By replacing traditional shelving with a vertical storage and retrieval system, Thermo Forma (Marietta, OH) has improved productivity and freed valuable floor space to accommodate growth.

The company manufactures controlled-environment laboratory equipment used in educational, biomedical, pharmaceutical, clinical and industrial applications. The company¿s product line includes cell culture incubators; nonchlorofluorocarbon, ultra-low-temperature freezers; biological safety cabinets and laminar flow equipment; laboratory refrigerators and freezers; and blood bank equipment.

Market growth and product expansion made it necessary for the company to improve efficiency and control costs. One area that the company studied was its parts handling and storage operation.

"The existing system required too much human handling and lifting of boxes," said Craig Knowlton, senior planner and analyst.

Thermo Forma used a triple-tiered shelving system to store both service parts and components used in the manufacturing operation. This shelving system covered 30,618 cubic feet of shelving space. The storage system required employees to spend a significant amount of time searching the shelves to fill orders. The shelving system was also designed so that the receiving operation was at the top of the system¿s mezzanine. This location required extensive product handling. In some cases, cartons were moved and restacked up to five Arial before they were delivered to the correct storage location. Travel, search and handling time reduced the company¿s ability to meet increasing demand for its products.

To improve the efficiency of the storage and retrieval operation, the company installed two MegaLift vertical lift modules (VLMs) from MegaStar Systems (Marietta, OH) to replace a portion of the rack-and-shelf system. The MegaLift is an enclosed system of vertically arranged trays, an ergonomically designed extraction platform and computerized controls. It stores up to 2,000 pounds per tray with a total maximum payload of 88,000 pounds.

Vertical lift modules automatically present stored items at the best height for safe, efficient order picking—usually 39 inches above floor level. This height helps reduce job-related injuries caused by reaching, bending and climbing to retrieve items. Operators can also fill orders without walking aisles searching for items.

Although Thermo Forma still uses shelving in its parts storage operation, the two vertical lift modules have reduced walk and search time 50 percent to 60 percent, improving system throughput and employee productivity.

"Our personnel are our most valuable asset, and their safety and health are primary concerns," Knowlton says. "These VLMs allow us to offer them a more productive way to do their jobs, as well as a safer way to do it."

The VLMs can be configured to meet varying ceiling heights. For example, one unit is installed in the service area. It features dual access and is 22 feet tall, with 1 foot of ceiling clearance. The other shelving system is 26 feet tall and has 10 inches of ceiling clearance. It is installed in the manufacturing receiving area.

The contents of approximately 25 percent of the shelving system fit into one vertical lift module, freeing up about 7,660 cubic feet of space at the facility. The recovered floor space allowed the company to relocate the receiving operation from the top of the mezzanine to the ground floor only a few feet from the receiving dock. Vendor-supplied parts are now placed on a conveyor and delivered to the storage area.

Orders for parts required in the manufacturing operation are sent electronically to centralized printers in the receiving department. Pick lists are printed with the item description, quantity and location. The operator removes items from the unit and then searches shelving to complete the order. The system had been configured so that the most frequently requested items are stored in the vertical lift module, allowing the operator to remain in one place to complete most of the order. Items that are used in combination are located in the same tray to reduce the number of transactions required to pick an order.

Service parts orders follow essentially the same route as manufacturing parts orders, being electronically entered and sent to the receiving department where a pick list is printed. Operators pick parts from their unit and retrieve other parts from the shelving system. When an order is complete, it is boxed for pickup.

Since installing the vertical lift modules, the service parts department has increased its workload 30 percent to 40 percent without the need to hire additional staff. Because parts are stored in an enclosed system, they are dust-free when shipped to customers.

"The VLMs have certainly helped us improve our internal processes and procedures and meet our growth plans," says Knowlton.

For more information on vertical lift modules, call 800-701-1908, visit