UK Retailer, John Lewis sells a wide range of products of various shapes and sizes, presenting an interesting challenge for its warehousing operations. To help maximise storage space, Hyster, with the support of its UK distribution partner Barloworld Handling, was the only company able to offer a VNA* handling solution that gives John Lewis staff the flexibility to work with walk on racking at heights of over ten metres.
John Lewis, the UK's largest department store, typically stocks approximately 350,000 separate product lines from its 29 shops, and has a growing online business. With a varied product range spanning electrical, gifts and toys through to garments, beauty and home and garden, the size and shape of the products presents several storage challenges.
"Mattresses, washing machines, sofas and other large and heavy goods all have to be stored carefully while maximising the space available in our warehouses" explains Ted Weager, Senior Project Engineer for John Lewis. "We wanted to store products at heights of over ten metres which is easily achieved for palletised goods, but not when large items need manual handling".
John Lewis had previously used aisle cranes in some of its operations, but wanted to find a flexible solution that was more cost effective. A specialised order picking forklift truck with a long cage on the front looked like a possibility.
"Hyster was the only company that could offer a solution. The materials handling manufacturer already had a proven innovation with its C1.5 VNA* machine with a walk on platform and lattice gates on both sides" says Ted. "We trialled the concept at a facility in London and now have three Hyster VNA trucks successfully operating there".
Hyster has a VNA machine with a mast strong enough to handle a 3 metre long metal cage and a load of 800kg in any location on the platform. The patented quad-form mast which is 1.2 metres wide and 1.1 metres deep overall, ensures minimum deflection allowing a full load to be transported forward or backwards while simultaneously lifting or lowering.
In the spring of 2009, John Lewis opened a combined service centre in Avonmouth, UK, to provide warehousing for stores and home delivery in Wales, Bristol and the South West. Due to the success in London, John Lewis designed the new facility based on the solution from Hyster and its UK distribution partner and now operates 3 Hyster VNA C1.5L order picking machines in 10 aisles.
"We have maximised storage space in the new Avonmouth warehouse cube and spent only a quarter of what we would otherwise have invested on cranes" he says, adding that life-time costs are also greatly reduced.
The VNA machines operate using wire guidance on a superflat warehouse floor in aisles only 1.7 metres wide to maximise storage space. The C1.5L incorporates powerful AC motors, proportional speed control and automatic braking at the end of each aisle. Before the driver can operate the truck from the comfortable seat with joystick controls, the metal lattice gates must be closed on both sides. As an additional feature, once positioned in the correct bay, the operator must press a button that triggers flaps on both sides of the cage to bridge the short gap between the platform and the racking.
The lattice gates, with gaps too small to put hands through, can then be opened a full 2.7 metres giving a two man team walk-on access to the racking for items such as superking size mattresses.
"At ten metres, the cage feels incredibly stable with minimum movement, giving the team an enclosed environment in which to pick and put away stock quickly and efficiently" he adds, explaining that the machines are unique and therefore have to cope with increased activity during the busy build up to Christmas.
Elsewhere in the facility which has twenty loading bays, Hyster P2.0 powered pedestrian pallet trucks are used for lateral goods movement and a Hyster Matrix reach truck fitted with a carpet boom handles carpets up to 7.5 metres in length.
Excellent service support is provided by Hyster's distribution partner, Barloworld Handling, who provides local service support and works with John Lewis' own in-house instructors to conduct operator training on-site.