Deep Lane Gravity vs Automation…

Pallet Flow Racking Vs. Shuttle Systems

As we continue our blog series on the effectiveness of pallet flow systems in comparison to other available racking options, we are revisiting (and expanding) our look at pallet flow racking vs. automated shuttle systems.

Again, you wouldn’t be considering pallet flow racking or a shuttle system if you weren’t planning for high volume, low SKU inventory management, so we take that as a given, but what other features distinguish these two popular storage solutions?  Let’s start with a review of Automated Deep-Lane Shuttle Systems.

 Automated Deep Lane Shuttle Systems

Shuttle SystemThe automated deep-lane shuttle system offers fast, high-density inventory movement in a space- efficient configuration.  Using a remote control, the operator instructs a battery-powered shuttle to load and retrieve pallets within the rack.  With the ability to configure for either FIFO or LIFO product rotation, the operator can instruct the shuttle to transport pallets to desired positions or even configure the system to run predetermined functions.  However, as with any automation, battery charging is required and downtime for shuttle maintenance/repair can be very costly and even more so if a shuttle needs replacing.

Shuttle Pros:

  • Maximum selectivity – unique SKU stored in each lane
  • Ideal for deep storage – 24-26 pallets deep
  • Best suited for high-turnover, low SKU inventory –20-100 SKUs
  • Fast pallet storage/retrieval
  • Increased productivity — freeing operators to work elsewhere while shuttle picks pallets
  • Utilizes vertical warehouse space most effectively due to limited required bay height
  • Efficient with LIFO or FIFO inventory management
  • Can enhance accuracy of inventory control
  • Can accommodate varying sized pallets

Shuttle Limitations

  • Additional shuttles may be needed to handle increased demand or output requirements at a cost of up to $50k each
  • Automated systems may require higher maintenance costs
  • Lane changes require moving the shuttle –decreasing productivity
  • Electricity costs for battery charging
  • Tall configurations require specialized fork truck equipment

Pallet Flow Rack

full roller pallet flow racking

Pallet flow racking shares many of the same benefits as an automated storage system in a deep-lane configuration; where the two systems diverge mainly hinges on automation vs gravity.  In a pallet flow rack system, product is loaded from the rear or charge-side of the system and unloaded from the pick aisle, thus Pallet flow requires an additional aisle in the rear of the system.  However, pallet flow rack does not require batteries or need electricity to charge the batteries… pallet flow lets gravity do the work. Gravity moves the pallet along at a pre-determined pitch to safely and efficiently deliver the pallet to the pick face.

 Pallet Flow Pros:

  • Cost effective in either deep or shallow-lane configurations
  • Maximum selectivity – unique SKU stored in each lane
  • Lower Installation and maintenance costs
  • Easily reconfigured for shifting inventory specs
  • Orderly & efficient separate aisle loading and unloading
  • Braking systems control pallet for product & worker safety
  • Can accommodate varying sized pallets

Pallet Flow Limitations

  • Requires warehouse personnel to load & pick
  • Requires front and back aisle
  • Limited to FIFO product rotation

Automated Shuttle vs. Pallet Flow

As you can see both systems offer excellent options for high-density throughput.  If you are evaluating costs, than you will notice that initial investment in a deep-lane pallet flow system can run about 25% more than a like quantity pallet shuttle system.   However, pallet flow systems do not require the operating and maintenance costs of shuttle systems.  Lastly, pallet flow is more flexible in accommodating inventory specification changes and isn’t limited to low SKU inventory to be cost-effective.

As we conclude our review of pallet storage systems, we hope that we have exposed some of the less-known features of pallet flow racking systems and of course in particular Mallard Pallet Flow.  But… Don’t just take our word for it!  Call us and review your plans with a gravity flow expert.  We will work with you to see if pallet flow is the best solution to meet your needs.

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