Carton flow is a storage system for stock where personnel stack cartons on an inclined shelf so that as cartons are removed from the front, cartons from the back push forward with the help of gravity. This method is commonly seen in picking warehouses, where staff need to be able to rapidly, easily, and accurately pull merchandise for shipping to retailers and end consumers. Using carton flow can increase efficiency and make it easier to control stock in the warehouse, cutting down on operating costs for the company.
The basic carton flow system consists of racks with racked shelves. Cartons of various sizes can fit on the racks, allowing people to easily position stock in different kinds of packages. The shelf usually has space for tags, with bar codes and other information in the front for easy reference. Stockers load the racks with new products from the back, and pickers pull orders from the front. This facilitates a first in, first out system, keeping inventory rotation constant and ensuring that items do not sit on the shelf for too long.
In carton flow, as long as stock is available, a carton will be sitting at the front of the rack. This makes it easier for pickers to do their jobs and also facilitates tracking merchandise to determine when a company needs to produce or order more of a particular item. The facility may use stacking racks with lifts to provide more storage space, with pickers using the lift to access items up high. In an automated warehouse, robots can pull items from the shelves after scanning them to confirm that the bar code matches the order in the system.
The size of a carton flow system can vary. Manufacturers often make modules so it is easy for companies to mix and match to meet their needs. The company can add or subtract modules to address changes in stocking levels. The flexible width of the shelving also easily accommodates changes in package sizes or stocking policies.
Companies can get estimates from several manufacturers on the costs of installing a carton flow system. The modular nature of such systems can be beneficial for small companies that cannot afford a large initial outlay of cash. They can purchase a few modules to keep costs down but still allow room for expansion in the event that they start carrying more stock or want to convert a whole warehouse to carton flow.