A distribution facility has reached the point where no more slots can be squeezed into the pick line. Floor pallets or shelving units have been crammed into all empty corners. The next place to go looking for slots is “off the ground”. Before bringing in rolling ladders or having selectors climb on top of their pallet jacks, consider:
There are a variety of low/mid-level order picking vehicles designed to access these “off the ground” pick locations; having higher access would allow for the installation of additional levels which can be hand-stack, case flow or pallet slots.
In North America such order picking will most likely be done using smaller versions of familiar high-lift man-up order picking trucks. The operator’s platform along with the fixed forks and pallet will lift a bit beyond ten feet from floor level. In Europe and elsewhere warehouses have access to pallet jacks with raise-able platforms.
Let’s compare the low-level order picker to a small North American style order picker. The low level machine costs slightly less and travel speeds at ground level are similar. The common (NA) machine has greater capacity and much more lift. The low-level machine is narrower, maneuverable, more suited to working in an aisle together with reach trucks and, does not require a harness as do the N. A. machines.
Low Level Order Picker
Common Order Picker Truck
Vehicles like Toyota’s BT Option (L series) pictured above are somewhat of a cross between pallet truck and order picker. Chassis width (around 32”) and travel speeds (12 km/h) are similar to pallet jacks. Platforms and forks elevate together (or on some models independently) allowing selectors access to higher slots. The controls elevate with the operator platform, selectors can move from one slot to another in a raised position, the platform can go up or down while the truck is moving. Operator platforms elevate to a 40 to 47 inch range, from where a taller selector could select a case off a beam set at nine feet from the floor. Note that codes typically require railings on platforms elevated above 48”. The BT option is available in Canada.
The idea behind the low-level machine is for pickers to be able to get up and down (to a relatively low and safe level) quickly, and to be able to get on and off the machine quickly. These machines were designed to take all elements of the order picking process into account. Crown (Germany) also makes an award winning machine, the GPC 3000, which includes a simple fold down step, as well as a raise-able platform as options. The machines are primarily intended for markets other than North America. They can be sold in the US, but would have to go through engineering approval at the dealer level in order to meet ANSI safety regulations, which are in some ways stricter than in Europe.
Raised platforms would have to be considered a safety concern. The most effective means to achieve safe operation is operator training. Which is true of any equipment including a ladder.
What type of order picking vehicles does your company use and what would you recommend?