Established in 1976, Harlow Group Storage (HGS) is a family owned and run business that provides outsourced warehousing facilities to a variety of customers operating in industries as diverse as product packaging and machine tool components.
Located close to where Hertfordshire borders Essex and within easy reach of the motorway network and Stansted, Heathrow and Luton airports, the company's 40,000 sq ft facility offers high quality storage space for 6400 pallets.
The multi-user warehouse is temperature controlled and sensors and fans strategically placed throughout the racking ensure that the store remains at between 10 and 30 degrees at all times.
The site operates between 6am and 10pm, seven days a week and typically processes in the region of 250 orders a day. This equates to some 3000 pallet movements in and out of the warehouse every week.
Pallet loads arrive from HGS's clients' global suppliers and are stored before onward delivery to the clients' manufacturing sites around the UK. Most of the orders picked are full pallet loads but, in line with trends across the industry, HGS have noticed a growing requirement for break-bulk and low level order picking at the facility.
To ensure that loads are put away and picked as time and cost efficiently as possible, HGS uses a fleet of electric-powered Flexi G4 articulated trucks from Narrow Aisle.
HGS managing director Tony Sando has always been an advocate of the articulated truck concept and, this year, when the expansion of one of HGS's blue chip contracts meant the company needed to increase the size of its fleet, he ordered four new Flexi G4s.
“We have been using Flexis for many years and have been impressed by their build quality, versatility and reliability,” explained Tony Sando. “We had operated both reach and counterbalanced trucks to pick and put away but the Flexi performs both jobs in a single unit.”
Until the articulated truck was introduced, companies like HGS had little alternative but to operate a two truck system with a counterbalanced machine working outside and feeding a reach truck inside the store or warehouse. With the arrival of articulated machines users realised that they could eliminate this often costly and generally inefficient arrangement. The Flexi loads and unload lorries and delivers pallets directly to the racking in a single operation. By doing so, it increases efficiency and productivity while abolishing double handling and the costs associated with running a bigger truck fleet than is necessary.
Incoming orders start to arrive at HGS from around 8am onwards. Full pallet loads are taken from the lorries to a covered marshalling area where they are checked against the accompanying paperwork and entered into HGS's SAP –based warehouse management system. The system automatically allocates a pallet position within the racking and a barcode label is printed, fixed to the pallet and scanned. Another barcode label on the racking is scanned by the truck operator and if this corresponds with the label on the pallet the operator is sure that he is at the right location.
A VNA racking system designed and installed by Redirack ensures that HGS make good use of all available storage space. With 11 aisles and 23 racking runs, the system offers seven pallet levels, although in one aisle it has been designed to accommodate half height pallets. The Flexis that serve the racking are capable of lifting full loads to heights of nearly eight metres.
The aisles are 1.8 metres wide and the Flexis enter each aisle with the palletised load to the front (like a traditional counterbalanced machine) before turning the pallet through 90 degrees to put it away.
Because of its design, the Flexi is perfectly suited to working in narrower aisles alongside order picking staff and this means that when required, low level order picking can be undertaken at the site without creating the kind of health safety and productivity issues sometimes associated with other warehouse products such as guided VNA machines and man-up Combis .
According to Tony Sando, HGS's drivers really enjoy working with the Flexis.
“Some articulated truck cabs look spacious from the outside but, when you sit inside them in the operator's position, the front overhead guard posts seem very close. The G4's roomy operator's cabin ensures greater comfort throughout even toughest shifts and the truck's automotive style accelerator and brake pedal layout ensures even more leg space for the operator and improved safety,” he says.
Tony Sando believes that the attenton given to the comfort of the operator during the development of the G4 has played a significant role in helping HGS to achieve virtually zero stock and pallet racking damage throughout store. “The forklift operators find the Flexis a joy to work with.– both inside the warehouse and outside in the yard area. In fact I'm sure some of our truck operators think it's easier to stack pallets with a Flexi than it is to park a car!” he adds.
HGS is very much a family concern. Tony's father, Dennis, who sadly died earlier this year, started the business and Tony's two sons, Ryan and James, are operations and project & compliance manager respectively. According to Ryan, the company's clients welcome the personal attention they receive. “Our client base ranges from blue chip household names who store 6000 pallets a year with us to smaller businesses who may only keep three pallet loads with us,” he says. “But they are all important to us and we strive to offer the same high level of service to all of them. We need a reliable and efficient forklift fleet and the Flexis more than meet our requirements.”