Advanced Facilities

O’Neal designs advanced facilities projects from the inside-out, planning how the operation functions internally then designing and building the facility around it, effectively integrating the facility and operating system as one. This process starts from the data analysis to vendor selection all the way through facility construction and go-live support.

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O’Neal designs advanced facilities projects from the inside-out, planning how the operation functions internally then designing and building the facility around it, effectively integrating the facility and operating system as one. This process starts from the data analysis to vendor selection all the way through facility construction and go-live support.

Focus Areas:

  • Automotive
  • Apparel + Fashion
  • Beverage (beer, wines, spirits + soft drinks)
  • Cold Storage
  • Food + Grocery
  • Publishing
  • Personal Care


  • Automation + technology assessments
  • AutoCAD + 3D layouts
  • Supply chain planning
  • Facility planning
  • Design + construction
  • Automation start-up + testing

special capabilities:

  • Planning, design, construction + implementation of distribution + manufacturing centers
  • Broad experience designing, constructing + starting up automation projects with a wide variety of technologies including:

– AGVs
– Unit load AS/RS
– Mini-load
– Shuttle systems
– Pick modules
– Conveyor systems
– Robotic palletizing depalletizing systems
– Gantry pick system

Advanced Facilities WhitePapers

Unlock Your Warehousing Potential
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Vertical Lift Module Basics


Ryan White

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ryan White is Manager of Distribution Planning with over 10 years of experience. Andrew Kesling is a Distribution Systems Planner with over 4 years of experience.

Most people would say a warehouse is a warehouse – a place to store material and goods while they await usage or shipment. In general, this is true; however, each warehouse is more complicated than meets the eye and requires careful evaluation throughout the design process. Depending on the industry, type of facility, products, and limiting constraints such as available space and budget, each warehouse has unique opportunities in optimizing its role within its supply chain.

Understanding your Warehouse

Operation Type can drastically alter the way you think about its space and utilization. Distribution Centers (DC) need accommodate a high number of Stock Keeping Units (SKUs), which may need to be accessed at a moment’s notice. These SKUs can typically change often and the volume of pallets per SKU is driven by its demand. This fact lends itself to each SKU needing a different storage method to optimize the footprint of that SKU in the warehouse. While each DC has nuances in its function, most DCs can follow a similar methodology in contrast to production center warehouses (PC). PC Warehouses can also support production activities by storing raw materials, ingredients for batch production, or finished goods coming out of a production process waiting shipment. Production facilities tend to have a lower number of SKUs but with larger numbers of pallets/SKU. These warehouses must be designed with different considerations in mind which are discussed throughout the remainder of this article.

Product Throughput and On-Hand Inventories

Product throughput and on-hand inventories can provide deeper insight to the types of storage which would best support the role of your warehouse. Factors such as the number of Stock Keeping Units (SKU), product quantities, customer shipping requirements, and package types can all play a role in choosing the most effective racking solutions. Warehouses that deal with many unique SKUs with low unit volumes can take advantage of rack types with high selectivity such as floor storage, selective or pushback racking. Operations that have more complicated product parsing will require closer attention to maintain efficient product delivery. Certain rack types such as Drive-In/Drive-thru racking, Pallet Flow, Shuttle Racking are most effective at storing high quantities of a SKU in order to optimize a warehouse footprint. However, these deeper lane solutions can have a lower ratio of pallets to locations. A few of the deeper lane solutions can be configured in LIFO or FIFO configuration that can help streamline operation flows and ensure all material batches are utilized effectively; the combination of which greatly decreases the operational cost of your facility. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS) can be designed to handle all types of SKUs in the warehouse but might not always be the best option. The goal of any storage configuration is to maximize the space cube (LxWxH) of a warehouse while maintaining efficient put away and picking.

The table below outlines the differences between common rack types:

Equipment Capabilities and Requirements sheds light on additional constraints and opportunities of your warehousing operations. Some of the rack types discussed thus far have additional modifications that can be made to further improve their performance within your warehouse.

