To achieve this involved a combination of very narrow aisle racking, high density picking bins and specially adapted man-up order picking trucks from Atlet. The OPS man-up order pickers have special frames to hold eight cartons and allow up to four different orders to be picked at a time with each truck.
Laurence Connolly, distribution director at Country Balloons says: “It was clear that what we needed was high density storage and to go as high as possible.”
The design of the warehouse is geared towards maximum storage density with complete picking flexibility and selectivity. There are seven very narrow aisles with a transit aisle and overhead/bridge racking at one end. All items are stored in plastic bins and the racking supports and beams have been spaced to ensure that there is no wasted space in either the horizontal or vertical. In this way the full length and height of the warehouse is used with the overall result that 12,000 bins are arranged on between 13 and 15 levels, depending on the position of the racking beneath the sloping roof.
Atlet devised and manufactured a special frame which can be mounted on the order picker’s forks to support up to 10 picking cartons on three stepped levels. The lower and middle levels each hold four cartons, the front two of which can be accessed during picking because of the stepped layout.
When these are full, the operator can unlock the middle section of the frame and slide it backwards to reveal the two rear cartons at the lower level so that they can be swapped with those at the front without leaving the picking position. The frame is then slid back and locked into place before work continues. In this way, up to eight cartons can be filled before the truck has to leave the aisle, reducing the amount of time spent travelling between picking and order assembly areas.
The design of the frame also allows each truck to pick orders for up to four stores at a time, enabling the trucks to work in tandem to pick orders for all outlets simultaneously and provide complete flexibility in the warehouse. The top shelf of the frame can hold up to two empty picking bins so that they can be returned to goods inwards for refilling.
“Lots of effort went into coming up with this concept and Atlet’s approach was exemplified by the way they worked on getting the design of the frames right for us,” says Connolly.
The warehouse opened in late spring 2006 and was fully operational by the summer. It is configured so that goods inwards and order assembly and despatch areas take up the minimum possible space to provide the maximum room for the high density storage. Stock arrives in boxes from suppliers and is transferred to picking bins which are then handled to any empty storage locations using the OPS order pickers. The warehouse operates with zone picking managed by a WMS in conjunction with RF-based scanning. With the Atlet OPS the operator rises with the cab and forks to the ideal position for safe picking.