CHEP innovates pallets in automated storage system

Fish-eye view of the storage/retrieval system shows the storage/retrieval unit arriving at a location to pick up a load.

Specializing in pallet and plastic container-pooling services, CHEP Equipment Pooling Systems wants to be the world's leading provider of innovative business solutions in its field. CHEP offers a variety of storage and transport containers, reusable plastic containers, pallets, intermediate bulk containers, crates, trays and much more. With U.S. headquarters in Orlando, FL, the company issues, collects, conditions and re-issues more than 300 million pallets and containers from a global network of service centers, helping manufacturers and growers transport products to distributors and retailers. Combining technology with decades of experience and an unmatched asset base, CHEP handles pallet and container supply-chain logistics in consumer goods, produce, meat, home improvement, beverage, raw materials, petrochemical and automotive industries.

Developed with customers in mind, CHEP's Innovation Center, also located in Orlando, is a state-of-the-art packaging and unit-load configuration testing and validation facility that utilizes leading-edge design, processes and tools to address supply-chain issues. In it, customers may evaluate the performance of their products, material-handling equipment and packaging within their supply chains.

Moving pallets from an end-aisle stand, the SRM automatically stores and retrieves pallets from the rack system.

The site tests pallet and container loads of products for customers around the world and can simulate the conditions these products experience including, extreme heat and cold, humidity, compression, vibration and impact. CHEP also tests its own products and develops and validates new product offerings and improvements to existing equipment. The center strives to exemplify “continuous improvement” in action.

Because it conducts business in 45 countries, CHEP must test many products with its customers and has a customer-testing lab certified for by the Internatonal Safe Transit Assn. (ISTA). In February 2008, the center installed an automated storage/retrieval system from HK Systems (www.hksystems.com) to demonstrate the suitability of its pallets in automated operations and assist itself in developing pallet solutions for customers that may have automated storage/retrieval systems (AS/RS) in their own high-volume operations.

HK Systems' HK3000/RF model, a fully automated rotating-fork storage and retrieval machine that can accept loads up to 3,000 lb, was selected. Compatible with most warehouses, the computer-controlled storage/retrieval machine (SRM) is compatible with many conventional warehouse designs by automatically depositing, retrieving and inventorying loads from defined storage locations. It allows inventory to be moved quickly, safely and precisely in CHEP's warehouse.

A view of the working, multi-tier storage/retrieval system and some of CHEP's pallet inventory.

Equipped with an Allen-Bradley SLC diagnostic control governed with end-aisle laptop commands and software, a Device Net sensor network with plug-in interface blocks and AC and variable-speed motors for smooth operation, the system can operate 24 hours a day without a break. It replaces a standard post-and-beam rack system, points out Kris Hedstrom, director of pallet technology at CHEP Systems, who was instrumental in building the Innovation Center.

Showpiece system

“The Innovation Center is the crown jewel at CHEP, where we validate all of our products and do a considerable amount of product testing, which was really one of the drivers behind why we brought in the AS/RS system,” he says. “The AS/RS is an actual working system, though it's also a showpiece. We wanted to gain experience with that kind of equipment, to test pallets with it and store them using the system in our facility. We also use the HK3000/RF system as a demonstration piece when customers come to visit, and can show them how our various pallets work with automation.”

Moving pallets from the end-aisle stand, the SRM automatically stores and retrieves pallets from the rack system. The forks rotate in the aisle so that pallets can be accessed from the sides of the machine. A command is issued by the end-aisle laptop, alerting the HK3000/RF's on-board controller that a load is ready for pickup and the pallet is automatically located, picked and stored. A laser-positioning device on the machine aligns the forks with openings in the pallets and brings the load onboard, in similar fashion to a turret truck.

The unit can also operate automatically via a scripted routine to move pallets around within the system to simulate automated storage and retrieval of the CHEP pallets, all at speeds to 350 fpm horizontally and 55 fpm vertically.

A five-level-high rack system that's approximately 14 bays long, the Innovation Center stores an assortment of demonstration pallets and has enough room to store 140 of them, single-deep.

The SRM, with its PLC-controlled crane to generate movement, can take a load to a storage location, a pick location or another pickup/deposit location. Next, it alerts the host computer that the move is complete and it is ready for another instruction and brings the load onboard, centering the forks in the aisle.

CHEP says it selected the HK3000/RF because it offers a highly configurable platform that can be adapted to a number of automated picking and placing applications. With some basic operator training, CHEP was able to integrate the system into its operation. “The new equipment allows us to simulate many of the actions that occur with pallets in our customers' AS/RS equipment, which will help our applications engineers resolve issues with automation,” explains Matt Phelps, senior vp of process technology and product engineering at CHEP. “With it, we can also address specific customer pain points quickly and effectively, improving productivity through the supply chain.”

The SRM allows inventory to move quickly, safely and precisely in CHEP's warehouse.

Adds Tom Steininger, senior consultant with HK Systems, “CHEP's system is a showpiece used to demonstrate the use of automation with their pallets. Their pallets need to have consistent dimensions to work well in an automated system, and they have to be strong, because in many cases, the pallets are supported only on the edges of the rack. If a pallet has a problem with the integrity of the boards, they can potentially get dislodged in a rack—a serious problem.”

Critical pallet integrity

But that's not an issue. CHEP's pallet integrity is critical, Steininger adds. “The consistency and high strength of the CHEP pallets make them a good match for AS/RS equipment. We are excited to showcase our automated equipment in the CHEP center, as well as reinforce the importance of quality pallets that are suited for automation and interfacing with AS/RS technology reliably.”

Adds Hedstrom, “It's really a win-win, because we gained a considerable amount of storage in the facility using this system and got more storage density at the same time. We store everything in it from product samples to customers' products to lumber samples, equipment and all of the things we use every day on the racks. So we use it as any company would. It's working out very well.”


More information is available:

HK Systems, Inc., 262/860-7000. www.hksystems.com.

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user June 16th, 2009

Would be interested in seeing the inspection standards they use for pallets that go into this system. My experience with CHEP wooden pallets is that they work for a short time in automated conveyors, but the pallets they classify as meeting the bottom of their standards will not work in automated systems.

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user October 4th, 2009

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user October 4th, 2009

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