For example, selective racking can be modified to a Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) configuration which helps compensate for one of selective racking’s downsides – lack of storage density. Similarly, drive-in and other rack types can be configured to allow for handling two pallets at a time which aid in increasing throughput of a system thus alleviating any potential bottlenecks for processes upstream. While both are substantial improvements on their base configurations, both require specialized equipment. Additionally, using the full vertical height of your warehouse is critical to optimize your pallet count. However, you will need to ensure the lift and weight capabilities of your equipment can work with the racking.

Operational Flow should also be considered in order to maximize productivity while minimizing warehouse traffic. Making such optimizations can greatly improve the performance of your warehouse and ensure the operation teams will be able to handle all demands. Racks such as Flow-thru, Drive-thru, and Shuttle systems allow product and material to be put away on one end and picked from the opposite end, allowing segregation of warehouse operations while maintaining FIFO material flow. Utilizing these types of racks properly can transform the daily operations of a warehouse and elevate its capability.

Should you consider Automation?

Automation in a warehouse can offer a lot of advantages and cost savings opportunities. Technology, like pallet AS/RS, can often be justified in situations where the absolute highest pallet density is needed.

Situations where companies consider automation are the following:

  • Warehouse consolidation
  • Pallets or SKUs are exceeding the warehouse footprint
  • Labor market is small or unreliable in the area
  • Additional functions like e-commerce picking or local delivery are being added to a warehouse

There are several types and configurations of these systems and the right system is determined by the factors listed earlier such as operation type, SKUs, etc. It takes a detailed analysis of your data and processes to de-sign a system that works for your current and future needs. This analysis should be done by professionals to help concept and justify the right automation for your business.

No One Storage Type is Perfect

When evaluating a warehouse, considering different racking types can unlock unrealized potential of your warehousing space and help mitigate logistical and operational bottlenecks. The key to designing a warehouse is not to choose one right rack type, but to design the warehouse in a way that leverages the strengths of multiple storage types, which, when working together take full advantage of available space and budget of your warehouse.

Realizing the optimal balance is an intensive and iterative process; one which requires careful investigation and in-depth data analysis to under-stand the true capabilities of your warehouse. Falsely interpreting this information can leave you with a fragmented, inefficient warehouse with unrealized opportunity. The design process is the most important part of unlocking your warehousing potential and is one which the Advanced Facilities Group at O’Neal Inc. has done for many clients. O’Neal Inc. offers a non-biased approach to sizing both manual and automated solutions with the advantage of understanding the facility needs to make the solution work

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Vertical Lift Module Basics

Chris Connelly and Matt Doak, O’Neal, Inc.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Connelly is Manager of Manufacturing and Distribution Systems Planning with over 8 years of experience. Matt Doak is a Distribution Systems Planner with over 8 years of experience.

In a world of ever-changing technology for process improvements, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the vast number of products, technologies, and possible applications. The following information will help you better understand Vertical Lift Modules (VLM) and if they may be the right solution for you. 

VLM are a type of goods-to-person automation system that utilizes the clear height in a building to reduce operator fatigue, while increasing both picking accuracy and throughput. It accomplishes these benefits by vertically storing SKUs/products onto large trays that can be subdivided into compartments. This configuration condenses the storage footprint and optimizes the cube. A VLM has multiple trays-per-machine stacked vertically which are delivered automatically to an operator based on either customer order information or manual request. The order information is sent to the machines by a user’s warehouse management system (WMS) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. The VLM’s warehouse control system (WCS) determines the optimal delivery sequence of the trays presented to the operator in order to improve the performance of the picking operation.

In addition to space savings and faster picking rates, VLM offer the ability to store product securely to reduce theft and damage, improve ergonomics and safety, reduce operator fatigue, and improve the accuracy of the picking activity through directed picking. With proper planning and layout during design, a single operator can pick from multiple VLM in a “round robin” manner to reduce idle time and increase throughput capabilities. To further improve efficiencies in the process, batch picking of SKU’s can be utilized to fulfill several orders by reducing the number of tray presentations required at each machine.

VLM are offered in multiple machine and tray sizes depending on customer needs and space allocation: 

Due to the varying machine configurations, layouts, and tray sizes available, evaluation of the technology can be rather complex. O’Neal can help you evaluate the technology, determine the optimal size and layout, prove the business case, and fully integrate the automated system.

