RFID instead of magnets for pickers

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Healthcare supplier chooses Jungheinrich order pickers that use an RFID guidance system.

Healthcare supplier Bunzl has replaced the VNA order pickers at its Leicester distribution centre with three Jungheinrich EKX 513 Kombis.

Bunzl supplies a comprehensive range of disposable healthcare consumables – products such as gloves, aprons, bandages, facemasks, gowns, etc – to the healthcare sector, including hospitals, retirement and nursing homes and doctors’ surgeries and clinics.

The Leicester site supplies hospitals and other healthcare centres from Oxford to Sheffield and the previous fleet of order pickers in operation at the store had grown tired and were no longer able to keep pace with the high throughput levels at the facility.

“We clearly needed to invest in new materials handling equipment and processes,” says Bunzl’s operations director, Mike Parsonage.

The new trucks are equipped with RFID technology that will enable the warehouse management system to guide them to the right location in the aisles automatically.

The RFID navigation unit has been designed to enable the operator to receive picking instructions from the warehouse management system. Once the instructions have been transmitted, the operator simply accepts the command via a terminal and the warehouse management system automatically guides the truck to the location in which the goods are stored. The truck travels via the shortest route and at the optimal speed to ensure that energy consumption is minimised.

The idea is that the operator needs only to engage the safety controls on the truck and can then relax while the truck is directed to the right spot within the aisle. The truck commences its semi-automatic approach to the storage location and as soon as the correct location has been reached, a light on the side of the truck signals to the driver whether he has to pick the order from the left or right. The result is an improvement in picking accuracy as the operator cannot go to the wrong location.[asset_ref id=”1218″]

VNA order pickers have, traditionally, been guided by magnets buried in the warehouse floor to initiate control of the trucks. However, such systems do not offer the flexibility, safety and operational efficiency benefits that RFID transponders bring. The RFID transponders are no bigger than a thumbnail and have been inserted into the floor within the aisles.

The RFID system offers a number of safety benefits. The transponders can sense if the truck is approaching the end of an aisle or a transfer aisle within the racking and will slow the truck’s speed accordingly. The truck’s travel speed will also be optimised to suit the standard of the floor over which it is travelling. If part of the warehouse floor is uneven, the truck’s speed will be reduced automatically.

In addition, if, when travelling with the operator platform raised, the truck is approaching a height obstacle likely to endanger the operator the truck is brought to a controlled stop. And if the operator attempts to raise the platform to a height likely to bring him into collision with, say, the roof of the facility or some other object, the lift function cuts out.

To minimise disruption for Bunzl, the new trucks were delivered and installed over a weekend and the RFID system is expected to go live later this year once the company’s warehouse management system has been upgraded.

“We are already benefiting from increased throughputs, lower running costs and higher productivity,” says Parsonage. “Furthermore, all the operators have commented on the better working environment in the cab and the smooth ergonomic controls.”

Bunzl has been so impressed with the performance of the new RFID equipped Kombis that is has introduced the trucks at its other stores at Manchester, Enfield, Bristol and Ireland.

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