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Hänel Storage Systems' Vertical Carousel and Lift Systems are Used Worldwide

By Jonathan Kersting

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Hänel Storage Systems is a manufacturer of automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). Its two primary products are the Rotomat® vertical carousel and Lean-Lift® vertical lift module. 

These machines are powered by industry leading microprocessor control systems, as well as proprietary software that easily interfaces with customers’ host ERP, MRP or WMS systems. OnRAMP talked to Brian Cohen, Chief Executive Officer of Hänel, to learn more about the company, key trends and ever-evolving supply chains.


OnRAMP: Can you give us the elevator pitch for Hänel? Tell us about your core products and services.

Brian Cohen: Hänel customers invest in our systems to take advantage of solutions they provide for materials storage and inventory management. Our solutions allow Hänel customers to do five things:

1. Recover vast amounts of floor space, up to 80%, by eliminating rows of conventional static shelving, pallet racks and modular drawer cabinets. Hänel units have a very small footprint, yet utilize the full height of any facility up to 80’ and deliver the stored items automatically when requested. We help customers utilize their unused overhead space, to store more in less space.

2. Increase employee productivity by adding automation to the picking process, which eliminates the need for workers to walk long distances, climb ladders and search for items to restock or pick. In other words, the existing staff can do a significant amount of extra activity in less time, OR fewer workers are required to complete the current tasks. We help customers to do more in less time, with fewer people.

3. Improve inventory control by utilizing onboard, high-performance inventory management systems that are standard and out-of-the-box with every Hänel system. Inventory can be tracked by SKU, description, quantity, description, FIFO, minimum levels and even a photo database. We help customers improve the accuracy of their inventory to over 99%, and eliminate overstocks, shortages and expired items.

4. Increase security or limit access to stored inventory using electronic or mechanical systems that provide an automatic audit trail of activity. Access can be limited to specific inventory or by specific personnel, via secure areas that require unique log-in credentials. We help customers know who signed out items and when, reduce picking/stocking errors and theft, and protect inventory from possible contamination.

5. Improve workplace ergonomics, since all inventory stored in Hänel systems is delivered to a safe, waist-height level in accordance with OSHA recommendations. No more bending down to pick up heavy items from bottom shelves, reaching up to access bulky items stored above, or climbing ladders. This significantly reduces repetitive muscular injuries, because all product is delivered to the same ergonomically correct location every time.

By investing in Hänel automated vertical storage systems, customers solve many inventory management problems while saving a significant amount of money in the process, for a near-instant return on investment.


OnRAMP: You play an important part of so many supply chains. How do you see them evolving and changing, especially those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

BC: Hänel products are used in a variety of applications, primarily in manufacturing, warehousing and healthcare. Storage of raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods inventory are common applications. As supply chains have been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our customers find the need to stockpile supplies in some cases, while loss of access to critical inventory in other cases causes an interruption in daily processes that can be devastating, especially for industries such as commercial airlines.

Domestic manufacturers have been most affected by reliance on international suppliers of goods for the assembly and completion of finished goods. As a result, many of Hänel’s customers are already exploring the concept of “nearshoring” (identifying suppliers in nearby countries) or “reshoring” (manufacturing goods in the U.S. that were once manufactured overseas). The “Just-In-Time” concept that has been popular in the auto industry for decades and adopted by many domestic manufacturers in recent years has been exposed as a high-risk factor in the current pandemic environment. The shortcomings of “Just-In-Time” have particularly been on display during the pandemic, with hospital shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE).


OnRAMP:  Tell us more about the Pittsburgh office and how it plugs into your global operations.

BC: The Pittsburgh headquarters of Hänel Storage Systems is the North and South American affiliate of our German parent company, Hänel Büro- und Lagersysteme in Bad Friedrichshall, Germany. There are three manufacturing plants, two in Germany and one in Switzerland. Other Hänel affiliate offices reside in France, Switzerland and Netherlands. 

Hänel U.S. is responsible for all sales, service and support activities for all of the Americas, with the exception of a few countries in South America. We maintain a large spare parts inventory at our Pittsburgh facility to serve our machine population that began installations in the United States back in 1984.

There are 23 employees located at our Pittsburgh office, with 10 regional sales managers, market managers and service managers scattered around the country in key regions. Hänel sells through a network of 90 authorized distribution partners in the US, Canada, Mexico and Colombia, and many of those partners have technicians who are also certified in the maintenance and inspection of our products. Only fully certified personnel are licensed to work on Hänel equipment, and that certification must be regularly maintained.


OnRAMP:  Biggest challenge and coolest thing running the Pittsburgh Hänel office?

BC: Challenges for 2020 include operating in a post-pandemic (hopefully) environment, which will be complicated by our entire facility relocation in September. Our headquarters is currently located in RIDC Park West in Findlay Township, but will relocate to the Thorn Hill Industrial Park in Warrendale. While a huge challenge, our staff is very excited to move into a larger, brand new, recently constructed office. Once the move is finally complete, this will definitely be cool!


OnRAMP: How do you see your company growing or evolving in the future?

BC: Hänel worldwide operates with the philosophy of self-sustained, incremental growth. As a privately held family business, Hänel is interested in the long haul where we view our employees as our number one asset. The Hänel family in Germany is committed to future generations. Although Hänel has been in business since 1953 and in the U.S. since 1984, our products and solutions have a bright future and are still in their infancy here on this continent.


OnRAMP: Any new or emerging technologies that you are paying attention to in your industry?

BC: As a member of the Material Handling Industry (MHI), Hänel is privileged to work with leading- edge companies in the logistics and material handling marketplace, which is expanding considerably. New technologies such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), hands-free pick-by-voice augmented reality, sophisticated barcode scanning systems, highly automated order fulfillment and package delivery systems, and sophisticated ASRS systems such as those produced by Hänel are all advancing at a rapid rate. These and many other product developments will shape the future of how products are moved within the worldwide supply chain. And much of this is taking place right here in our own backyard.