Chilled distribution specialist Langdons was so pleased with the service and support received from Atlet , that the company was chosen to deliver a 'complete package' for operations at Gerber Juice Company in Somerset. Atlet has supplied a fleet of warehouse trucks to a very precise specification and designed and built the battery management and handling systems at the Bridgwater distribution centre run by Langdons.
“We looked at other suppliers but the support we have received from Atlet over years swayed our decision,” says Chris Murt, Operations Director at Langdons. “Backup from Atlet has been excellent. When the chips are down they've always sorted us out.”
Langdons provides chilled distribution services for a number of national account customers from its base in the South West. At the end of 2006 the company successfully competed for the contract to manage the new purpose-built temperature controlled warehouse that Gerber Juice Company, the UK's number biggest juice supplier, had commissioned next to its processing and packaging plant in Bridgwater. Langdons also took over responsibility for distributing Gerber Juice Company products throughout the UK using its fleet of vehicles.
The warehouse had been equipped with 9.9 metre high drive-in and conventional pallet racking on six levels to the customer's specification before the contract was awarded. Langdons needed a combination of reach trucks for pallet handling and load assembly and powered pallet transporters for vehicle loading that could cope with loads potentially weighing up to 1400kg.
Although the conventional racking presented no major issues the drive-in racking was relatively high and had unusually narrow bays. This meant that standard width reach trucks, which are typically specified for high lift operations because of their added stability, could not easily be used. Langdons also wanted to maximise overall fleet efficiency in this demanding environment by introducing advanced battery management and handling systems.
The company approached a number of potential suppliers, including Atlet, for suggestions. Although the two companies have a long-standing relationship, Langdons naturally needed to test the market to ensure the right balance between solution, costs and service. Atlet not only designed the solution but project managed the installation.
“Other suppliers suggested tilting cabs and cameras rather than the tilting seat and height indicator that are standard on the Atlet trucks,” says Chris Murt. “We thought this would be sufficient and it's proved to be the case. I'm a great believer in keeping it simple.”
Atlet delivered eight of its Forte UHS reach trucks with 9.9 metres masts and carriage sideshift to support precise load positioning, essential when handling dynamic liquid loads at height. To enhance truck safety in the narrow drive-in racking Atlet suggested fitting guide wheels to the outer front edge of the support legs and rear corners of the chassis. Atlet's engineers also devised and installed “sacrificial” brass slide bars along each side of the truck to provide additional guidance without damaging the steel rails at the base of the racking. These modifications enable the standard sized trucks to operate effectively rail guided in the narrow confines of the drive-in racking for improved driver confidence and safety.
“Atlet had to design the trucks around the constraints they were given,” says Chris Murt. “We were sceptical at the time but they put their management expertise into sorting it out to our satisfaction, and it works very well. The system is unusual, probably unique.”
The reach trucks were also supplied with Atlet's unique S3 stability support system that automatically governs speed, acceleration, steering sensitivity and other parameters to ensure they never exceed their safe working limits. For example, S3 automatically reduces the speed of truck functions in proportion to the height lifted, overrides unsafe manoeuvres and ensures smooth controls and mast movement for maximum performance, productivity and safety at all times.
“We chose S3 for some trucks at another of our warehouses and now specify it as standard,” says Chris Murt.
For pallet handling and vehicle loading Atlet suggested transferring eight Presto PLP trucks from another Langdons site where they were no longer needed. The Presto PLP is a highly efficient pallet transporter that is ideal for vehicle loading and unloading as well as general warehouse duties.
“We are long time users of Atlet trucks and were one of the first companies in the UK to use their PLP trucks,” says Chris Murt. “We put our trucks through very heavy usage and if we cannot break them Atlet knows they're a good truck.”
To get the best possible performance and productivity from the fleet Langdons wanted to ensure that its battery charge and change facilities were highly efficient. Atlet designed and proposed a solution which combined advanced battery management technology and semi-automatic handling equipment. The facility, installed in a small chamber adjacent to the main warehouse, occupies the smallest possible size to keep space free for other uses.
The management system oversees every aspect of battery utilisation and ensures they are allocated in strict rotation so 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 worked heavier than the others. Battery service lives are prolonged and unexpected maintenance issues are reduced. A wall-mounted display indicates which battery should be used and sounds an alarm if a driver tries to use the wrong one.
“In the past, at our other sites, we had problems with drivers choosing their favourite batteries but now we can maintain strict rotation,” says Chris Murt.
For reach truck battery changing, Atlet installed its top-of-the-range Fast Track Powerplus system. This provides semi-automatic handling where speed and flexibility is required in busy and intensive operations. Charging stations are arranged either side of a narrow aisle and when its battery needs changing the reach truck drives in and lines up with the designated replacement. The depleted battery is coupled to the fully charged unit with a drop-on clip. It is then powered off the truck into the free charging point, at the same time pulling the new battery into position on the truck. Push button control and powered rollers in the floor of the truck's battery compartment, supplied by an independent DC source, ensure the whole operation is simple and quick with no need for manual handling. A battery can be changed in less than one minute to minimise downtime and promote productivity.
“We pushed reach truck batteries on and off before so this was a big innovation,” says Chris Murt. “It takes all the manual handling out of it. Like us, Atlet is very conscious of health and safety considerations and understood what we needed to achieve.”
Batteries for the Presto PLP trucks are changed using Atlet's simpler but equally effective Transfer Track equipment. This uses a small trolley, with dual roller beds for the depleted and fully charged batteries, which runs on a track alongside the charging area. The truck pulls up and its depleted battery is rolled onto the trolley's free bay. The trolley is repositioned by hand and the replacement battery is rolled into place. The height of the trolley can be adjusted so that transfers are always accomplished with minimal effort and no lifting.
“On most of the trucks the battery is changed once a day,” says Chris Murt. “The battery changing system is first class and we have saved space.”
Pallet movements in this busy warehouse are controlled by an RF-enabled warehouse management system which enables Langdons to pick orders on the same day for overnight just-in-time delivery anywhere in the UK. Orders are assembled through a combination of bulk and case picking and on the busiest days Langdons estimates that it will despatch the equivalent of 100,000 cases. The trucks and battery facilities are maintained by local Atlet services engineers on a call out basis.