Stapleton’s goes VNA to drive efficiency at new tyre hub

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Passenger car tyre distributor Stapleton’s has increased throughput and safety after implementing a Jungheinrich storage system at its newly opened distribution centre in Birmingham.

The company, which is part of the Japanese Itochu Corporation, stocks tyres from manufacturers including Bridgestone, Continental, Dunlop, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli. It operates from more than 100 retail centres throughout the UK under the STS Tyre Pros, STS Tyre & Exhaust and Central Tyre brands, along with supplying automotive dealer groups and independent retailers.

Stapleton’s fared well during the downturn as head of supply chain Ashley Croft says: “When times are tough, people do not change their cars so often – they run them for longer which means that new tyres have to be bought. Throughout the recession, our business has never been worse than stable and most of the time our sales have been up.”

To improve supply chain efficiency and customer service, the company opened a new 100,000 sq ft distribution centre in Birmingham last autumn, which Croft describes as “a whole new concept for Stapleton’s in terms of the way the company moves tyres around the business”.

The Birmingham hub, which is by far the company’s largest of its nine warehouses, has the capacity to hold more than 250,000 tyres. It serves a geographical area as far as Stoke and Corby in the north and south, Nottingham and Leicester to the east and Wales in the west.

To keep efficiency levels up, Stapleton’s chose a storage system designed and supplied by Jungheinrich’s Systems and Projects Division.

Customer orders are picked and stock is replenished using a fleet of three wire-guided Jungheinrich EKS308 very narrow aisle order pickers.

Although the trucks are capable of operating in aisles down to 1,200mm, Stapleton’s needed wider aisles to accommodate the dimensions of the order picking cages which were designed to enable the optimum volume of orders to be safely and cost efficiently picked – even at heights of more than 11m.

Incoming stock is hand-balled from trailers with the help of a conveyor and put into a stillage before being transferred to its allocated position within the warehouse.

Jungheinrich reach trucks take the stillages of tyres from the goods in area and put them away directly in to the racking or, in the case of slow moving lines, drop the stillages off at a marshalling area at the end of the allocated aisle. From here they are collected by the order pickers and the tyres are put away in the stock keeping stillage which remains on the racking shelf.

Stillages are locked to the forks of the reach trucks and the order pickers using a hook mechanism, while a load sensor tells the operator that it can be safely picked up.

When it comes to picking, a paper-based picking list is created and orders are picked directly to stillages using the order pickers and transferred to the goods out area by the reach trucks. A number of low level order pickers are also used to collate smaller orders.

The order pickers are fitted with Jungheinrich’s Personnel Protection System (PPS), so all hardware, electrics and software is built into the truck at the point of manufacture.

The system is “self-activating” so if it detects an obstacle or person in its path, the truck will automatically slow down. If the obstacle or person remains in the path of the truck, then the vehicle will be brought to a controlled stop before a collision occurs.

In Stapleton’s case the Jungheinrich PPS has been pre-programmed so that the trucks slow down if any obstacle is detected within five metres and then come to a controlled halt if anything is within two metres of the vehicle.

The Jungheinrich truck is equipped with RFID floor transponders and readers, which means in the future the truck can link to a WMS providing semi-automatic guided travel to the next location and thereby increasing pick productivity and accuracy further.

Stapleton’s operates its own vehicle fleet – mostly 3.5 tonne vans – which deliver to a set customer route twice daily and orders received via the company’s web-based ordering system by 7pm are delivered the following day. In addition to the vans, a fleet of 7.5 Isuzu lorries deliver to other regional distribution centres within the Stapleton’s supply chain.

Ashley Croft describes the new site as a “super-hub”. “It is key to our business and the move away from our old storage model to the new stillage and racking-based system is bringing significant throughput efficiencies to our business.”

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