Waitrose has boosted productivity and eliminated manual battery handling at its Aylesford distribution centre. It chose Atlet to design and oversee the materials handling equipment and battery change project and supply a new fleet of reach trucks, order pickers, pallet transporters, counterbalance and hand pallet trucks.
Waitrose is a long-time user of Atlet trucks at its main distribution centre in Bracknell. “Atlet was not the cheapest, but the truck supplier with the lowest price could not do all that we wanted,” says Colin Robson, engineering manager at Waitrose.
“We looked at the overall offer including products and service and after assessing it all, Atlet came out on top. They were very creative. The result was that we worked together, to draw up the truck specification and to design the space and battery change area to work in the most economic way for maximum efficiency.”
The former Safeway distribution centre, which Waitrose bought from Morrisons in 2006, serves stores in London and the South East, and underwent refurbishment in 2007.
The roof was lower and the racking aisles were narrower than the Bracknell site. But widening the aisles to Waitrose’s standard specification would have involved moving sprinklers and lights – a costly alternative.
To meet the constraints of the aisle width and so that Waitrose would comply with the industry GN9 safety clearance standard, Atlet provided a specially designed version of its Forte UNS reach truck with a small turning circle. Waitrose specified eight Atlet Forte UNS reach trucks, 24 Tempo PPL low level order pickers, 12 XLL ride-on powered pallet transporters, five Nissan counterbalance trucks and a number of hand pallet trucks.
Waitrose has also standardised on powered pallet transporters with 3,000kg minimum capacity to support flexible handling of multiple pallets and picking cages. “This gives us the flexibility to cope with any combination of loads,” says Robson. Atlet installed a semi-automatic Fast Track Powerplus powerbed system for changing reach truck batteries and a Transfer Track system for order pickers and pallet transporters, as well as a battery management system.
Batteries are allocated in rotation so that the unit with the most charge is always used. This overcomes the potential problem of truck drivers taking the nearest battery regardless of its state of charge. Battery use is spread more evenly so that none get heavier usage than the others. A wall-mounted display indicates which battery should be used and sounds an alarm if the wrong one is taken.
Waitrose also wanted to introduce more efficient battery changing so that staff would not have to lift units manually. Order picker and powered pallet transporter batteries are changed using Atlet’s Transfer Track system. In the charging area the depleted battery is rolled off the truck onto a trolley that incorporates a roller platform. The fresh battery is rolled from the same trolley onto the truck. The platform can be adjusted to the correct height for the specific truck and the entire operation is quick, effortless and involves no lifting.
Reach truck battery changing with the powerbed system means that batteries are arranged either side of an aisle mounted on adjustable roller platforms. When a change is required, the reach truck drives into the aisle and its battery is transferred onto a free charging position using powered rollers driven by small electric motors in the truck’s chassis, with power supplied by an external source. A fully charged battery is pulled into position on the truck simultaneously and the entire operation is completed in around one minute.
“Atlet’s battery changing solution was the simplest and quickest, especially for reach trucks,” says Robson. “With other systems it can take ten minutes to change a battery and that adds up to a lot of pallet movements. With our old system it used to take up to five minutes but the time saved is now around four minutes for each truck. Across the fleet that adds up to a lot of extra pallets moved.”
Separate battery charge and change facilities have been installed in the ambient and chilled chambers of the warehouse. Many of the new facilities and processes introduced at Aylesford are the result of a cost-reduction programme that Waitrose and Atlet have implemented over the past two years.
Another result of the programme has been a better understanding of how drivers use their trucks. This allowed Waitrose to request modifications to performance parameters such as acceleration and deceleration, programmed using the trucks’ on-board computers, to make changes to overall cycle times.