John Lewis has upped its storage capacity since rolling out a VNA handling system from Barloworld, which enables its staff to work with walk-on racking at heights of over ten metres.
The retail giant typically stocks some 350,000 separate product lines from its 29 shops, and has a growing online business. With a varied product range spanning electrical, gifts and toys through to garments, beauty and home and garden, the size and shape of the products presents several storage challenges.
“Mattresses, washing machines, sofas and other large and heavy goods all have to be stored carefully while maximising the space available in our warehouses” says Ted Weager, senior project engineer, John Lewis. “We wanted to store products at heights of over ten metres which is easily achieved for palletised goods, but not when large items need manual handling.”
Previously, the company used aisle cranes in some of its operations, but wanted to find a more flexible solution that was more cost effective. A specialised order picking forklift with a long cage on the front looked like a possibility.
“Barloworld already had a proven innovation using the Hyster C1.5 VNA machine with a walk-on platform and lattice gates on both sides” says Weager. “We trialled the concept at the Park Royal facility in London and now have three machines successfully operating there.”
Barloworld, the distribution partner for Hyster, claims it is the only manufacturer that has a VNA machine with a mast strong enough to handle a three-metre-long metal cage and a load of 800kg in any location on the platform.
The patented quad-form mast, which is 1.2m wide and 1.1m deep overall, is designed to ensure minimum deflection; allowing a full load to be transported forward or backwards while simultaneously lifting or lowering.
In the spring of 2009, John Lewis opened a combined service centre in Avonmouth to provide warehousing for stores and home delivery in Wales, Bristol and the South West.
The retailer designed the new facility based on the Barloworld system, and now operates three Hyster VNA C1.5L order picking machines in ten aisles.
“We have maximised storage space in the new Avonmouth warehouse cube and spent only a quarter of what we would otherwise have invested on cranes” says Weager, adding that life-time costs have also reduced.
The trucks operate using wire guidance on a superflat warehouse floor in aisles that are 1.7m wide; maximising storage space.
The C1.5L features AC motors, proportional speed control and automatic braking at the end of each aisle, to help increase safety. Before the driver can operate the truck, the metal lattice gates must be closed on both sides.
As an additional safety feature, once positioned in the correct bay, the operator must press a button that triggers flaps on both sides of the cage to bridge the short gap between the platform and the racking.
The lattice gates, with gaps too small to put hands through, can then be opened a full 2.7 metres, giving a two-man team walk-on access to the racking for items such as superking size mattresses.
“At ten metres the cage feels incredibly stable with minimum movement, giving the team an enclosed environment in which to pick and put away stock quickly and efficiently,” says Weager.
Also at the site, Barloworld supplied Hyster P2.0-powered pallet trucks for lateral goods movement and a Hyster Matrix reach truck fitted with a carpet boom to handle carpets up to 7.5m in length.
Service support is provided by local Barloworld service engineers with operator training also conducted on site by Barloworld and John Lewis’ in-house instructors.