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Last updated: October 13, 2020

vlm medical manufacturer automated storageWhen a prominent manufacturer of surgery and diagnosis-based medical products found its facility struggling with inefficiency in order fulfillment and failure to meet cleanliness standards, they turned to Southwest Solutions Group in search of a solution. As the facility manufactures components such as catheter insertions, needles and syringes, and materials required for taking biopsies, it’s essential that they be able to complete orders for these necessary items as accurately, efficiently, and hygienically as possible. Southwest Solutions Group assisted the facility by installing five vertical lift modules, which enable them to fulfill orders with increased accuracy, efficiency, and cleanliness. 

An Inefficient Order Picking System

The manufacturing facility pulls parts for orders from two separate locations: a warehouse area, in which neither temperature nor humidity is regulated; and a sterile production area, with regulated temperature and cleanliness. Previously, the facility had no designated space for packing orders before sending them off to be shipped. Packing would take place within the production area, which required bringing the needed components in from the warehouse to fulfill orders. Staff coordinated items into a small area but did not pick inventory. This uncontrolled system led to inaccuracy and inefficiency. The necessity of bringing items from the warehouse into the production area also prevented the manufacturer from fully complying with the necessary cleanliness standards.

Warehouse storage was another source of inefficiency. The facility’s warehouse contained a mix of traditional pallet racks and shelving. Staff were storing light inventory on heavy-duty beams designed to support thousands of pounds, a phenomenon which unfortunately is not uncommon in such a setting. Employees also used a conventional method of order picking in which they had to walk up and down aisles and often used fork trucks or climbed ladders to reach items in bulk boxes stored 18 to 20 feet in the air. This process consumed extensive time and energy, not to mention the potential risk of employee injury.

Installing a New System with Vertical Lift Modules

Southwest Solutions Group provided the medical manufacturer with an efficient solution to their problem. To begin with, a cleanroom was constructed between the warehouse and production areas of the facility. This would serve as a sterile area for packing orders according to cleanliness standards, eliminating the need to bring warehouse parts into the production area or vice versa.

vlm pick to light software medicalNext, we installed five vertical lift modules, or VLMs, that serve as the vehicle to bring the needed parts into the cleanroom to fulfill orders. Three VLMs store components from the warehouse and feed them into the packing area, while two more VLMs in the opposite wall bring in parts from the production area. The vertical lift modules provide more efficient storage by organizing and storing the facility’s light inventory in trays stacked in an automated tower, maximizing utilization of available vertical space rather than occupying floor space. Read more about vertical lift modules here.

The key to the efficiency of the VLMs is the Power Pick Global (PPG) software that manages them. Southwest Solutions Group’s Software Tech Team collaborated with the manufacturer to implement the software capability that would achieve their operational objectives. A complete SAP interface, the software was integrated with the facility’s SAP ERP system. This robust software system streamlined their order fulfillment process for increased accuracy and efficiency.

The most prominent feature enabled by the software is pick-to-light technology to improve order picking accuracy. For a given order, the VLM automatically brings down the tray containing the necessary items. But consider that a 10-foot wide tray might hold as many as 72 different parts in separate locations. To simplify the picking process, a laser pointer moves back and forth above the tray at the access point and shines a light on the part that needs to be picked. An LED light bar along the counter also assists with the process by specifying which part to pick and in what quantity.

medical manufacturer order fulfillment cleanroomComplementing this pick-to-light technology, the medical manufacturer also received a unique solution to improve order fulfillment. A framework of light towers was installed in the cleanroom between the two sets of VLMs. A specially sized wire shelving unit is wheeled into position, with shelved bins aligning with the configuration of the lights in the towers. Once an employee picks a part from a VLM, the tower lights to designate which bin to place the part into. After placing the component in the bin, the employee presses a button next to the light. This light turns green if the order is complete, or brings up the next number otherwise. This process repeats until all the orders on the rack are complete. Through this technology, order pickers can fulfill 12 to 16 orders at a time.

The PPG software also provides inventory management capabilities. Weight management technology monitors the materials stored in the VLMs for safety and the most efficient storage. It also tracks when inventory is running low so that staff have plenty of time to restock it rather than running out unexpectedly and delaying order fulfillment. Another convenient feature is counting scales, which eliminate the need to count items by hand. For instance, if an employee needs to pick 35 catheters, they can simply place a handful on a weight scale and add or remove as necessary to reach the right quantity, which saves valuable time.

The client valued being able to come to Southwest Solutions Group’s demonstration lab to see a VLM in operation as well as to sample the available PPG software options. This allowed them to make a more informed decision about the solution that would be right for their facility. Learn more about VLM dimensions and features here.

How the VLMs and Batch Picking Software Improved the Facility’s Operations

medical cleanroom order pickingSince the installation of the cleanroom and the VLMs, the facility now benefits from improved accuracy and efficiency in order fulfillment, as well as an assurance of meeting cleanliness standards in their operations. By storing most of their inventory in the VLMs rather than on warehouse racks, the facility has seen at least a 60% savings in floor space previously allocated to this inventory. Their warehouse space now holds back stock for replenishing the VLMs, and a significant portion of the former storage space has been repurposed into an operational space. The installation of the cleanroom as a designated packing area also has freed up the full space of the production area to be used for its original purpose.

Moreover, facilities like this one typically see up to 300% improvement in productivity with the installation of VLMs and the PPG batch picking software. The pick-to-light technology nearly perfects picking accuracy, while the convenience of the VLMs drastically cuts down the time it takes employees to find and retrieve stored items. Combining this with the capability to fulfill up to 16 orders at a time, it is clear that the medical manufacturer’s new system was well worth the investment.

Contact Us for Vertical Lift Modules

Southwest Solutions Group® provides design and installation services for vertical lift modules. SSG even offers a free consultation to determine your exact needs 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.

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