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EnerSys install four-high forklift truck battery charge facility at Co-operative distribution center

A revolutionary four-high lift truck battery charge and change facility has been installed by EnerSys as part of a refurbishment project at the St Helens regional distribution centre operated by the logistics arm of The Co-operative Group. The system makes the best possible use of available space on the minimum footprint and eliminates manual handling.

The 582,000 sq ft (54,000 sq m) St Helens regional distribution centre was originally opened by Somerfield around eight years ago to serve local convenience stores in the North West and Wales. Somerfield was subsequently bought by The Co-operative Group in 2009. The distribution centre’s temperature controlled chambers alone measure over three million cubic feet, equivalent to over 300,800 household freezers. Nine miles of underground ducting and drainage pipework and the racking steelwork would stretch for 80 miles if laid end-to-end. After the acquisition the logistics arm of The Co-operative Group decided to upgrade the site, which covers 42.8 acres and is by far the largest in its expanded nationwide network, to bring it in line with its other warehouses and incorporate the latest equipment and services to support efficiency and sustainability.

The warehouse is currently building up its fully composite operation following the investment and will eventually work 24/7 to deliver around 1.7 million cases a week to the existing Co-operative Group and newly rebranded local convenience stores. Deliveries will be made by a fleet of over 300 vehicles including almost 250 trailer units. Changes in distribution procedures introduced by the logistics arm of The Co-operative Group are expected to reduce the annual mileage of the fleet by 816,000 miles which is equal to 37 round-the-world trips.

Materials handling on site will be managed using a fleet of 230 reach trucks, order pickers, pallet transporters and counterbalance trucks. With a fleet of this size it was important to ensure the battery charge and change area was configured for optimum use of space and operational efficiency. One of the key requirements was to ensure the facility occupied the smallest possible footprint, to leave more space for productive storage, without compromising the ability to maintain warehouse truck operations.

As with its other sites the logistics arm of The Co-operative Group wanted to introduce best practice procedures and eliminate any need for manual handling of batteries for its warehouse staff. The company’s recent new-build distribution centres have multi-tier charge and change facilities and its first three-tier system was installed at the Coventry operation in 2005. This proved to be a successful combination of leading edge battery management and handling systems. The logistics arm of The Co-operative Group and EnerSys decided to go further at St Helens and install a four-tier system.

"Multi-tier battery banks have proved themselves at our other distribution centres and going four-high is a safe and flexible solution which follows best practice," says Chas Shepperson, National MHE Fleet Manager at the logistics arm of The Co-operative Group.

In conventional installations batteries are typically arranged at ground level with their chargers and any other ancillary equipment alongside or, more usually, overhead. This makes it relatively easy to exchange batteries without any need for lifting. However in the very largest warehouses it can take up a lot of expensive floorspace.

Multi-tier installations have been around for some time. Batteries are stored above each other to make better use of floorspace and handled in and out of racks using specially adapted handling carts. These were generally restricted to two or three levels in the past because of limitations with the hydraulic performance of the handling equipment. EnerSys eliminated these issues at The Co-operative Group’s Chester-le-Street warehouse by creating a battery handling system with a fully-electric battery changing cart without any need for hydraulics. A version of this machine, which was based on the popular Pro Series BBH, was built for handling batteries on four levels at St Helens.

When a lift truck battery change is required, the truck approaches the changing area and the driver disconnects its battery. A trained member of staff dedicated to the battery area takes over and completes the change using the Pro-Series BBE which runs on concealed rails alongside the charger banks. The battery is removed by the powerful extending electro-magnet on the BBE, placed on its on-board roller bed and pushed into place for charging. A charged battery is then loaded by the BBE onto the truck. Batteries on all four levels can be handled in this way. Truck uptime is sustained and potentially injurious manual handling is eliminated in what is a simple one-man job.

By adopting a future-proof strategy with two identical banks of batteries arranged back-to-back, each with its own BBE, flexibility of operation is assured both at peak periods and during maintenance. One of the banks can be taken off-line for short periods and the central aisle which runs between the banks enables engineers who are monitoring and maintaining batteries and chargers to do so safely without entering truck operating areas.

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