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Vertical reciprocating conveyors key to warehouse ops trends

Warehouse

Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) act as the pivotal link between two major trends in warehouse operations that are dramatically increasing efficiency and profitability:

  • Mobile Robots — The widespread adoption of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is transforming the horizontal movement of materials across facilities, revolutionizing logistics and material handling processes.
  • Vertical Space Utilization — Driven by the pursuit of logistics efficiency, along with escalating real estate costs and last-mile distribution demands, warehouses and production facilities are optimizing "cube space utilization" by expanding upwards rather than outwards.

Vertical reciprocating conveyors seamlessly integrate the horizontal and vertical material handling processes, facilitating the smooth automated flow of material in three dimensions. These flexible and compact systems can be incorporated into a wide variety of layouts and serve a multitude of different applications.

Combining VRCs with mobile robots and other manual and automated equipment often represents the most efficient, safest, and cost-effective solution for accessing taller racking, pick modules, mezzanines, and multiple floor levels, in virtually any type of warehouse or production environment.

Rapid Adoption of Mobile Robots

AGVs and AMRs are revolutionizing logistics, automating material handling tasks in factories, boosting production rates, and improving workplace safety by taking over hazardous or repetitive tasks.

Automated guided vehicles adhere to predetermined paths, whereas Autonomous Mobile Robots employ sophisticated sensors and artificial intelligence for flexible navigation. AGVs, with their lower initial costs, are sometimes preferred by production and packaging operations in obstacle-free routes where predictable timing of material delivery is paramount.

Conversely, AMRs offer unparalleled adaptability in dynamic and chaotic settings, making them ideal for large warehouses and distribution centers.

In warehouses, the impact of these robots is even more visible and transformative. Several factors are driving the swift adoption:

  1. E-commerce Growth
  2. Complexity of Modern Distribution
  3. Labor Shortages and Rising Costs
  4. Technological Advancements
  5. Safety and Efficiency

Vertical Cube Utilization

Warehouses now aim for taller structures, optimizing last-mile distribution and maximizing storage without expanding horizontally. This approach also enhances sustainability and energy
efficiency, reducing HVAC costs and long-term maintenance.

Leveraging the “vertical cube” not only maximizes storage but also streamlines operations, improving material handling, increasing productivity, and ensuring safety without necessitating
horizontal expansion. The utilization of upper levels also frees up prime dock-level real estate for
crucial shipping, receiving, or re-packaging processes. 

VRCs function like elevators but for material loads, not people. They are safer than forklifts or
scissor lifts, preventing load falls and injuries, and are less costly to install and maintain.

Flexibility

VRCs are a versatile solution that can be installed next to mezzanines, in existing elevator shafts, or through floors, and they can also be installed outdoors.

Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) stand out for their exceptional versatility and adaptability, opening a myriad of automated material handling opportunities. They seamlessly integrate with mobile robots and automated conveyor systems, or they can be manually loaded
and unloaded.

AGVs, AMRs and driverless forklifts can travel with the load on the VCR and continue travel when they arrive at the destination floor. Alternatively, they can efficiently transfer loads onto the VRC at one level, and then another system —whether it's another AGV, AMR, or a different automated or manual material handling method — can take over at a different level.

Furthermore, VRCs can effortlessly connect with automated horizontal conveyor systems, facilitating the smooth flow of materials to and from production, packaging and shipping operations.

Seamless Transition

A seamless transition as the mobile robots travel on and off the carriage is critical. Proper alignment of the floor and the carriage is necessary to prevent damage to the robots and goods and to avoid operational delays during the transfer between the floor and the VRC platform.

PFlow’s optional, patented DeckLock Safety System guarantees a smooth and secure transition of goods during loading and unloading operations, providing years of reliable service even under heavy loads and continuous usage. It also prevents unintended carriage descent due to overload or brake malfunction during loading.

Seamless Integration

Integrating AGV/AMRs and VRCs with warehouse and fleet management systems enhances material handling efficiency, allowing autonomous transport across facility levels with minimal human intervention.

Critical to this integration are the features and capabilities that facilitate real-time communication and interoperability among AGVs, AMRs, and VRCs. This integration ensures that robots can autonomously and precisely position themselves to either load or unload goods onto the VRCs. The employment of advanced sensors, visual systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies enables these machines to share their locations, statuses, and the movement of the carriages within the VRCs, thereby streamlining the material handling process.

Multiple Configuration Options

VRCs offer three basic configurations (straddle, cantilever, 4-post), each suited for different lifting needs and space constraints, providing flexibility in integration with automated systems.

Straddle

In a straddle configuration, the VRC’s carriage is placed between the two guide columns, distributing the weight of the load vertically along the length of both columns. This type of configuration allows for greater lifting capacity and larger carriage platform sizes than a cantilever configuration.

Cantilever

In a cantilever configuration, the VRC’s carriage is supported by two guide columns on one side of the carriage, allowing for more loading and unloading flexibility to maneuver loads, especially
in space constrained areas.

4-Post

The 4-post VRC configuration positions the platform within four guide columns to enable maximum lifting capacity and large platform sizes.

Comparing Mechanical versus Hydraulic VRCs for Automation

VRCs are engineered with robust core lifting technology, utilizing either hydraulic or mechanical systems. Hydraulic VRCs are effective for simple two-level lifting tasks that do not necessitate
continuous operation. 

Mechanical VRCs are preferred for automated processes, handling heavy loads, achieving high speeds, and enduring continuous cycle operations, suitable for lifting capacities exceeding 6,000 pounds or heights surpassing 22 feet.

VRCs, by maximizing space and accelerating automation, transform warehouses and production facilities, enhancing material handling efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness. Adopting VRCs is a strategic upgrade positioning facilities at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.

 

PFlow Industries headshots

Chuck Cobb is VP, sales, marketing & customer support of PFlow Industries. Dox Hext is national sales director of PFlow Industries.

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