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When it comes to warehouse aisles, narrower offers some big advantages – and challenges. Picking the right narrow aisle equipment is critical…

It’s obvious that narrower aisles in the warehouse will result in greater capacity, but reconfiguring a site can open up new challenges. Working in tighter spaces can have an impact on the efficiency of the operation, so it is hardly surprising that this is one of the areas that is seeing significant development work. Ron Farr, warehouse solutions manager at Yale, says: “Very Narrow Aisle trucks are an important and exceptional warehouse solution, therefore we have seen, and will continue to see, increasing technological developments in this area. The technical advances over the last decade have increased performance; many due to improved communications within the systems of the truck.” He highlights the wire guidance system on the Yale MTC VNA truck which enables it of travelling up to 12 km/hr and points out that with the growth of robotics within the materials handling industry the advancements in VNA truck technology are only set to continue,” says Farr. John Maguire, commercial director at Narrow Aisle, says: “The obvious benefit of narrow aisle technology is the fact that it maximises the pallet storage capacity of the building,” and points out that the Flexi AC 1200 increases usable storage space by between 25-50 per cent. “And, because it is able to load and unload lorries from the side or from a dock and then deliver pallets directly to the pallet storage in a single operation, it eliminates double handling of loads and the need to operate a counterbalanced machine outside and a reach truck inside the store. As a result forklift fleet costs are slashed. “In the early days when the market was developing, many customers were in the SME category. However, over time, larger warehouse operators have recognised the cost saving benefits that Flexi technology can bring to their logistics processes and supply chains. Ron Farr points out that it is often cheaper to build up than it is out, “so lifting higher while working in very narrow aisles allows more pallets to be stored in the same size building compared to traditional warehouse solutions. This allows the warehouse to increase its storage density while still allowing one hundred per cent selectivity and the ability to quickly and safely move high volumes. As well as increased storage density, VNA trucks are designed to lift while travelling, so operations can also benefit from increased productivity as a result of diagonal travel within the aisle. Another advantage is visibility. “VNA trucks provide exceptional visibility of the pallet being handled as it is directly in front of the operator, the elevated position gives the added flexibility of allowing the operator to perform piece picking if required. The greatest disadvantage of the VNA solution is that because the truck is only slightly smaller than the aisle itself, you can’t have anything or anyone else inside the aisle if there is a machine already working there. For example, typical grocery applications that have a lot of order picking within the aisles would struggle to benefit from VNA when high picking rates are required,” says Farr. And Hyster’s Smith says: “We see many different, demanding applications experiencing a need to increase their available storage in the same warehouse footprint. In a racking application, a typical counterbalance truck can require just over 50 per cent of the building floor space for manoeuvring. Therefore, switching to a narrow aisle configuration supported by a VNA truck, or taking racking higher, can be the most effective solution. VNA trucks can also help overcome space limitations in order-picking applications where aisles are often designed wider to allow two trucks to pass one another.” For operators, there are big gains to be made by maximising the efficiency of their trucks as well as minimising the total cost of ownership. Ron Farr of Yale, highlights the importance of designing and building reliability and dependability into every VNA truck saying “the operator will benefit from increased productivity and in turn offer them a greater return on their investment. From an ergonomics perspective, much can be done by the supplier to ensure that the VNA truck is as comfortable and usable as possible, ensuring maximum productivity is reached. “For example, operator presence floor switches allow drivers to adopt a more relaxed seating position, therefore minimising fatigue. Three-way adjustable forward mounted controls or seat side joystick controls can be positioned vertically or horizontally to allow the operator to either sit or stand. From a dependability perspective, having unrestricted access to all serviceable parts, as well as sealing motor and electronics to keep out dirt, dust and water will all contribute to greatly reducing downtime.” Narrow Aisle’s John Maguire points to the benefits of lithium ion battery technology. “Thanks to developments in lithium-ion battery technology, Flexi AC Lithium trucks require zero battery maintenance. And, fast battery charging times ensure that truck uptime is optimised: the Flexi AC Lithium range features heavy-duty batteries that can be fully charged within one or two hours, even if the battery is fully discharged. Maguire points out that sales of LP Gas-powered warehouse based trucks have been declining for a while for several reasons. “Compared to battery electric power, LP Gas is expensive and the time taken to change or refill each gas bottle means that truck downtime can be a problem at some sites unless a bulk tank can be justified. “In addition, the control systems and catalytic converters required to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from LPG emissions add significantly to a truck’s operating costs. “There are many differing emission control and operation noise level standards and rules across the world which make the manufacture and operation of engine powered tracks more and more difficult in many markets. Narrow Aisle has launched a launched a scrappage scheme, which Maguire says “gives operators of LPG-powered articulated trucks the chance to make significant savings should they choose to upgrade their old LPG forklifts to new Flexi AC Lithium or electric models”. Hyster’s Paul Smith focuses on the potential advantages of man-up trucks pointing out that the Hyster C1.0 – 1.5L VNA truck series can lift a maximum load of 1.5 tonnes to nearly 17 metres, depending on the model. “This truck suits many different applications but is particularly well suited for those handling difficult loads. In a VNA environment, the operator is up with the load being stored or retrieved, so optimum visibility is provided. This significantly reduces product damage and can improve operational efficiency over ‘man-down’ solutions.

 

This feature first appeared in the September issue of Logistics Manager.

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