BTC Activewear consolidates at national hub

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Corporate clothing supplier BTC Activewear brought in a fleet of Atlet trucks and mobile shuttle buggies to help get its national hub up and running following a complex consolidation process.

As a result, the company says it has been able to “attain double-digit growth by meeting demanding targets for high volumes and rapid response”.

Charles Grose, managing director, BTC Activewear, says: “Our aim is to deliver product next day before noon as this is the demand from the corporate promotional industry. Everything we have done here is designed to deliver on that commitment.”

The company consolidated several existing warehousing and distribution operations into one 110,000 square foot site, based in Wednesbury near Birmingham; retaining four regional customer support sites across the UK.

One of the challenges was to move from relatively small warehouses to a single integrated operation.

Charles Grose visited the US to see how similar businesses manage their warehouses. A supply chain consultant with experience in some of those operations visited the UK to advise on how best to manage the relocation and configure the new facility for maximum efficiency and throughput.

The company also analysed its complete range to identify the fastest and slowest moving lines so that it could redesign the layout accordingly.

“We looked at every aspect of how to move, pick and pack,” adds Grose. “We analysed stock to see what moves fast and slow, optimised our SKUs along the 80/20 rule and based the layout of the warehouse around this.”

The result is a warehouse configured into three separate but adjacent and inter-related zones. In the centre is a bulk picking area, which accommodates the fastest moving and highest volume lines such as plain t-shirts.

Picking in this area is undertaken at ground and first level with overhead replenishment stock transferred to pick faces when needed by one of the company’s three Atlet Forte reach trucks. Items that have been picked are transferred to consolidation and dispatch by a conveyor that runs along the front of the racked area.

At one side of the bulk picking area is a very narrow aisle high bay picking zone that stores thousands of different lower volume stock lines. Picking on all nine levels in this area is undertaken using four high level pickers from the Atlet OP range.

Staff collect pick lists from the end of the aisle and visit each location in sequence to retrieve the required items. These are then taken to one of nine dedicated bays at the front end of the open side of the racking, facing the centre of the warehouse, where they are placed with details of the order number.

The items are then collected by warehouse operators who transfer them to order consolidation areas for packing and dispatch.

The final racking zone in the warehouse is on the opposite side of the high throughput central area and comprises traditional palletised loads of items that can be called off to replenish both the main picking areas.

This area is normally worked by the Atlet Forte reach trucks, but the high level order pickers are also used to handle incoming stock into storage locations before 1pm, in time for the day’s picking to start. The trucks’ ability to place and retrieve pallets to either side of the aisle is vital to this part of the operation.

BTC Activewear had developed the concept for the warehouse before selecting the trucks. It chose Atlet after evaluating equipment from a number of potential suppliers. The most important consideration was the performance of the Atlet OP high level order picker trucks because these are central to the overall operation.

Once operations began at the site, the company brought in more trucks; upping the fleet to four OP high level order pickers, three Forte reach trucks and four Presto PLP ride-on pallet transporters used for loading delivery vehicles at one of the warehouse’s eight loading bays.

Atlet supplied short-term rental trucks to fill the gap until the new machines could be delivered.

When visiting the US Grose saw some small electric carts shuttling small batches of items around a warehouse. It turned out these were modified stand-on golf buggies and the idea made sense in terms of reducing the time and distance staff need to walk that BTC Activewear decided to import some for itself. As far as anyone knows this is the only warehouse in the UK with this type of equipment.

The warehouse operates from 8am to 10pm five days a week. Incoming products arrive on paper pallets that are widely used for shipping by clothing manufacturers and must be transferred to conventional wooden pallets. This is done using a small electric counterbalance lift truck with a special slip attachment.

Incoming product is normally put away during the morning to clear the operation for the intensive picking that peaks during the afternoon. On one of the busiest days the warehouse shipped almost 80,000 items to customers in 1500 separate cartons. The business is essentially offering same day response to deliver by noon the following day.

In practice the efficiency of the operation means that final orders can be accepted relatively late in the day and still be processed and readied for the carrier’s final collection at 9pm.

The company insists that suppliers use recyclable packaging, which it shreds and compresses on site using its own equipment. This helps cut overall costs, reduces storage requirements and, incidentally, generates a steady revenue stream for the business when the packaging is sold to the recycling provider.

There is scope for further development at the site, either by extending the building or adding more levels on top of the racking to the full 14 metres height.

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