Aircraft supplier speeds up service with bespoke FLT

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Castle Metals Aerospace, which supplies high-performance metals to the aircraft, aerospace and defence industries, brought in a bespoke high level order picker to help improve put-away and picking at its 32,000 sq ft storage facility.

The Letchworth site – one of three UK-based processing and stocking facilities run by Castle, features a combination of 8m-high cantilever racking for the storage of sheet metal and specially designed 5m-high racking.

The EKS308 Jungheinrich truck was specially modified with a preformed box unit added at the side, to enable loads to be more easily handled by warehouse staff.

The site holds more than 70,000 different line items ranging from large sheets of titanium to 12-metre lengths of aluminium extrusion and steel tubing and bars – enough to put together a small aircraft, jokes Nick Rowe, warehouse supervisor for the facility.

British Airways, Saab, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier Shorts are among the company’s clients, and the site operates a 24/7 Aircraft On Ground service. “It costs up to £5,000 an hour to keep an aircraft on the tarmac so if we get an urgent order it’s important that we get metals out within an hour,” says Rowe.

Daily deliveries go directly to the clients’ facilities, where the metal sheet, tube and extrusion are usually machined to form aircraft parts. The client sites are often close to major airports; British Airways, for example, has extensive maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities at Heathrow and around the country where the metal is used in the repair and overhaul its fleet. These facilities are fed material from BA’s central hub in Heathrow, to which Castle delivers every day.

Specialist metals arrive at the Letchworth store from mills all over the world and, given that each incoming item will ultimately become an aircraft part, stringent quality control processes are an essential part of the goods-in process. All incoming loads therefore go through a system of checks to ensure that the quantity and quality of the product are as they should be.

When it comes to quality testing, warehouse staff – who are trained to understand the chemical composition of the all the metals that pass through the site – undertake a series of thorough mechanical, chemical, conductivity and hardness studies. Any pieces that do not make the grade go into stillages where they are collected before being sold as scrap to specialist metals recycling companies.

Once incoming metal products have passed each quality check they are allocated a storage position and transferred into the stock holding area by Castle’s warehouse management system.

The racking is divided into a series of pigeon holes, which measure some 1200mm wide and 300mm high but with a depth of 6000mm, and house lengths of steel tube and bar.

Previously, Castle Metals’ staff used steps to reach the highest levels of the racking and had manually handled the orders from the racking location on to the raised forks of a waiting counterbalance truck. This threw up a number of health and safety concerns but also made picking and put-away uncomfortable for the warehouse staff. Productivity and storage efficiency at the facility had also suffered because the old system was slow and did not capitalise on the full height of the racking.

Now warehouse operators can pick and put away the awkward metal tubing and bars at heights of up to eight metres safely and efficiently, and Castle Metals has been able to reconfigure parts of the store to allow the full capacity of the warehouse racking to be used.

The new truck has proved popular with forklift operators – who also drive the mixed fleet of sideloaders and counterbalance trucks at the site.

“Our requirements were not particularly straightforward but Jungheinrich’s design engineers came up with a truck that perfectly suits our needs and the new truck will help us to continue to meet the demands of clients now and in the future,” says Rowe.

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