In 2014, Brian Neuwirth of UNEX Manufacturing authored an article for us detailing the dramatic shift in beer consumption trends and the ways in which breweries and distributors were responding to them in terms of warehousing and keg storage strategy. At the time, he had observed that along with the rise of small breweries in the United States had come the demand for diversification of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) among beer distributors. It had been discovered that not everyone had the same taste in beer after all, and the average number of SKUs for beer wholesalers had increased from about 190 to roughly 1,000 over just a few years.
In order to stay nimble and accommodate a rapidly growing and changing selection of products, Brian made the case for implementing keg storage racking. In case you missed our article on how to store your kegs, Keg storage racking, or “keg flow” as it’s often referred to, is a means of storing and rotating kegs in a FILO or FIFO inventory retrieval system. High-strength rollers hold various sizes of kegs, which are kept in alignment by vertical guides that run from the front of the racking bay to its back. A rolling bar is placed at the front of each lane to keep the keg from tipping forward, which also lets the picker pull the keg more ergonomically and with less risk of damaging the keg or himself. While there’s some talk of a plateau in terms of the growth of craft beer, Minnesota’s craft beer industry grew 21.7% (Source: MarketLive) in 2015, and the demand for variety and change doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Problem of Proliferating SKUs and Warehousing
As a business storing bulk quantities of product, adjusting to changes in supply and demand is an inevitable part of the game. Experienced inventory management teams may see these changes coming and adjust their operations in order to accommodate the changes. Problems may arise, however, when these changes are fast enough and take place at a large enough scale that warehouse managers need to overhaul their warehousing strategy to stay in rhythm with the fluctuations. Such has been the case with the growth of craft beer in the U.S. in the last decade. Breweries and beer wholesalers who were used to storing a relatively modest number of SKUs faced the challenge of expanding their number of SKUs five-fold in order to serve an increasingly picky beer consumer, and a skyrocketing number of clumsy, difficult-to-store drums of beer.
Along with the growth of beer varieties came the unpredictability of demand for specific beers. Breweries and liquor retailers were changing the availability of certain beers or brands weekly or even daily, so stacking large quantities of a single beer on a warehouse floor could be risky. Fast forward to 2016, and while the difficulties associated with an expanding number of SKUs are being handled by flexible warehousers and a gradual slow-down in the number of new breweries, we still hear from brewers eager to optimize their warehouse layout design in order to better manage their inventory and make their order fulfillment process more efficient.
The beer industry is known for being creative and adaptive to change. In response to the increase in demand for more varieties of craft beer, several technologies have been introduced. Warehouse managers that didn’t feel the need for warehouse management software prior to the boom began implementing it. Other warehouses began using mobile pallet racking or voice picking systems. Much of the time, our answer to the question of how to make a warehouse better cater to storing beer kegs is the same: keg flow racking.
Why Keg Flow?
We’re believers in keg flow racking for a simple reason: it’s uniquely designed for keg storage.
Keg flow’s tightly-spaced high-strength steel rollers hold up to the weight of the notoriously heavy kegs while maintaining the kegs’ ability to flow towards the pick face. While pallets and wire decks may warp or break under the concentrated weight of a keg, keg flow rollers stay resilient.
- Keg flow increases a warehouse’s capacity. Since we’re dealing with increasing volume and diversity of products, increasing warehouse capacity by way of making better use of vertical space is typically a major objective.
- Not every keg is the same size, so keg flow lanes can be adjusted to fit keg sizes that run the gamut from the sixth barrel to a half barrel.
- Keg flow improves order picking efficiency. Instead of pulling a single keg from a wrapped pallet sitting on the warehouse floor, keg flow allows the warehouse team to simply grab the keg by its handles and drag it over the steel roller at the front of the keg lane. Keg flow also has the ability to be a FIFO or FILO system. Because keg flow racks are equipped with steel roller stops at the front of each keg lane, kegs can be placed in the rear of the lane and allowed to roll to the front without tipping over onto the floor. Or, if a FILO system is preferred, kegs can be placed in the lane at the front of the bay and pushed back so that the first keg on the rack is the last one to be pulled out.
- Despite being an excellent fit for facilities grappling with the task of storing and turning over greater numbers of SKUs, most customers we talk to are still in the dark about keg flow and how it works.
Few industries in the United States have seen growth as explosive as that of craft beer over the last decade. Riding the tides of consumer demand is a game of sink or swim for many of the businesses that carve a living for themselves either as distributors of beer or the beer producers themselves. Of course, each business and facility has its own goals and its own unique set of demands to meet. For the ones looking to chart a course towards a more efficient warehouse and an ability to better roll with the punches of supply and demand, keg flow racking offers a unique solution to what appears to be more of a trend than a fad.
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About AK Material Handling Systems
We deliver value to our customers by providing the absolute best combination of quality products, helpful customer service and competitive pricing. We specialize in warehouse layout & design, pallet rack systems, engineered sales, mezzanines, modular offices and completed turn-key warehouse systems. For more information email us or call (800) 722-5908