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Breakthrough solutions in automated case handling.

The argument for automated case handling is compelling. In the grocery industry alone, it's estimated that manufacturers and retailers employ some 22,500 people solely to perform this function.

The number of case handlers across all industries is estimated to be a staggering order of magnitude greater. And that number is likely to increase as retailers force more value-added service requirements onto manufacturers and third party logistics providers.

Services such as direct store delivery and store-designated quantities, for example, have already shifted much order selection traditionally performed by retailers upstream to manufacturers.

Downstream at retail distribution centers, the popular practices of cross docking of full pallets and handling store-ready mixed pallets may appear to mitigate the need for case handling. But most items that pass through a retail distribution center ultimately require some form of manual handling. In fact, systems such as manual pick-to-belt flourish in part because they facilitate opportunities for cross docking.

Efforts to date have focused on the development of reliable information systems. Significant advances have been made in radio frequency communications, warehouse management systems, logistics software, and other technologies. But little has been done to develop flexible, reliable technologies for automated case handling, despite the fact that many warehouse managers would be clamoring to buy it.

To be sure, sortation technology continues to improve in speed and reliability. Unfortunately, case handling on and off the sorter is almost exclusively a manual process. But suppose there was a way to reliably handle cases automatically at a lower cost than most companies are currently paying for manual handling?

There is a promise of just such a development-technologies capable of storing and handling individual cases of varying size quickly, gently, and at affordable cost. Developments in Europe have focused on systems that feature multiple deep case racks and handling devices capable of moving multiple cases at once. Linked to robotic mixed load building stations, this technology holds the promise of a practical, affordable solution.

In fact, one system was recently introduced here in the U.S. (see pg. 77). In other developments here, high speed carousel technology and non-conventional mixed pallet building techniques are entering the prototype stage.

Look for the introduction of more systems in 1996-they may be the breakthroughs industry has been looking for.

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Author:St. Onge, Arthur
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Nov 1, 1995
Words:377
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