When your distribution center is struggling to keep up with demand, it’s time to consider some new options. Maybe you’re limited by storage space and can’t afford to expand. Or maybe it just comes down to inefficiency. Are order picking errors hindering your productivity? Does it take too long to retrieve products scattered throughout a warehouse? Do paper pick lists give your pickers headaches? And is it just taking too long to fulfill orders?
If these issues sound familiar, horizontal carousels could be the solution you need. These automated storage and retrieval systems consist of bins suspended from an overhead track which rotate to bring stored supplies to the order picker. With the help of batch picking software, horizontal storage carousels have been proven to boost throughput, recover up to 75% of floor space, and almost entirely eliminate errors in high-speed picking. In this article, you’ll learn about the basic operation, the dimensions, and the following five key benefits of horizontal carousels:
How Horizontal Carousels Work
A horizontal carousel consists of a compact system of bin carriers suspended from a motorized oval overhead track. The bins rotate horizontally to bring stored supplies to a pre-designated access point where the operator can retrieve the needed items. Warehouse management software coordinates orders into batches and directs operators to which products to pick from the carousel and then which bins to place them in at an order station. (See videos )
For ease of use, you can configure an operator terminal with a touch screen, digital information display, and confirmation buttons. The software also integrates with external devices including printers, scanners, and extra display panels—so even while picking is paperless, you can still print delivery notes and other necessary documents.
Horizontal storage carousels are ideal for industrial, production, and distribution applications, ranging from MRO parts to retail inventory to healthcare supplies. The system, including the software, is scalable to fit applications from small businesses to extensive distribution centers, facilitating both high-speed throughput and slower-moving products. In short, any warehouse application which needs an efficient system of order picking should consider horizontal carousels. (Learn about other automated storage and retrieval system alternatives here.)
Horizontal Carousel Dimensions
Horizontal carousel dimensions will vary based on your specific application.
- 6-7 feet wide
- 7-13.5 feet tall
- 19-153 feet long
- Holds 16-120 carriers (varies based on carousel and carrier size)
- Max payload 55 tons
- Rotational speed of 85 feet per minute
Dimensions for an individual bin carrier:
- 24-37 inches wide
- 18-24 inches deep
- 6-12 feet tall
- 600-2000 pound weight capacity (75-200 pounds per shelf)
The Benefits of Horizontal Carousels
Horizontal carousels afford considerable benefits in distribution and order picking. After installing these systems, facilities have reported achieving a full ROI in under two years. The key benefits below illustrate how horizontal carousels will revolutionize your picking system and boost your throughput for higher efficiency, productivity, and revenue generation.
One of the most prominent benefits of installing horizontal storage carousels is the immediate increase in picking productivity. Horizontal carousels streamline warehouse operations and drastically cut down the time it takes to pick parts and fulfill orders.
This is due in large part to the “goods to person” principle—in other words, a horizontal carousel brings the needed parts directly to the operator, rather than the order picker having to walk through a warehouse to retrieve stored parts. The carousel always takes the shortest path to bring the right carrier to the access opening for the greatest possible time savings.
For applications with a wide range of frequently accessed items, you can install up to four horizontal carousels around a single workstation (known as a pod). The carousels can move independently, such that while an operator is retrieving an item from one carousel, the others are already rotating to bring the next parts to the access point. Thus, wait time is nearly eliminated.
Batch picking software is the key to maximum productivity with horizontal carousels. The software combines orders into batches so that operators can pick closely-located parts from multiple orders simultaneously, fulfilling orders with the highest efficiency and reducing carousel drive cycles. Since the software tracks the orders and directs the operator to the parts that need to be picked, picking becomes paperless and requires minimal effort on the part of the order picker.
At a horizontal carousel station, a single operator can work off 200-400 positions (fulfilling up to 80 orders or more) per hour. And if that’s not enough to keep up with demand in peak seasons, the system adapts to facilitate multiple operators working at the same station simultaneously for maximum productivity.
Horizontal carousels are not only efficient, but they’re guaranteed to improve the accuracy of your operations. By integrating pick-to-light and put-to-light software, facilities have reported achieving up to 100% accuracy in order fulfillment.
Software-controlled light towers can be installed between the horizontal carousels at a workstation. As the software coordinates batch picking orders, the carousels will automatically bring the appropriate carrier to the access point. An LED light from the tower points the order picker to the correct shelf, and display modules on the shelves indicate the exact position and quantity of the items to be picked.