VLM vs Other Technologies

Now that you have a better understanding of VLM, it is time to discuss applications and how these applications differ from other technologies such as Vertical Carousels, Horizontal Carousels, Top-Loaded ASRS, and Shuttle Systems. Both VLM and Vertical Carousels better utilize the vertical space for product storage when compared to standard shelving, however VLM’s have the additional capability to handle deeper trays accommodating larger products than a Vertical Carousel. The deeper trays can not only handle more load capacity, but the real difference is the tray storage within each machine. The VLM’s dynamic storage height adjusts individual tray locations for varying product heights within each tray, compared to the Vertical Carousel’s fixed tray locations. Compared to a Horizontal Carousel, VLM provide better use of the height in a facility allowing for better cube utilization in a smaller footprint. Although, with increasing height, users may experience an impact to the throughput rate and a reduction in the overall capability of the machine. If throughput begins to be a limiting factor, other systems such as top-loaded ASRS’s, mini-loads, and shuttle systems should be considered.

VLM Initial Evaluation

Before jumping into the data to determine what size and how many VLM would be needed for a process, a couple of simple questions should be asked to confirm whether or not VLM meet your business needs: 

On average, how many lines per order will be processed?

  • If the average lines per order is greater than one, consolidation may be required across multiple VLM or multiple tray presentations. Higher lines-per-order may indicate VLM are not the right solution, since the consolidation time will reduce the time saved by bringing the goods to the person.

What throughput is required for the operation?

  • Each VLM can deliver up to 350 presentations (trays) per hour depending on the configuration/manufacturer, however, this number does not consider tray dwell time for operators to load or pick product. Loading times vary between 15-30 seconds and picking from 5-10 seconds. This puts the effective VLM throughput between 100-240 presentations per hour. Throughput is critical to understand. In conjunction with the product storage requirements, it will indicate if VLM are the appropriate technology, will help to determine the number of VLM needed, and can impact the layout and storage configuration decisions that must be made.

After reviewing the above questions and verifying your process fits the initial evaluation constraints, it is time to dive into the calculations for further assessment and determining the number, size, and configuration of VLM required.

Info Needed to Determine Number of VLM

One of the first steps in determining whether a VLM solution is the correct application is to collect and verify each SKU’s Length, Width, Height, and Weight of both the Eaches and Cases being evaluated for storage. This data is compiled in a SKU Item Master and can be used in the evaluation of the various tray and machine sizes to determine the optimal solution for your products. During the evaluation process O’Neal will identify VLM-eligible SKUs and utilize the dimension/weight data to determine the optimal tray size(s) and configurations. 

In parallel, O’Neal will utilize your business data to evaluate each SKU’s velocity and determine if additional SKUs should be eliminated from consideration due to the frequency they are picked. Depending on the velocity of each SKU and considering the amount of space required to accommodate the Days on Hand (DoH) storage targets a SKU may prove to be a less than optimal candidate for storage in a VLM. O’Neal utilizes your business data to complete a deep-dive analysis and develop a list of VLM-eligible SKUs.

After finalizing a comprehensive list of VLM-eligible SKUs, O’Neal will complete further analysis to determine the optimal compartment size/s of each tray. Through further evaluation of your data O’Neal will determine the required inventory and provide you with an understanding of the storage configuration and total footprint required. 

From the information above, a few of the limiting factors to consider in the evaluation of VLM are the product dimensions/weights, Days on Hand targets, SKU velocity, available floor space, and clear-height availability for the machine. Once deciding VLM is the appropriate technology for your business, understanding the necessary facility preparations/modifications and associated timelines required are critical to a successful implementation. In addition to the items outlined, a few additional considerations should be made:

  • Structural design/adequacy of the slab to ensure it meets the required flatness/levelness criteria and provides the structural stability needed to support the weight of each machine
  • Electrical and Network requirements
  • Fire protection requirements/implications
  • Process flow of the VLM and how it interacts with the auxiliary processes
  • Impacts to Life Safety/Egress within your facility

O’Neal’s expertise with Automated Systems and our in-house Civil, Structural, Architectural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Fire Protection, and Process Engineers are here to help you navigate this process and ensure a successful integration. Now that you know the basics of evaluating VLM, start compiling your Item Master to review, and let O’Neal help you decide if VLM is the right technology for you.

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