A Guide to Understanding Vertical Lift Modules

Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs)

Vertical Lift Modules (VLMs) are at the forefront of modern warehousing and inventory management, aiming to optimize storage space and streamline operations. But what exactly are they, and how can they benefit your organization?

Explore how VLMs are reshaping the warehousing landscape and propelling businesses toward unparalleled efficiency in our vertical lift module guide.

How Do Vertical Lift Modules Work?

VLMs are gigantic vertical storage units that capitalize on unused vertical space within a facility. These automated storage and retrieval systems use a series of trays to store goods, products, or materials. The trays are held vertically, with an extractor mechanism moving vertically and horizontally to retrieve the required tray.

A typical VLM consists of a vertical column with trays or shelves stacked one above the other. When an item is required, the system’s automated picker locates the tray containing the item. The vertical lift mechanism then moves the tray to the retrieval point. The picked item is presented at an ergonomic workstation, allowing easy access for warehouse staff.

Types of Vertical Lift Modules

VLMs include tray-based or shelf-based systems, single or dual tray delivery, and different load capacities and heights tailored for specific industry needs.

Stationary Vertical Lift Modules

Stationary modules consist of trays or shelves housed within a tall framework. An automated lift mechanism travels vertically between the trays, retrieving or storing items as needed.

Users interface with the VLM through a computerized system, requesting items presented at an ergonomic access point for pick-up. By stacking items vertically, these systems reduce the footprint required for storage, leading to more efficient space utilization.

They are helpful in industries and facilities where space is at a premium, and a quick, accurate, and efficient retrieval process is essential.

At Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc., our range of vertical lift modules includes the innovative Modula SLIM. This compact solution, occupying just 32.29 ft², provides high load capacity, customizable storage, and improved picking accuracy, making it perfect for optimizing aerospace storage.

Mobile Vertical Lift Modules

Mobile Vertical Lift Modules

Unlike traditional VLMs, which are stationary and fixed to a particular location, mobile VLMs can be moved to different locations within a facility, offering flexibility in warehouse management and operations.

The design of mobile VLMs typically features a compact footprint to ensure ease of movement, combined with sturdy construction to accommodate vertical storage of items.

This fusion of height and mobility means that items can be picked and stored vertically, maximizing storage density, and then brought directly to a required location or workstation, reducing transport times.

These systems can be beneficial in dynamic environments where the layout might need frequent adjustments or in operations that have variable storage and retrieval points. Integrating a mobile VLM can lead to improved workflow, enhanced space utilization, and cost savings in inventory management and labor.

Integration with Other Systems

VLMs are transforming modern warehousing with their space-optimizing storage capabilities. However, their true potential is unlocked when seamlessly integrated with other vital systems.

Through integration with Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, VLMs can offer real-time inventory tracking, streamline order processing, and ensure synchronized data across all operational fronts.

This interconnectivity amplifies the efficiency of VLMs and augments the overall functionality of warehouses. Integration ensures a holistic approach to warehousing, where data flows uninterruptedly, reducing manual interventions, human errors, and operational redundancies.

Harmonizing VLMs with other systems is necessary for agile, responsive, and efficient warehousing.

Common Integration Points for VLMs:

  • Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): WMS software tracks and manages inventory. Integrating it with VLMs ensures accurate, real-time inventory data.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): ERP systems manage various business processes. The integration allows for better demand forecasting, accounting accuracy, and more.
  • E-commerce Platforms: Direct integration with online shopping platforms can speed up order processing and fulfillment.
  • Inventory Control Software: Ensures that the VLM and the inventory system always have synchronized data.

Integration Methods:

  • APIs (application programming interfaces): Software intermediaries that allow two different systems to communicate.
  • Middleware: Software that acts as a bridge between different systems, ensuring they can work together.
  • Custom integration solutions: Custom software can be developed to integrate VLMs with other systems for unique requirements.

Benefits of Using Vertical Lift Modules

Vertical lift modules (VLMs) are ushering in a new era of warehousing strategies, offering a range of advantages that reshape operational excellence, including:

  • Improving warehouse efficiency: Manual item searches have become a thing of the past with VLMs. Retrieval times are optimized, minimizing downtime and increasing overall efficiency. This automation streamlines processes, guaranteeing seamless operations and boosting productivity.
  • Enhancing storage capacity: Vertical space is often underutilized in traditional warehouses. VLMs capitalize on this space, enabling warehouses to store more items in a smaller footprint. VLMs use vertical storage, freeing up to 85% of previously used floor space.
  • Boosting productivity: With automated retrieval, employees spend less time searching for items, leading to faster order processing.
  • Increasing picking accuracy: Human errors in the order-picking process can be costly. VLMs mitigate this risk by automating item retrieval and ensuring accurate order fulfillment. This accuracy improves customer satisfaction and minimizes returns and associated costs.
  • Safety and ergonomics: VLMs reduce the need for manual lifting, climbing, or bending, reducing the risk of workplace injuries.

Implementing Vertical Lift Modules in Your Operation

Implementing VLMs in your operations can transform your storage and retrieval processes, making them more efficient and space-effective. Before integrating a VLM, assess your current inventory and storage needs. The nature, size, and weight of items and their turnover rate will determine the type and size of the VLM best suited for your storage needs.

Once you’ve pinpointed your requirements, select a scalable VLM that can integrate seamlessly with existing systems like WMS or ERP.

