EnerSys has designed and installed the warehouse truck charge and change area for Culina's latest chilled distribution centre at Haverill. The materials handling package includes Hawker Perfect Plus batteries with LifeTech high frequency chargers, advanced computerised management systems to optimise battery utilisation and equipment to eliminate manual handling.
“When we looked at plans for Haverhill we wanted something different,” says Jim Seymour, Warehouse Manager at Culina, Haverhill. “EnerSys worked with the truck supplier to deliver a solution to remove manual handling from battery changing and a management system that takes all the guess work away during charging. Looking at whole life cost benefits we believe the new system will save money over the five years of the contract.”
Since opening its first UK chilled operation in 1994 Culina Logistics has grown to become one of the country's leading providers of high quality logistics services for food and drink companies. A merger with Baylis completed during 2008 extended the company's capabilities to include ambient and chilled logistics and enabled it to provide a wider range of services from more locations.
The company now has four chilled and five ambient distribution centres, with 1300 employees and 250 trailer units. Its latest development in Haverhill was opened on August 2008 to serve some existing major accounts and build a stronger presence in the south and east of the country with its location close to the M11 and A14.
The Haverhill development is the company's latest new facility following the opening in 2004 of its Prime Point distribution centre in Staffordshire. Construction commenced January 2008 and involved landscaping that required the movement of over half a million tonnes of earth. The new building opened on schedule in August 2008 and covers 191,000 sq ft (17,750 sq m) housing 17,500 pallets along conventional wide aisle high bay racking in a controlled 0-5˚C environment. More than 200 employees, including warehouse operatives and fleet drivers, are based at the site.
Culina expects that around 80 per cent of the picking will be by the case once the warehouse is fully operational and that it will be shipping up to 1.5 million cases a week. This makes the choice of warehouse trucks vital to the operation. Linde and EnerSys had previously supplied Prime Point. Culina asked them to submit joint proposals for the new site while participating in a competitive tender. The requirement was for 15 reach trucks for high bay and general pallet handling and 70 other warehouse trucks to support low level picking and general tasks.
“We look to materials handling equipment suppliers to propose a complete solution and we consider the benefits of each recommendation,” says Jim Seymour. “The combination of Linde trucks and EnerSys batteries has worked well at Prime Point so we took the view that there were significant benefits in utilising the proven technology in the new build.”
Despite the advanced operations at its existing facilities this was the first major distribution centre fully commissioned by Culina for its own requirements. The company was able to use its experience at Prime Point in particular to identify enhancements to the way it manages warehouse truck batteries.
EnerSys Motive Power worked with Linde and Culina to devise a solution that integrated with the overall warehouse plan. Like Prime Point the charge and change area is located at one end of the warehouse below a mezzanine which houses the repack and rework services offered by Culina. The mezzanine at Haverhill is slightly higher which provides greater flexibility when planning the layout and allows trucks with taller masts to enter the area safely.
One of Culina's requirements was to make battery operations efficient and safe by simplifying the change process and minimising the amount of manual handling required. EnerSys devised a layout with the three different types of batteries in separate zones. Batteries for low level order pickers and powered pallet transporters are charged at opposite ends of a single aisle. Reach truck batteries are charged alongside a second aisle that runs parallel to the first. When one of the small trucks requires a battery change it enters the area and draws alongside the designated charging position. A simple rail-guided trolley is then positioned between the truck and the fully charged battery.
The depleted battery is disconnected from the truck and rolled onto the trolley platform and into the free charging position. The replacement battery is rolled out of its charging position and onto the trolley which is then repositioned before the unit is rolled onto the truck. The whole process takes just a few seconds and is completed without any lifting because the platforms on the truck, trolley and charging position are all at the same level. A simple one-way system eliminates congestion during busy periods and promotes safety.
A different operation is utilised for changing the larger reach truck batteries. These are generally too heavy for manual changing. Culina initially considered powered pullers but decided each changeover would take too long. Instead the company specified a specially modified powered pallet transporter that is highly mobile and simple to use. Reach trucks are parked in an area adjacent to the chargers. Fully charged batteries are brought to them using the modified transporter which can adjust its height to ensure level transfer of the load. The trucks do not need to enter the charging area or align themselves with specialist handling equipment which means the transfers are faster and more efficient for improved overall productivity.
“We wanted to remove the risks associated with handling so all changes here are on a side entry basis,” says Jim Seymour. “All our operators are trained to change their own batteries. Our aim was to keep it simple, safe and easy for them.”
Another priority was to optimise overall battery performance. This has been achieved by a computerised management system that works in conjunction with the “intelligent” diagnostic capabilities of the batteries to oversee every aspect of their utilisation. Batteries are allocated in strict rotation which means that the best available unit, the one with the most charge, is always used. This overcomes the potential problem of operators simply taking the nearest battery regardless of its true state of charge. Battery utilisation is spread more evenly so that none gets heavier usage than the others. The service life of the batteries is prolonged and the risk of unexpected maintenance issues is reduced.
EnerSys supplied its high-performance Perfect Plus batteries which offer extended work cycles between charges. Charging is achieved by Hawker LifeTech high frequency chargers, which offer outstanding energy efficiency – as much as 20 per cent higher than traditional 50 Hz chargers. The charger automatically detects the battery's level of discharge and will supply only the amount of power needed – and no more – to restore full charge. This means less mains power is required with significant savings in electricity costs. Electrolyte levels are correctly maintained by the Aquafill system supplied by EnerSys using deionised water manufactured by Culina at Prime Point.
A large display mounted above the charging area indicates where the correct battery, the one with the most charge, can be found. The combination of lift truck, batteries and efficient management ensures that changes are required just once every shift on average.
“The management system should help to ensure the batteries run for the full term,” says Jim Seymour. “It reduces opportunity charging and the risk of random selection. It's so simple it does the work for the guys.”