NHS Supply Chain is a joint venture between the Supply Chain Management Division of the NHS Business Services Authority and DHL. Its role is to provide a dedicated supply chain service to the National Health Service throughout England and Wales.
Formed in 2005 with the aim of saving the NHS in excess of £1 billion over a 10 year period, the organisation has a number of distribution centres strategically sited throughout England in Derbyshire, Suffolk, Kent, Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Cheshire and Somerset.
Located on the outskirts of the market town of Bridgwater, NHS Supply Chain’s 130,000 sq ft Somerset facility houses over 8000 product lines ranging from medical equipment to tea, coffee and stationery. Products are distributed to some 3500 delivery points, including hospitals and GP’s surgeries, throughout the south west and around 2000 deliveries are made every week from the site.
The warehouse is divided into two distinct areas – a bulk store with 7200 pallet locations and 2500 ground level pick faces and a mezzanine floor where smaller items are contained within a small parts shelving system. Well over six million product lines and 57 million cases are picked every year.
Typically, around £8 million of stock is held within the Bridgwater store at any given time, although throughput spikes at Christmas and Easter.
All standard orders are picked and despatched within 48 hours of receipt while next day delivery is available for urgent (but non emergency) requests. Where a product is required straight away, an emergency response service allows orders to be picked and despatched within five hours. Successful picking KPIs at the site are approaching 99 per cent
Reliable and efficient materials handing equipment plays a key role in maintaining such a high order picking success rate and at its Somerset warehouse NHS Supply Chain operates a fleet of Jungheinrich forklifts including reach trucks, low level order pickers, counterbalanced trucks and hand pallet trucks.
Jungheinrich has supplied trucks to the Bridgwater site for several years and the contract was recently renewed as Nick May, operations manager at the facility explains: "Other sites within NHS Supply Chain network operate another brand of materials handling equipment. However, in my view, the Jungheinrich equipment is superior kit. We were able to put forward a robust business case for specifying Jungheinrich trucks which, I am pleased to say, was accepted."
Lorries arriving at the site from NHS Supply Chain’s 750+ suppliers are unloaded using a combination of hand pallet and counterbalanced trucks. Pallet loads are marshalled before being allocated a position by the site’s WMS and put away within the storage cube using the reach trucks or, if they are smaller items, transferred via a goods lift to the mezzanine.
There are 18 aisles of pallet racking within the pallet store. The top beam of the racking is 10.2 metres high and the aisles are 3.5 metres wide – which is enough for two reach trucks to pass safely and for order picking to be undertaken at ground level at the same time as the reach trucks are operating in the aisles. A one way system improves worker safety further.
In all, there are 9 reach trucks in operation at the site and 27 low level order pickers. The reach trucks are ETV 320 models. A feature of the reach trucks is the incorporation of the operator’s screen – the screen onto which CCTV images are transmitted when picking or putting away pallets at height – into the operator’s console or dashboard. This means that not only is the screen easy to view but that the operator’s view from the cab is not obstructed by the additional attachment of a monitor to the side of the cab. The truck’s onboard computer terminal is also built-in to the console, which is ergonomically beneficial to the operator.
The low level order pickers are ECE 225 models and are fitted with Jungheinrich’s JetPilot steering wheel. The JetPilot has been designed to allow all main operational functions to be integrated into the steering wheel. The JetPilot system allows the truck to be controlled by one hand and means the operator does not have to turn his or her body when cornering – which reduces pressure on the operator’s neck and spine.
Orders are picked directly into roll cages or reusable containers before being transferred to an outbound marshalling area where they are checked to ensure that the correct order has been picked and that each shipment is presented to ‘ward level’ standards.
Once the orders have passed the checks they are loaded on to vehicles from DHL’s transport fleet which, from the Bridgwater site alone, cover 4.8 million kilometres a year servicing the NHS contract.
"NHS Supply Chain’s role is to provide high quality supply chain services to enable the NHS and healthcare organisations to deliver quality patient care," says Nick May. "To be able to do that it is crucial that we have the right materials handling equipment partner, which is why at Bridgwater, we are very happy to have renewed our contract with Jungheinrich."