Powered High-Density Mobile Storage Systems

Nov. 2, 2006
Decision-makers may be unaware of the advances in powered-storage options

Storage impacts the physical plant and operating budgets of virtually every commercial and industrial facility, but often tends to be an afterthought in planning new construction or building renovations. Even when storage is planned for, the result is likely to be inflexible or not designed to meet future needs for expansion or modification. As the need grows to store more material, facilities managers are looking for the best ways to meet today’s storage requirements while allowing for the flexibility to satisfy tomorrow’s needs.

Compact storage is a widely accepted way to maximize capacity for storing and filing materials. Although powered compact storage systems have been available in North America since the 1960s, manual and mechanical systems have become predominant for various reasons. Powered systems have gradually been accepted as new technologies are introduced to the market. However, many decision-makers are unaware of these recent (and very significant) advances in powered storage products.

Why More Storage?
According to Grand Rapids, MI-based BIFMA Intl., about 28 percent of all non-wood office-furnishing expenditures are typically spent on storage equipment. Storage issues continue to vex decision-makers in virtually every industry as they face issues such as the cost of space, green/sustainable building design, and user-friendly facilities that maximize employee productivity.

In a May 2003 survey, U.S. corporate facilities professionals reported that the most common complaints they hear include:

  • Too cold.
  • Too hot.
  • Poor janitorial service.
  • Not enough conference rooms.
  • Lack of storage/filing space.

In recent years, many firms have tried to reduce the number and size of workstations. According to a 2002 Wall Street Journal article, the average office-space size per person dropped from 410 square feet per employee in 1997 to 355 square feet per employee in 2001 (including common areas, as well as workers squeezed into tiny cubicles and workstations of 40 square feet or less). As their workstations become smaller, building occupants are looking for other places to store records and materials. Other causes of increasing storage needs include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (requiring healthcare enterprises to have a disaster-recovery plan in effect, meaning that a second copy of all medical data must be maintained in a separate location for retrieval in the event of a disaster) and the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The storage of 1 cubic foot of record material in working office space is estimated to cost approximately $15 per year; reducing this space can add up to large savings. The need for storage, and planning ahead to meet future storage needs, is more important than ever before. Facilities managers have many choices when it comes to storage systems and products. The chart on page 88 outlines various factors that the end-user should consider when choosing between different kinds of stationary and mobile storage options.

HDMS Systems Defined
Compact storage, or HDMS, is a way to maximize square-footage capacity for storage and filing by eliminating the space required for multiple aisles. The reduced need for storage space can, in turn, minimize a building’s total volume and reduce construction costs, as well as cut operating costs over the building’s life. HDMS systems efficiently condense storage into a smaller footprint while increasing capacity over stationary storage systems or freeing up space for other revenue-generating activities.

HDMS systems include a number of units called “carriages” that move along a rail or track on the floor. The number and length of carriages, which contain shelves or other storage units, vary depending on user needs and the size of the facility. Virtually anything, from patient X-rays to football helmets, can be stored in HDMS systems. One of the major benefits of HDMS is that it allows items to be closer to where they are used while keeping them safe and secure.

Mobile HDMS units are available in manual, mechanical, or powered configurations. Manual units are manual mobile systems that are hand-operated (the user moves the carriage by pushing or pulling it). The best systems glide with near-frictionless carriage tracking for smooth movement. A manual system is typically used in smaller spaces, for lighter loads, and in situations with limited (vs. public) access. Mechanical units (often referred to as mechanical-assist or MA) feature an assist mechanism, such as a turning wheel, to make carriage movement easier and accommodate moderate carriage lengths and heavier loads. Powered units are operated by electricity with the touch of a button. Powered HDMS offers the highest-density space utilization and quick access to valuable materials needed in many situations with minimal physical exertion.

Can Your Storage System Do This?
Powered storage controls are designed to be as easy as riding in an elevator. The simplest user controls feature three buttons: “stop/reset,” “move left,” and “move right.” Powered systems allow fast access to materials and documents, making personnel more productive and efficient. Users are able to enter an aisle while it is opening vs. having to manually crank an aisle open before entering. This results in time savings and increased productivity over the long haul. In addition, a high-priority aisle that is used often can be set to remain open at all times.

Powered storage systems can be equipped with an optional battery back-up that automatically maintains full-system functionality in the event of a power outage. Also, the user can plug an optional, rechargeable battery pack into the control panel to move individual carriages. The most advanced systems use fewer moving parts, non-contact limit switches, and no-touch circuit boards to maximize reliability. Additionally, optional remote, Internet-based monitoring systems are available to alert service personnel to potential problems.

Unlike manual or mechanical systems, the “human factor” is eliminated with powered systems. The result is more control over safety than is possible with non-powered systems. Built-in safeguards help prevent users from getting trapped or injured by the moving system; passive, in-aisle safety systems stop carriage movement automatically and instantly when a person or object is detected in an open aisle. Built-in anti-tip devices add system stability in earthquake-prone areas. In addition, powered systems are far more ergonomically friendly than manual or mechanical systems. For example, users turning a manual crank repetitively each day may develop conditions similar to carpal-tunnel syndrome.

The recent introduction of menu-based configurability represents a dramatic change that allows decision-makers to choose features and options on an “a-la-carte” basis to build the system they need. A modular design also allows the flexibility for future upgrades.

When compared with manual or mechanical systems, powered HDMS takes security to another level. Archives and valuable items can be protected from damage by electronically linking the system controls to a facility’s fire-alarm, sprinkler, or security system. Environmental sensors can be added to enhance asset protection.

Powered HDMS systems are also designed to hold heavier loads and allow users to move bulky materials easily with the touch of a button.

The need for efficient, user-friendly storage solutions is critical to virtually every industry and organization. Decision-makers must face issues such as green-building design, long-term costs, and employee productivity. Compact storage or HDMS systems are a good option to deal with these concerns.

Christopher T. Batterman is product manager, high-density mobile products, at Ft. Atkinson, WI-based Spacesaver Corp. (www.spacesaver.com).

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