Parts storage: the vital links31 August 2023

store components conveyors

Establishing efficient ways to store small components at small and large scales – from bins, racks to vertical conveyors – is the gateway to achieving the highest levels of productivity… and profit, reports Brian Wall

At its best, industrial supply is a precise art, which immediately brings to mind ‘Kanban’: the Japanese process used to supply parts on demand and which refills them, as needed. Indeed, Kanban has become the model on the back of which many other systems have evolved. Think only of how pick bins are employed for small parts and then resupplied in a very specific way to ensure the line doesn’t grind to a halt for the want of a washer – which captures exactly how vital having such systems in place is, where the lack of a tiny part can have a massive impact. Other consumable parts and PPE might be dispensed from industrial vending machines (which limits access to make people responsible for using them efficiently) or stored in a vertical rotating conveyor.


Equally, achieving the ideal balance between avoiding stockouts and overspending on stock is a key to ensuring productivity and profits in manufacturing are kept at their optimum, advises Joakim Johansson, head of Cribwise. His team offers what the company describes as “time-saving and cost-saving solutions” to this complex challenge, built around cloud-based inventory management software.

An offshoot of the global Sandvik Group, and its manufacturing and machining solutions business area, Cribwise focused initially on optimising the availability of machine tools. Now, the same digital technology and associated storage systems are now applied equally to assembly components, spare parts, consumables, PPE and other items large and small.

“Running out of an item can halt production, leading to delays, missed deadlines, lost revenue and extra expense,” Johansson emphasises. “On the other hand, overstocking ties up capital. Expanding your stock also increases the scale and complexity of inventory management. Things become harder to find, time is wasted searching and you may well end up reordering unnecessarily. The timing and size of orders is increasingly difficult to judge and purchasing processes become more time-consuming, too.”

Moving from just-in-case to just-in-time stocking makes economic sense, but only if it’s based on good information, he points out. “Ideally, you need a way of tracking each item’s quantities, locations, movements, uses, consumption rates and so on. These details may be recorded using digitally enabled storage equipment or hand-held scanners. A well-designed computer screen interface can then give you full stock visibility, including every item’s location. With accurate figures and reports at your fingertips, it will be easy to see when – and how much – to reorder. In fact, you can automate the purchase process to generate orders as and when needed.”

As an add-on to the core Cribwise software, there is an artificial intelligence (AI) feature that can be integrated with storage facilities or used independently. It tracks and analyses consumption, purchasing and related data. Taking current and historic patterns into account, it optimises order volumes.


For those with diverse parts storage requirements, Konecranes’ Agilon automated materials management system handles parts up to 60x40x45 cm, with weights of up to 25kg. The Agilon robot can move diagonally, horizontally and vertically. Modular by design, it can operate from a minimum footprint of 6m long by 2.5m high, up to a maximum height of 6.1m and unlimited maximum length.

A transportation tube that connects all of the modules can be added, allowing a network of multiple units in different areas – and even on separate floors – to work in unison. When transaction capacity is required, the system can host multiple robots and be further speeded up with sophisticated software features, such as batch picking.

“The system provides real-time information on component stocks through a secure internet connection, with a protected user interface showing the availability of all parts and displaying an image of the specific parts package before retrieving the required item,” says Vesa Hämetvaara, Agilon Business director, Konecranes. “Real-time inventory information, order history and data related to usage and consumption can be monitored via a secure online Agilon portal.”

Each transaction is traceable, as every item entered into or removed from the system is user-, time- and date-stamped and photographed. “All transaction information can be accessed through a web service that comes with the possibility to share information on availability within the supply chain and create automated replenishment processes between systems,” he adds.


A business that places great emphasis on a quick and robust component replenishment system is the Explorer Group, the UK’s second largest caravan and motor home manufacturer. A single motor home requires around 30,000 small components or parts – and the group manufactures 5,200 caravans and over 1,000 motor homes per year. “The downtime cost to the company, if we missed even a basic fastener, would be enormous,” says Carl Peacock, chief buyer at Explorer.

The company had been generally satisfied with its previous 20-30 suppliers of small components and consumables, which used a basic top-up bin system, but recognised this could be improved. As part of a transformation in how it ran its small parts operations, Supply Technologies was brought on board. It replaced Explorer’s outdated supply arrangement with a new Kanban system, which uses replenishable bins directly at the point of use in the assembly areas. Parts are stocked in bins to exact requirements and are refilled through an automated system, managed by Supply Technologies’ support team.

Supply Technologies’ system, along with the use of barcoding, is said to provide accurate bin replenishment, delivering continuous stock availability on a huge range of products, working with minimum stocks. The company now supplies over 400 product lines, including fixings, staples, brackets, hinges, terminals, pipe fittings, plastic parts, magnetic catches and rivets, as well as screws and general fasteners.

Explorer finance director Rob Quine says that, since signing up to the Supply Technologies Kanban System, several benefits have been achieved. “The system has improved all aspects of our supply chain. The Kanban System has brought lower costs, lower inventory, improved analysis of usage of individual parts to aid day-today management, tighter controls leading to improved product quality and a better working environment. It has even led to a reduced number of punctures from loose nails or screws.”

Brian Wall

Related Companies
Konecranes (UK) Ltd

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