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  Manufacturing Insights   |   January, 2013
Automation for Retailer Expands Rapidly in 2013
by Thomas R. Cutler

The world's largest retail trade association, National Retail Federation (NRF) represents retailers of all types and sizes from the United States and more than forty-five countries abroad including department stores, specialty, apparel, discount, online, independent, grocery and chain restaurants, among others. Retailers operate more than 3.5 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs - 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation's economy. Keeping these retail employees safe is vital; learning the lesson from manufacturing and distribution essential. The lessons of ergonomics in plants and distribution centers are now growing rapidly at retail operations.

Shelf Stocking Requires Automation

"The way retailers stock shelves, has not changed greatly over the past century," according to Brian McNamara, founder of Retail Handling Solutions, based in Falmouth, Maine. He concedes that the process is time-consuming, labor intensive, and fraught with productivity road blocks and the potential for injury and product breakage. With all the advances made in other areas of the store, this key operation function has been largely ignored. (Retail Handling Solutions is focused on making this critically important job faster, safer, and easier.)

Product Display & Promotion Involves Safety and Automation

Presenting products in attractive, neat, displays with clear signage is a proven technique for increasing sales. Unfortunately, this is more difficult than it sounds, and rarely a concern at the manufacturing or distribution center level. Placing pallet loads on the floor can get messy and display requires constant attention and replenishment. Cardboard signage is often flimsy and almost never reusable.

One solution is the ADS Box, a product display and promotion system. It is a floor mounted, fully portable, four sided in-store display box which continuously repositions the remaining goods on a pallet at the convenient height of a shopping cart as the displayed products are removed by the consumer.

In addition to maintaining goods at a comfortable, convenient height, ADS Box also provides retailers with a 4-sided customizable "billboard" that can be used to further promote its contents. Shoppers are offered a bold, clear product message while never needing to bend or lift the goods into shopping carts. ADS Box is completely reusable, minimizes display material refuse and will last for years. Changing displays is simple and can be done in seconds. Products can be loaded into the display box with a fork truck, pallet stacker, or by hand. Stocking can be done on the store floor or out back. The box is easily moved by pallet truck around the store and just as easily transferred to a different store. The design is shopper friendly, store rugged, and requires almost no store maintenance.


Pallets are everywhere. While manufacturers are distribution center personnel are accustomed to this situation, the typical grocery store receives hundreds of pallet loads per week. According to McNamara of Retail Handling Solutions, "They are faced with the job of getting goods from the pallet to shelf. Whatever method is used, it involves breaking down pallet loads which is time consuming, difficult work."

Here are just a few of the problems associated with manually unloading pallets:
  • Frequent bending, reaching and stretching
  • Awkward posture when lifting loads
  • Walking around pallets in tight quarters to access loads on the far side
  • Worker fatigue
  • Increased risk of injury
McNamara suggests that the solution for these retailers is a PalletPal Level Loader which makes the job of loading and unloading pallets faster, safer, and easier. These unique devices have been used in thousands of manufacturing and warehousing facilities for over twenty years. They use an internal spring mechanism to automatically adjust the height of pallet loads as boxes are added or removed. Simply by allowing workers to load and unload at a comfortable height and posture dramatically reduces fatigue and the risk of injury.
  • Works with pallet loads from 400 - 4500 lbs.
  • Automatic spring mechanism requires no power
  • Turntable with anti-friction bearings allows employees workers to spin loads so they are always working on the nearside
  • Compact design fits tight spaces - The PalletPal 36" x 36" footprint is smaller than a standard pallet
  • Stable base design requires no lagging - works on uneven floors
Level loading often requires special considerations in the retail environment, that manufacturers and warehouse distribution center executives neglect to consider. McNamara suggests a simple, automatic unit which uses a system of springs and shock absorbers to lower and raise loads as boxes are added or removed from pallets. A turntable allows nearside loading and unloading. No power or air supply is required. Pallet loads up to 4,500 pounds can be handled.
  • Rugged tubular steel frame for loads up to 4,500 lbs.
  • Heavy-duty springs calibrated to bring pallet to most convenient loading and unloading height.
  • Proven linkage design maintains level under uneven loading.
  • Dampener provides smooth, gradual raising and lowering action, without overshoot or spring bounce.
  • Low-friction bearing supported turntable for near-side loading and unloading.
  • Phenolic frame cover (optional).
  • Fork pockets for relocation by fork truck also extend base for free standing stability.
  • Leveling feet (optional) allow use on sloping or uneven floors.
  • Free standing, can be easily relocated by fork truck.
The automation and highly tested approaches of assembling and moving product in the manufacturing plant or distribution center are quickly becoming common practice among retailers and grocery stores facing the same safety and quality challenges.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com. See More Details.

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