Behind the Lines

As the war in Iraq began to progress this past year, Americans were given the opportunity of seeing and reading live reports from the field by reporters embedded with the troops as they approached Baghdad. As the tanks and armored carriers rolled through the Iraqi terrain, America watched its service personnel answer the call to duty.

But behind the lines was another story, perhaps as equally important — the task of supplying our forces with the material they need to do their jobs. Such was the job of the U.S. Marines, who turned to FKI Logistex White Systems, a leader in carousel technology, for a unique container carousel system that enables quick and orderly dispensing of small maintenance and repair parts.

A Rigorous "Mini-Warehouse"

Deployed at Camp Fox in the desert outside of Kuwait City, the first White container carousel is part of an order of 19, 10 of which will also be gradually moving into the Kuwait staging area (the remaining eight will be used in other areas and for training), according to Lt. Col. Paul Turner, logistics director for the Blount Island (Jacksonville, Florida) Command prepositioning program. Turner is currently providing guidance to the Marines Special Purpose MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) unit who are currently using the equipment.

Stocked by USMC logistics contractor Honeywell, carried by ship from Blount Island to Kuwait, and then trucked to the field (they can also be helicopter-dropped), the container carousel system was customized by White to meet the rigorous field needs of the military. Serving as a mini-warehouse-in-a-box, the carousel system is being used in conjunction with the USMC's STRATIS (Storage Retrieval Automated Tracking Integrated System) material and inventory control system.

Inventory in the container carousels is replenished by spinning the carousel to a specified bin via the controller or by an automated put-away procedure that links the carousel to the STRATIS system. The system tracks the location and quantities of all materials on hand as well as the quantities that have been distributed. Upon reaching a safety stock level, the system enables the operator to systematically put away new material via the routine directed by the material management system. While the current setup does not use pick-to-light technology, it could be redesigned to enable pick-to-light.

"The primary goal of the container carousels is to provide high-density storage and dedicated locations for materials," says John Molloy, vice president of FKI Logistex White Systems. "We've designed this equipment as mini-warehouses, able to be shipped, carted and dropped as a standard ocean freight container, and offering the USMC the capability of storing and accessing their components efficiently within a high-density carousel."

"I worked hand in hand with White to ensure the proper features were put into the carousels," says the USMC's Turner, who came up with the concept for the equipment after working with several larger carousels at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune five years ago.

"These units came on shore with our Marines in Kuwait and operated as a small parts storage and retrieval system in their field warehouse setup," says Marine Lt. Colonel Al Will, project officer with the Marine Forces Atlantic. "As you can imagine, managing all the small items necessary for the field can be difficult without this type of system."

Team Effort — Effective, Efficient and Proud

White's container carousel system gave the Marines all the automation benefits of a horizontal carousel specifically designed for military use. Housed in a container for rapid deployment in remote locations, the White container carousel is a self-contained automated system of linked bins that travel around an oval track housed inside a shipping container. When commanded, the bins rotate bringing the parts to the picker via the shortest route.

Shipped fully stocked and dropped at the staging location, where generators powered the equipment, White's container carousel system offers a variety of benefits to the Marines, including high-density space utilization and an ergonomic design that reduces the walking and search time associated with conventional storage methods.

"We've designed this container carousel system to give the Marines the flexibility and durability they need in storing and retrieving small parts in the field," says White's Molloy. "We kept in constant contact with Lt. Col.Will from the time the carousels left the country by ship to the point when they were in the middle of the battlefield."

"Employees kept asking where are they now and how are they doing," adds Molloy. "There was a great sense of pride and patriotism at White resulting from our efforts to supply a state of the art solution to our soldiers. We knew from the beginning what role the product might have undertaken; the team effort on the design was intense from the start and the end result from the ultimate testing ground proved successful."

Using the entire interior space of the container for storage — a total of 388 cubic feet — the White Systems carousel saved precious time by bringing supplies to the operator and providing access to supplies and redundant system control from all four sides of the container. The system also features an RS-232 port available for computer hookup and the ability to use a variety of generator voltages (120V, 230V and 460V), an important field requirement.

Other features include shelving that is adjustable every two inches and doors that lock securely to keep contents safe. The system, designed to be durable for military field use, offers a bin capacity of 2,000 pounds per bin, and can operate in temperatures from -30 to 120 degrees F. The units, which will also be deployed in Norway, are performance tested to operate at a small angle with an imbalanced load, important if the container is dropped on an incline.

Working Together Toward a Safe Return

"These carousels are an excellent way to mobilize inventory for rapid deployment of any material that fits, be it fire fighting out west or the war in Iraq," says Molloy. "They can also be operated in a refrigerated environment or even for use in mobilizing drug or vaccine distribution in the event of an epidemic or bio-terrorism attack. They are easily moved and are a secure storage device. Control software can drive the carousels to accomplish almost any distribution need."

Ready-to-use and completely assembled, the White Systems entire carousel unit is removable from the container for maintenance. Easy-to-ship as a fully-stocked self-contained unit, the container carousel is designed to take the rolls on an ocean transport. Customer support is offered by White's 24-7 customer support team.

"White built the first container carousels the Marines ever used. We're happy to contribute to the efforts of our service personnel and hope they receive everything they need for their safe return," says Molloy.

For more information, contact David Abels, Koroberi Inc. at (919) 960-9794 ext. 22 or by e-mail at © 2003 FKI Logistex. Photographs courtesy of FKI Logistex. All rights reserved.