Installation should prioritize safety and ergonomics, ensuring operators can easily access items without strain. Continuous staff training is crucial for efficient operation, minimizing errors, and enhancing safety.

Post-implementation, regular maintenance checks and software updates will ensure your VLM runs smoothly, maximizing the benefits of this transformative investment.

How to Choose the Right Vertical Lift Module?

Choosing the right Vertical Lift Module (VLM) can impact your warehousing efficiency, space utilization, and operational costs. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make the best choice for your warehouse needs:

  • Assessing your storage needs: What kind of items will you store? Their size, weight, and frequency of access can determine the type of VLM you need. Calculate the total volume of goods you need to store. This will help you estimate the size and capacity of the VLM.
  • Appraise your facility layout: VLMs are designed to maximize vertical space. Measure your facility’s height and floor space. Remember, the goal is to optimize vertical storage while ensuring safe and ergonomic access for operators.
  • Evaluate load capacity: Different VLMs have varied weight capacities for individual trays and the entire system. Ensure that the VLM you choose can comfortably handle your heaviest items.
  • Examine accessibility and ergonomics: Look for VLMs that offer user-friendly interfaces and ergonomic access points. This can increase worker productivity and reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Integration capabilities: Can the VLM be integrated with your existing systems like WMS or ERP? Seamless integration can enhance inventory management and tracking.
  • Consider future scalability: Your business might grow, and so will your storage needs. Choose a scalable VLM or one that can easily be integrated with additional modules in the future.
  • Review safety features: Check for automatic shut-offs, safety barriers, and emergency stop buttons.
  • Assess operational speed: If you have a high inventory turnover, you’ll need a VLM that can retrieve and store items quickly. Check the VLM’s operational speed to ensure it aligns with your business demands.
  • Research vendor reputation: Look for vendors known for their quality, customer service, and after-sales support. Reading reviews and seeking recommendations can be valuable.
  • Cost and ROI analysis: While the initial investment for a VLM can be substantial, calculate its long-term ROI. Consider savings in space, reduced labor costs, increased productivity, and potential reduction in damaged goods.
  • After-sales support and maintenance: Regular maintenance ensures the longevity of your VLM. Choose vendors that provide your team comprehensive after-sales support, maintenance packages, and training.

Maintenance of Vertical Lift Modules

Maintaining VLMs is critical for ensuring longevity, optimal performance, and safety. Regular maintenance checks should focus on the mechanical components and the integrated software.

Moving parts, such as the lift mechanism, trays, and access points, should be inspected for wear and tear and lubricated as required. Sensors, which are crucial for the precise movement of the VLM, should be cleaned and checked for proper functioning.

Ensuring the system is updated on the software front can help prevent glitches, enhance integration with other systems, and introduce new efficiency features.

Emergency stop systems and safety barriers must be tested periodically to ensure they function effectively during unforeseen issues.

By prioritizing regular maintenance, operations can minimize downtime, reduce the risk of costly repairs, and ensure the VLM continues to offer optimal storage solutions.

Key Industry Trends in Vertical Lift Modules

VLMs have continued to gain traction in warehousing and inventory management across various industries. Some key trends include:

  • Integration with advanced technologies: VLMs are becoming more IoT-enabled. This allows for real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and advanced analytics to enhance operational efficiency.
    AI and machine learning help in better inventory prediction, optimization of storage, and even repositioning items based on demand patterns.
  • Enhanced user interface & experience: Advanced touch-screen interfaces, augmented reality (AR) guidance, and user-friendly software integrations have become more common, aiding operators in efficient picking and inventory management.
  • Energy efficiency: With growing concerns about sustainability, newer VLM models focus on energy-efficient operations, using advanced motors and drives that consume less power and even energy recovery systems during descent operations.
  • Modular and scalable designs: VLM providers emphasize modular designs, allowing businesses to scale their storage solutions as they grow without massive overhauls.
  • Improved safety mechanisms: Safety remains paramount, and VLMs now have enhanced features such as advanced emergency stops, better visibility lighting, and obstruction sensors to prevent accidents.
  • Integration with WMS and ERP: As warehouses become more digital, seamless integration of VLMs with other systems, such as WMS and ERP platforms, has become a standard expectation, not a luxury.
  • Compact designs for urban settings: With the rise of e-commerce and the need for quick delivery in urban areas, there’s a growing demand for compact VLMs that can fit into smaller urban warehouses, allowing companies to store more products closer to their customers.
  • Customization: Custom tray designs, adjustable shelving, and special environmental conditions (like cooled VLMs for perishable items) are becoming more prevalent to cater to specific industry needs.

Streamline Your Warehouse With VLMs

By capitalizing on vertical space, VLMs reduce the warehouse footprint, making room for more inventory in a confined space. VLMs enhance efficiency in item retrieval and storage, cutting down on operational times and reducing human errors.

When integrated with modern digital systems, VLMs can provide real-time inventory insights, paving the way for just-in-time inventory management and reducing holding costs.

Adopting VLMs isn’t just about updating hardware; it’s about ushering in a new era of streamlined, efficient, and agile warehousing that can adapt to the ever-evolving demands of the market. By investing in VLMs, businesses are not only optimizing their present but future-proofing their operations for the challenges ahead.

Step into the future with Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc. As experts in tailored storage solutions, we seamlessly integrate VLMs into your operations. Trust in our experience and use our vertical lift module guide to help you select the perfect option for your warehouse or storage facility.  

Contact us at (800) 589-7225 to learn more about our products and services.