Vertical Lift Modules, a revolution for the logistics sector

Big manufacturers  that supply a range of very different products have to deal with a wide range of product profiles. For that reason material handling approaches must vary if they want to maintain the efficiency of the company. Concluding, matching the right technology with the right need becomes critical for every manufacturer.

Even Gucci Group, an Italian fashion brand of luxury goods, offers items that can be considered slower movers which means that have a slow rotation rate but a high cost. That’s why a few years ago, as the company’s growth was accelerating, they decided to implement a material handling scheme allowing for these differences in product demand.

This took the form of three vertical lift modules (VLMs). A VLM is an enclosed system with vertically arranged trays stored on both sides of the unit with an extractor device placed in the center. The VLM automatically delivers trays with the stored items to the access windown with a push of a button or a scan of a barcode.

Using VLM technology retrieval, picking and and packing into shipping containers can be combined into one work operation. Therefore the turnaround times can be optimized by installing warehouse management software. By randomly allocating storage locations, it is possible to perform two stage picking. Storage can take place simultaneously and the error rate for storage and retrieval is minimized.

At Gucci the process works as follows: VLM orders are picked in batches of 10. The operator scans the barcode on the shipping container label and the position on the batch station. When the batch is ready to be picked, VLM trays are automatically delivered to a pick window. Once the batch is complete, the order pickers push the cartons onto the take-away conveyor, which delivers the cartons to the next zone or to the weighing and shipping department.

By reducing the walking distance for associates retrieving items during order fulfillment, Gucci was able to reduce labor costs and increase productivity by 40% while saving up to 80% of otherwise wasted floor space. The three VLMs provide approximately 1,800 feet of accessible storage space in a 210 square foot footprint.  The company calculated an 18-month return on investment for the VLMs based exclusively on labor savings. That was based on an additional 40% increase in productivity, although on some days that goes up to 100%.

The important thing here is that Gucci could reused this VLMs for many different products, they aren’t locked into one product. The benefits of VLMs were space utilization, productivity and accuracy of the work. So, as the system integrator on this job sees it, the VLMs are still paying back having a great impact in the overall logistics department with lower turnaround times and greater efficiency that results in a better customer satisfaction.

By: Nil Puigmacia

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