The operator will place picked parts in bins designated for each order. The same LED light display technology conveys to the operator which bin to distribute parts into, and what quantity, when fulfilling batch orders. Operators can scan a barcode before placing the item into its bin to ensure it’s the correct match. These bins will then be sent out from the station when all the orders in the batch have been fulfilled.
And when multiple pickers are operating at a single station, a multi-color pick-to-light option is available. This option assigns a different color to each picker, so up to 8 operators can work simultaneously under the guidance of the software by following the lights in their assigned color.
With this innovative technology to orchestrate the picking process, pickers fulfill orders with nearly perfect accuracy, eliminating costly errors for the most efficient operations.
The software integrated with horizontal carousels also gives system administrators exceptional inventory management capabilities. Thanks to software-assisted processing and barcode scanning of each stored part, you can always see precisely how much inventory you have at any given time. The software does continual cycle counting and maintains a full transaction history for traceability of your products.
Another convenient feature of the inventory management software is that you will automatically be alerted whenever stock of a particular item is running low. Advanced options will even order more inventory automatically when stock gets down to a certain point. This ensures that you never face unexpected stockouts that delay order fulfillment. And when operators manually restock products in the horizontal carousels, the put-to-light software guarantees that each item is stored in the proper place.
This inventory management system also provides you with maximum security for your products. With this software, supervisors can manage group and user rights to accessing products, and the system facilitates audit tracking so you can always see where all your supplies have gone. And for the tightest security (not to mention the safety of your workers), you can choose to have your horizontal carousels enclosed with a safety fence or plexiglass walls, with automatic access doors at the workstation. This ensures that stored goods can only be accessed from the workstation, reducing the risk of pilferage and damage. Other safety features include door locks and automatic carousel stop triggered by an incorrectly positioned product or an operator stepping on a door mat.
Another crucial benefit of horizontal carousels is the space savings they afford. Clients have reported reclaiming 60-75% of their floor space by installing horizontal carousels. For facilities running low on storage space, this savings is critical.
Compared to vertical automated storage and retrieval systems, horizontal carousels are generally the best fit for facilities with low overhead space (especially less than 15 feet). But if you do have overhead space you want to maximize, you can stack horizontal carousels two or even three levels high, doubling or tripling your storage capacity in the same footprint. Stacked carousel systems can operate independently, especially if you implement mezzanines to facilitate workstations on each level. Alternately, you can structure the system as a tall station with a single lifting platform that motors up and down to access carousels on different levels. The lifting platform will automatically conduct the operator to the ergonomic height for picking the needed parts, and the software divides the system into picking zones so that the operator picks all the items in a single picking zone before the platform moves on.
And when it comes to storage on each bin carrier, you can adjust the shelves on 1.5-inch increments for maximum storage density. This allows you to store items of all sizes, from those bulky enough to occupy the full carrier height to the smallest parts. The corresponding lights on the tower adjust with equal ease so your productivity won’t be disrupted.
Add to this a picking station that can be as small as 54 square feet, and you’ll find that horizontal carousels make efficient use of a limited footprint. And compared to vertical alternatives, horizontal carousels are the least expensive per cubic foot of storage, which means a better ROI.
On top of all this, horizontal storage carousels are easy to operate and require the least effort on the part of the order picker or manager. To begin with, order pickers no longer have to walk all over a warehouse to track down supplies to fill an order. Instead, these goods are delivered directly to them, which not only means quicker order fulfillment but also reduces worker fatigue. And by arranging a pod of three or four horizontal carousels in an L or U configuration, you can keep operators in a workstation as small as 5 square meters, minimizing the distance they’ll have to cover. With batch picking, operator movements are reduced even more since the software coordinates the most efficient picking of parts.
Plus, the system is reliable and low maintenance. With self-lubricating bearings, horizontal carousels are designed for long-term operational safety. These features ensure that horizontal carousels afford unmatched efficiency with the least frustration.
Contact Us for Horizontal Carousels
Southwest Solutions Group® provides design and installation services for horizontal carousels to a wide variety of industries and applications. We will also provide you with a free consultation to determine your exact needs and specifications before the design process begins. To learn more or to speak with a specialist, call us at 1-800-803-1083 or send us a message today.