By Alex Barrio
Senior Project Consultant, Tompkins International

Sooner or later the day comes when distribution professionals have to face a Material Handling Equipment (MHE) Installation. Whether it involves installing a 6' tall set of shelves, a few bays of rack or hiring someone to make and install a six million dollar cross-belt sorter, you will want to make sure that the installation is smooth.

The installation part of a project is very often the part that presents the most challenges. These challenges can consist of having missed dimensions, selecting wrong equipment for the job, not having enough space for installation needs, not having power where needed by installers, or missing delivery dates.

Fortunately, there are steps and precautions you can take to ameliorate issues with installation challenges. In the project related category, when possible, you should have a project manager in charge of the project. A project manager makes sure that there is a solid project plan with firm deadlines along with clear tasks, dates, and task durations. Resources must also be assigned to every task and progress needs to be followed up on regularly. When no dedicated project manager is available, there still must be a person in charge, following up on all the different resources as these may tend not to communicate or be proactive.

Before ordering any equipment or beginning installation make sure you double check dimensions. It happens once in a while that you only work off a drawing and it turns out the drawing scale is not accurate or the drawing itself is not updated. Also, think about the path the materials are going to follow to the installation or staging area; there maybe areas where the materials may not fit through the aisles.

Bills of materials are a very important piece of an installation. Whether your materials are bought and delivered or in-house, laying in the yard, you must always make sure you have or receive the quantities of materials needed. Materials are often lost, mis-delivered, assumed to be the correct type or used elsewhere when you were counting on them to be available. Always keep in mind the installation sequence and where materials will be delivered and staged/stored. It happens sometimes that materials are unloaded at Door 1 when they were needed at Door 96; or they are staged in a way that they have to be moved twice because the 8,000 beams are in front of the 800 frames against the wall.

Never forget to count all materials delivered, twice, and refuse delivery until counts are confirmed. Many deliveries are not properly counted because they are received by personnel (Warehouse Receivers) not familiar with the project and under pressure to release the delivery driver, or because no one was available (2nd or 3rd shift) to advise. Vendors will not resend something that has been signed for, they will argue you lost it. The project will be at the least, delayed, as well as more costly. Keep in mind critical parts with long lead times, such as custom made frames, decks, beams, etc. These will take the longest to redeliver if lost.

It is also important to have a good relationship with the people performing the actual installation. The more communication, the better. Make sure you know the foreman and his crew; inform supervisors and employees of their presence and what they're allowed, or not, to do. The installation crew should also be met and informed of the policies in the building, especially safety.

One thing to keep in mind with structure installations is that they typically require permits. Permits are sometimes ignored in small installations, but permits are a good way to ensure that your equipment will be safely designed and installed. You don't want to design a rack that is top-heavy and topple because your first level was too high, there was only one bolt on the frame leg of your single row and your 2" beams were to light for your 2200 lb pallets.

Installations sometimes require demolitions. Make sure that, when rack is removed, bolts are burred or removed, that electrical conduit and cabling is removed all the way back to the panels or junction boxes, debris is cleaned up and removed and that equipment that belongs to your building is not removed by anyone else.
Last and not least, every installation should have a punch list. Make sure to complete it. If it's an in-house project, make sure and develop one for your crew to complete.

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Tompkins International Staff
Tompkins International Staff