’s highly automated warehouse distribution centers, hand stackers still play a vital role. There are still situations when human beings can do the job more efficiently and cost-effectively than either conventional automated palletizers or the newer robotic palletizers.
Mixed load palletizing can present problems for both types of automated palletizing systems currently in common use. Conventional palletizers may be capable of handling only two to three SKUs simultaneously. A robotic palletizer with a single stationary articulating arm may be able to handle up to four different SKUs. If a gantry-style robot is used or an articulating arm is mounted on a moving track, the number of SKUs a robotic palletizer can handle increases to eight or maybe as many as 12 SKUs. If you need to build pallets from more than 12 SKUs, hand stackers may be the better solution.
In addition, like most automated/robotic material handling equipment, palletizers are expensive. The initial purchase price and the training to roll out their implementation in a warehouse environment represent a significant upfront investment. Ongoing maintenance and IT support should also be considered. Depending on the volume of work – the number of mixed-load pallets that need to be built using less than 12 SKUs and the number of pallets that need to be built from single SKUs – the ROI may or may not justify the use of an automated palletizer in a 3PL warehouse distribution center. However, that can vary tremendously depending on the types of accounts handled by the particular third-party logistics provider in a given warehouse facility.
If palletizers are not appropriate in a particular application, you need a third-party logistics provider with the experienced work force and technology to pick your orders from inventory and then properly load your products onto pallets and prepare them for shipping. Hand stackers building a pallet full of different items manually is a labor-intensive procedure and requires skill and care. The complexity increases if the items vary significantly in size, shape and weight. Larger, heavier items need to be positioned at the bottom of the pallet. Smaller, lighter items need to be stacked higher within the pallet load. No boxes should overhang the outer edges of the pallet and the fully loaded pallet needs to be stable and shrink wrapped properly so that the load won’t shift during transport.
In addition, another use for hand stackers occurs when customers need to hire their 3PL provider to unload and restack product on pallets when they experience problems with loads shifting at other points along their supply chains and/or distribution channels. Experienced workers and large staging areas are vital to ensure quick turn-around, no matter how complex the hand stacking project.
FW Warehousing is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri with Midwest warehouse distribution centers in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana totaling more than four million square feet. Founded in 1949 with a focus on food-grade storage, FW later broadened its services to include general warehousing, dry storage, hazardous material and chemical storage, temperature-controlled storage and product distribution and fulfillment. FW Warehousing has more than 60 years of experience in third-party 3PL logistics and has been ranked in the top 100 Third Party Logistic companies in the country by Inbound Logistics magazine.
For more information about FW Warehousing and the full range of logistics services including hand stackers provided, visit the FW Warehousing website.