BITO has engineered a solution combining its racking and live storage roller tracks to successfully meet the specific needs of Formica Group’s recently extended intermediate warehouse at its North Shields production facility. The new racking creates 60% more storage locations for sheets of treated Decor paper used in the formation of Formica® laminate products. It also keeps the sheets protected, makes order picking easier and helps minimise lead time for Formica Group’s customers.
In business for over 100 years, Formica Group is a leading provider of branded, designed surfacing solutions for commercial and residential customers worldwide. Interior designers, architects, shopfitters, builders, furniture makers and other fabricators specify it because of its attractive and durable finish. Formica® decorative laminates consist of layers of specially selected papers, impregnated with thermosetting synthetic resins, fused together under heat and very high pressure.
Previously, the company stored cured sheets awaiting pressing in a low roof, 1950s-era building. Picking individual or multiple sheets from the palletised stacking was not easy and the company needed the ability to pick sheets from its broad range of over 2000 SKUs and press board within a short period of time. Formica Group decided to build a new extension, giving a new, 2325 square metre intermediate storage warehouse, with a 7.5 m height.
The warehouse receives treated sheets from the neighbouring plant to store before they are picked from the racking to be married up and then pressed together with the core boards, to provide customers with an end Formica® laminate product. BITO commenced installation of an innovative racking system in January 2018. To be successful, its design needed to attain the highest density of product possible, with the shortest distance between picking positions.
“We were looking for a ‘letter-box’ style rack where the material is stored on our own boards rather than a pallet, because the pallet wastes space,“ says Grant Newberry, Lead Engineer at Formica Group. “We need to be able to pick individual sheets or a whole board at a time.”
BITO worked closely with Formica Group to develop a roller-tracked location solution combining standard BITO components and specially designed parts. Trials with a mock-up established how the racking would stand up to use. “We asked for something a little different: a half degree back angle on the rack,” says Newberry. The racking incorporates a spacing mechanism that allows the sheets to sit in, effectively, a horizontal position on the rack that is tipped slightly to get a half a degree back angle. This addresses safety issues by preventing sheets slipping out. Using Formica® laminate as the base for each stack of sheets not only saves height within the location, it allowed BITO to use lighter duty rollers and gain more levels within the overall height.
The entire BITO racking system holds up to 340,000 individual sheets at any one time, supporting the factory’s output of 50,000 finished boards every week.
Split into sections that hold a specific length of sheet: 8, 10 or 12 feet, the scheme comprises a total of 1950 positions on 26 levels. Each location spans 1750 mm between uprights with roller tracks spaced to distribute weight evenly, irrespective of board width. With a 250 mm pitch between levels, each location gives sufficient space to house a stack of up to 300 sheets on a Formica® laminate board, with a total stack height of 160 mm and still have sufficient clearance to allow air to be blown in via a hose to raise delicate, thin single sheets. “We couldn’t just slide the stack in with only 5 mm clearance, we had to leave 10-15 mm minimum clearance so we could raise the sheet by blowing air beneath.” explains Newberry, adding that the product density achieved by the system has been the key benefit. “It was a constant challenge during the design to minimise the wasted height, maximise our product height and allow an air gap above it.”
Another challenge Formica Group set BITO was to design in ease of maintenance. Newberry explains: “With this design we can unclip a whole shelf and slide it out of the front of the rack for any maintenance and then slide it back in again.” It takes only 15 seconds to change a rail, for example, though Newberry is happy to report this has not been required.
Fifteen special trolleys pulled by tow tractors provide a universal transfer system to bring treated sheets into the warehouse and take picked items to the marry desks and the press. The trolleys are formed from a Formica Group-designed base and what is effectively a modified four-level section of the BITO racking on the top. Sheets can be easily rolled in an out of the trolley’s locations.
BITO’s racking stores finished sheets produced in a facility next door. The core boards, to which the sheets are applied to form the finished Formica® product, are sent straight to the press from where the final Formica® laminate is manufactured.
Treated sheets are stacked onto base boards – up to 300 on each one – and loaded on the trolley, which is then towed into the intermediate warehouse to the racking’s input station. It is transferred onto a scissor lift, which presents the sheets to the man-up order picker serving the aisles. This allows them to be carefully rolled onto a platform on the order picker, which then transports the sheets to the required location in the rack, to be rolled into the position.
When sheets are required to be married up at the press, they can be picked as a single sheet, a number of sheets or a full board. The sheets are transferred from order picker to the trolley for transport to the marrying desks where pairs of operators marry one sheet at a time, ensuring they are in the right order for production.
BITO’s racking system therefore plays an important role in speeding the process of getting product into the press to maintain productivity.
“We had a challenging application and we are a challenging client – in terms of project management and also in the detail in the design,” says Newberry. Formica Group was also keen to work closely with BITO in the design, detail and challenge, “which BITO accepted well and between us we devised a successful solution that fits our unique product specification. The robust design ticks all the boxes in terms of maintainability and gives us good performance and longevity.”
Newberry concludes: “With this system, we are handling the sheets much better than before, therefore we have less breakage and wastage. We also have better visibility, as there is one colour per location, where we previously used to have ‘rainbow’ pallets. The flexibility of BITO’s design team and the strength and maintainability of its solution has provided Formica with a bespoke system that ultimately leads to an improvement in our productivity and operational costs.”