Forklift based layer picking technology

The layer-picking concept was originally developed in the USA . It allowed many larger FMCG suppliers to offer customers layer picked quantities of products as an alternative to full pallets at close to full pallet prices.  

The trend accelerated after the financial crisis in 2008 as retailers sought to reduce inventories and control input costs.
Such has been the popularity of layer picking that mid-sized FMCG businesses sought to incorporate the ability to pick  by layers in to their supply chain processes.
 
However, the huge investment in robotic palletizers traditionally required meant that alternative handling technology had to be developed to put layer-pciking within financial reach of smaller operators.
 
As a result, systems were developed based on large guided forklifts with hydraulic arms and sometimes conveyors. These models have become popular in many industries especially beverage and food for customer order layer picking and/or delayering full height pallets to allow rapid part load order fulfilment.
 
Forklift-based layer picking technology has many attractions. Namely:
Elimination of ‘Manual Handling’ when fulfilling orders
Heavy low margin ‘beverage and canned’ goods can be mechanically picked.
Operating efficiency over conventional case picking is 5:1 ratio.
Easy implementation of known technologies makes for low risk profile.
Low infrastructure investment makes for fast payback.
 
Now UK-based Flexi Narrow Aisle has developed the revolutionary FlexiPiCK – a dedicated layer picking truck that makes layer-picking even more cost effective.
 
FlexiPiCK utilises proven layer picking technology to handle and pick product layers and pallet board very efficiently and quickly with virtually no product handling limitations. Loads are assembled safely with each layer ‘locked’ together as originally designed.
 
Unlike existing lift-truck based layer picking technology, the Flexi Pick system only requires load access aisles of 2 metres which dramatically reduces the floor space footprint required and means that a system can often be installed in ‘spare’ space or corner of existing distribution centre.
 
The FlexiPiCK’s low entry cost and flexible system design allows the number of lines/SKU’s picked to be adjusted very quickly and with every stand-alone truck based system capable of over 1000case picks per hour per man, the orderpicking cost savings the system brings allow the offer of a ‘layer costs the same as a pallet’..
 
Test data from existing US installations and work cycle data provides case pick rates of between 1000-1100 per hour per truck.
 
The integrated FlexiPiCK concept has been developed to handle all classification of FMCG product including fragile and glass packaged products without damage to either packaging or product.  In fact the layer picking technique protects most product packaging from the incidental damage often inflicted during manual case picking into roll containers or onto pallets.
 
The FlexiPick eliminates the manual picking of product outers and lifting or man handling of heavy pallets boards.  Both of which are often a manual handling risk to warehouse employees.
 
The FlexiPiCK truck based layer picking system is a proven development that can dramatically reduce traditional manual case picking costs to provide a clear marketing and promotion offer strategy to FMCG manufacturers, wholesalers and variety retailers alike.
 
Flexi Narrow Aisle’s Warehouse Systems Division announced the European launch of the FlexiPiCK in February 2014 .
 
The truck features integrated hydraulic arms which carefully grip single or multiple layers of product from within the pallet storage cube to build a new pallet of products to fulfil retail orders quickly and efficiently.
 
“Layer picking is increasingly seen as a time and manpower-efficient means of compiling mixed pallet loads for order fulfilment in the retail sector,” says John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Flexi Narrow Aisle Ltd. 
 
He continues: “Traditional grocery retail supply chain structures tend to be somewhat rigid: palletised loads move through the supply chain with surprisingly few options offered to the ultimate retail store destination. Retailers tend to receive products by full pallet quantity or individual case picked quantity – the latter is often charged at a higher unit price due to the extra picking cost involved.”
 
"The introduction of the product layer marketing concept in the USA – where it has been used extensively to handle fragile and glass packaged products with great success - has been further developed by Flexi Narrow Aisle.  Thanks to its four integrated arms and rubber pads that gently lift and cushion the loads carried, the FlexiPiCK is a cost effective method for suppliers to pick orders and allows them to offer their wholesale and retail store clients order quantities at lower cost than case-ordered volume prices and with less inventory commitment than a full pallet of product. We feel this new development will be of particular interest to the UK's growing value and variety store sectors."
 
Thanks to its ‘True Radius’ ® chassis design, the FlexiPiCK system is the perfect platform for layer picking technology. Layer picking units have previously been developed using traditional counterbalanced forklift truck platform. However, these trucks have to turn at a 90 degree angle to the truck’s mast to execute the layer picking process using huge additional space and providing unacceptably low case pick rates. 
 
Other solutions were developed that increased case pick rates but required costly bespoke lifts and lateral slewing clamps together with steel rail guidance systems installed to reduce aisle widths. The FlexiPiCK system requires a load access aisle of only two metres which dramatically reduces the floor space footprint required.
 
John Maguire says: “Lateral stability issues mean traditional forklift trucks have not proven to be suited to cost effective layer picking development and, of course, current automated conveyor and robot- based solutions are prohibitively costly for many FMCG and grocery retail operations.”
 
“Because a FlexiPiCK is designed to pivot through 220 degrees it is perfectly configured to undertake layer picking operations in very narrow aisleways and without the need for the type of floor mounted steel rail guidance systems that have previously been installed with counterbalance forklift-based layer picking installations.” www.flexi.co.uk