Increased efficiency

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Carte Blanche, the UK-based greeting cards publisher and soft toys and three-dimensional gift manufacturer, was created in 1987 by Stephen Haines who began selling cards from the boot of his car. Since then, the company has undergone tremendous growth not just in the UK but also in more than 60 countries – its greeting cards are printed in 15 different languages and supplied to 6,000 retail outlets worldwide. The company’s most popular character is the “Me to you” teddy bear.

The company’s “excellent” growth over the past two years has resulted in its move to a larger warehousing and office complex at Tangmere, near Chichester, West Sussex.

Carte Blanches’s move to the 3,255sq m warehousing and office facility was prompted by the company outgrowing its storage and distribution centre in Ford, near Arundel.

The move also presented Carte Blanche with the opportunity to rationalise other areas of its business into the same building as well as to review and upgrade its overall storage and order processing operation to cope with the increasing demand.

Part of that process entailed the installation of an overhead monorail conveyor system for order picking at the new warehouse and distribution centre which has enabled the company to increase significantly the overall efficiency of its operation. The monorail system, supplied and installed by Polymark, also meant the company could meet other prime objectives – reducing manual handling and the distances walked by pick-operators.

Previously staff would pick into tote bins and push them along on a flatbed conveyor transferring them onto a gravity conveyor for transfer between the floors; it meant staff walked “miles” moving around the conveyor. Carte Blanche wanted a better, more efficient system and to improve the working environment for their staff.

Central to achieving the company’s core objectives for the new building has been an overhead monorail conveyor from Polymark which is proving the ideal solution for order picking and compilation. The system involves specially designed carriers holding tote bins complete with their picking list circulating past 2,500 pick locations over three floors. The carriers can swivel through 360° and be locked in place ensuring that pick operators always have the bins in the best position for order fulfilment with the minimum effort. The system is designed around a central core over the three levels of storage and at each level the carriers will enter different pick zones to enable the order to be completed. The carton live and pallet live storage and pushback racking at the warehouse was installed by Linpac Storage Systems (LSS) which entailed the only carton live racking – it had 1,100 picking face locations – being dismantled and rebuilt in the new facility with an additional 1,200 new locations. The carton and pallet live bays have been configured into nine different picking zones.

Mobile computing solutions specialist Belgravium has supplied eight Geneva 6100 hand-held terminals primarily for use in the picking areas. Plastic bins for small products are on the ground floor with pallet live storage on the first and second floors for picking cartons. The overhead power and free conveyor support 90 gondolas that move constantly around the three floors.

The carriers are fitted with transponders and the control system monitors the movement of the individual carriers such that they only visit the pick lanes necessary to complete the order. Each picking zone has by-pass rails fitted enabling carriers for small or urgent orders to overtake others requiring larger picks.

Completed orders are routed to a packing zone where they are held in a queue to await automatic release to an individual packing station. There are 18 packing stations each equipped with a small storage rail onto which a carrier moves allowing staff to remove the items and pack them ready for final despatch. Once all the items have been removed the carrier is released onto a powered conveyor for automatic transfer to a multi-lane marshalling station for the whole process to begin again.

Every carrier leaving a specific packing station automatically signals the release of a new carrier from the queue of completed orders. Packed orders with destination barcode attached are moved onto a take-away belt conveyor where they pass beneath an omni-directional scanner that separates the orders into two lanes, one where the carton contains a complete order and is ready for shipment; the other to a bulk despatch area where orders are accumulated on pallets.

Design flexibility

The overhead monorail conveyor used by Polymark is constructed using a number of modular components such as powered inclined/declined conveyors that allow the smooth and automatic transfer of carriers between different floor levels, double and triple changeover points that simplify carrier flow throughout the new warehouse as well as combinations of powered and free conveyor sections. This allows great design flexibility enhanced by the major advantage of the elimination of permanent physical barriers since the conveyor rail is set at a nominal height of 2m – this gives unimpeded movement for operators throughout the working and picking area, and brings a huge bonus in health and safety, and fire regulations.

Ian Wakefield, operations director at Carte Blanche, comments: “The whole design and configuration of the Polymark conveyor installation has given us a flexible system that cuts manual effort and has greatly improved our order throughput, allowing us to cope with increased business and gives our staff much better working conditions.” n

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