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Plant Practices: Shuttle VLM Helps Maine Oxy Make Room For Specialty Gas Laboratory

The space saved in the warehouse allowed Maine Oxy to establish one of the largest specialty gas laboratory in New England.

This article originally appeared in the August print issue of IMPO Magazine. To view the digital version, click here. 

Originally founded in 1929 as a residential gas service company, Maine Oxy has expanded into a leading distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases and quality hardgoods including welding and cutting equipment, supplies and accessories. In addition to multiple sales and manufacturing locations, Maine Oxy currently operates 15 store locations providing gases and hardgoods to a variety of consumers including construction companies, hospitals, ship builders and small garages.

Maine Oxy was in the development stages of a SpecAir gas manufacturing laboratory but was struggling to find room for expansion within the Auburn, ME facility. While contemplating a building expansion, Maine Oxy turned their attention to warehouse optimization.

The 6,500 square foot central warehouse in the Auburn, ME facility houses and distributes hardgoods such as regulators, welding consumables and safety items. With hardgoods stored in standard rack and shelving, workers would travel thoughout the shelving and up and down ladders collecting the parts they needed to fulfill an order. “It was a space consuming, time intensive process,” says Brian Painchaud, Inventory Control Manager at Maine Oxy.

Making Room for Innovation

Maine Oxy installed one Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Module (VLM) from Kardex Remstar to house nearly half of the hardgoods inventory. “The Shuttle XP consolidated our small parts, opening up 2,000 square feet for the SpecAir laboratory, saving us the expense of a brick and mortar building expansion,” says Painchaud.

The space saved in the warehouse allowed Maine Oxy to establish one of the largest specialty gas laboratory in New England. With an ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accredited laboratory and production facility, the SpecAir Gases and Technologies division has introduced a line of environmentally friendly refillable products, leading the industry in replacing disposable calibration gas cylinders with refillables.

Increased Productivity

In addition to the saved floor space, Maine Oxy is now able to fill more orders. The hardgoods central warehouse still requires three workers to pick and pack orders, but they have increased the stores they support from 10 to 15 and their customer base has grown. “Since the implementation of the Shuttle VLM, orders have increased by 40 percent; the Shuttle has allowed us to support this growth without additional labor,” says Painchaud.

Keeping Two Feet on the Ground

The Shuttle VLM delivers items to the worker at an ergonomic pick window, reducing the use of ladders. Previously, picking smaller parts from the shelving often required a worker to climb the ladder to the item location and then pick a small quantity from the bulk inventory. This was tedious work to do while on a ladder. Now the worker stands firmly on the ground while counting out the number of items needed to fulfill the order. “Picking and counting while on a ladder wasn’t ideal,” says Painchaud. “Workers are safer and more efficient picking items from the VLM.”

A Faster Process

The order fulfillment process hasn’t changed much, but delivering the parts to the worker has increased the speed of picking. Orders are received from a store or through the inside sales department and entered into TIMS (Total Inventory Management System). A pick ticket prints in the central hardgoods warehouse where one of the three workers fills the order. The VLM holds smaller parts (1,700 SKUs), Shuttle VLM Helps Maine Oxy Make Room For Specialty Gas Laboratory IMPO while the larger items are stored on shelving (2,000 SKUs).

Each SKU required is marked with a specific bin location. The worker first visits the Shuttle VLM and types in the tray number identified on the pick ticket using the keypad controller. The Shuttle VLM delivers the tray to the worker and the worker uses the bin location on the pick ticket to identify where on the tray the required item is located. “The VLM delivers the items to the worker, eliminating walking and searching through shelving,” says Painchaud. “Because of this time savings we are able to fill more orders per day.”

After picking required items from the Shuttle, the worker travels through the shelving to collect the rest of the items. Once all of the required items are picked, the worker delivers the order to the shipping area where it is quality checked, packed and shipped according to the customers shipping preference.

A Good Fit

Although the VLM was originally purchased to free up floor space and avoid a building expansion, the productivity and ergonomic benefits have allowed the central hardgoods warehouse to manage growth. “Without the VLM I’m not sure how we would have keep up with our recent growth. As we continue to expand our business, we would surely consider additional VLMs to further increase our efficiencies,” says Painchaud.

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