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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

September 9, 2015

Logistics News: Equipment Versus System – It May Not Be So Easy to Differentiate

Whether Purchasing Equipment or a System, Application & Implementation Issues can be equally Complex

Holste Says:

When faced with a system purchase, especially for the first time, companies are well advised to bring onboard an industry consultant or independent project manager who has a proven track record and will ask the appropriate questions and provide trusted advice.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations


When considering a system purchase, companies are almost certainly entering into a relationship of some considerable duration which makes the choice of system providers all the more critical. Buyers should be aware that some system providers subcontract critical portions of the project, such as controls engineering and software development, to an independent contractor. All too often a subcontractor’s lack of involvement in the proposal development and initial planning stage can lead to missed functionality, confusion and delays during installation and commissioning.

When faced with a system purchase, especially for the first time, companies are well advised to bring onboard an industry consultant or independent project manager who has a proven track record and will ask the appropriate questions and provide trusted advice.

Prior to signing the sales agreement, buyers should make sure they understand who will be designing and providing the major components and system integration by asking HOW the system design specification and implementation requirements will be met, and WHO will train operators and provide backup services during the warranty period. The buyer should request a list of subcontractors and their contractual responsibilities.

Differentiating between a standalone equipment purchase and a system purchase can be tricky. It's not unusual for a company to be thrown off track by what appears to be a straight forward equipment purchase but is actually a more complex system purchase.

Picking Modules
(see picture) are a good example. Most companies choose their picking modules based on the type of products to be stored and operational features relative to pallet flow, carton flow, or piece picking functionality. Exclusive of any powered equipment and software programs, pick modules may appear to be a commodity item similar to static storage racking. However, given the number of different components included in a pick module, they tend to be application engineering intensive. And, while they are stand-alone static structures, they must integrate with system operations and the people using them. Upon closer examination, you discover that there are many issues/questions that need to be considered, such as:


If multi-level, what type of decking will be need? Decking requirements vary, based on the sprinkler requirements and the type of picking. Or, if operators will be picking to carts, what type of decking is required so that the carts can move smoothly on the decking surface?

How will inventory be replenished?

How will picked product be transported out of the module?

How will empty cartons be removed?

Where will empty pallet returns be installed? How many are needed?

Are pallet slide rails required?

Should pallet flow positions have safety bar grating under each pallet position?

Should safety netting be used around stairs and outer walkways?

Does the setup conform to local building codes and site requirements?

Is the floor slab sufficient for supporting the imposed loads?

Do you need a building permit?

Who will manage the project and equipment installation? Will the installation crew be factory trained or hire from the local labor pool?

So even equipment as benign as a picking module can have similar complexities to that of a system purchase. Overlooking any of the above considerations can be costly and time consuming to address post installation.

Final Thoughts

The technology driving the design and application of material handling equipment is constantly evolving. Getting the right tool for the job is not always easy to do. In order to avoid buyer’s remorse it’s a good idea to get advice from a trusted advised before investing in equipment that could be outdated, misapplied, and/or not sufficient for the purpose intended.



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