Suzuki picks route to success

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When Suzuki wanted a new picking trolley for its purpose built distribution centre it asked its staff to help design it and now it is achieving efficiency levels 50 per cent higher than previously experienced.

The warehouse handles everything that Suzuki distributes in UK except for whole cars and boats. This includes motorbikes and parts and accessories for outboard engines, cars and everything else in the range. This totals more than 70,000 lines and the warehouse handles 600,000 units of stock.

Andy Franks, parts operations manager for Suzuki UK, says: “It has been a huge change from our old site. We are now working in a mezzanine which is the hardest area to organise because we have such a diversity of product.”

Deliveries arrive from Japan plus India, Canada, Spain, Germany, Hungary and the UK. The distribution centre houses a variety of racking for palletised and bulky products, but the majority of lines are stored in the all important picking area, with ground floor and mezzanine above. Here, parts are stored on shelves and in drawers and the company is undertaking a bar coding project to further accuracy.

All equipment was designed and developed from the warehouse operatives point of view. “We want to make it so we could take anyone and with minimal training they should be able to work in our operation,” says Franks.

The company operates a Kaizen policy and looks to improve on everything they do. Franks says: “This includes the picking trolleys as in the past operations in the motor industry have had very basic equipment. We looked through the Wanzl catalogue and saw something similar to what I had in mind. The company were also keen to help us change the standard product to be exactly in keeping with our requirements.”

“We needed something very flexible, very manoeuvrable, something easy to get around the place.” The Wanzl picking trolley has a centrally placed fifth wheel, which acts as a pivot point. The final specification for the trolley involved the warehouse staff themselves. “Everything in the warehouse is designed around the operative and as far as the crucial order picking goes we really wanted to eliminate twist, lift and bend movements,” says Franks. “What we have now is a designed and fit for purpose picking trolley.”

Based on Wanzl’s KT3 picking trolley, the unit was designed before Suzuki left their old Crawley base. Everything is self-contained for the picker including easel with clip for any picking sheets, hook for coat, and as many Cup holders as you would expect in some luxury cars. “This is far removed from the old tea trolleys we used to have, which were not at all user friendly and often steered in the opposite direction to where you wanted them to go.”

“The main thing for us is that a picking trolley is self-contained, including steps on the back so that staff can reach higher shelves with ease. We can also adjust the height for the middle shelf so that it matches the conveyor at any point, something important to us as it means there is no lifting involved – staff simply pull empty totes from the conveyor and push completed customer totes onto the conveyor so they can move on to packing and despatch.”


The trolley has also allowed operatives to multi-task. Picking and put away can be operated from the same trolley simultaneously, as it has capacity for up to six totes. Generally though, Suzuki staff place four totes on a picking trolley and leave space on the top shelf for staff to sort items as they go round.

The new trolley allows staff to collect customer order totes throughout the shift in the packing area on each floor, and then move an entire batch through to despatch together via conveyor, saving considerably on time and effort. Each 2.6m long trolley has capacity for 30 totes.

The Suzuki operation delivers via a dedicated service to 180 dealers next day, in totes and roll cages. Picking takes place all day into tote boxes, around 2-300 a day. Originally these orders were assembled on the floor but the new consolidation trolley, “which took its inspiration from some fruit and veg stands in supermarkets”, allows Suzuki to consolidate all day and send a load down the conveyor to despatch in seconds.

Suzuki’s picking schedules currently incorporate consolidation twice a day and Franks reckons it has saved between 15 and 29 man-hours every day, equivalent to a reduction of 2-3 on head count.

The operation handles 3,300 lines per day, approximately 10,000 units, which can be anything from a tiny washer to complete car chassis. The 34 warehouse staff are able to pick at 145 lines per day each, which is almost 50 per cent more than they were able to achieve previously. The Milton Keynes operation has a peak capacity of up to 5,000 lines per day which is a 30 per cent improvement on the old Crawley site.

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