Westcoast Ltd is the distributor arm of the Westcoast Group, one of the largest private companies in the UK. Westcoast is specialised in wholesale distribution of IT equipment from leading brands such as HP, Microsoft, Lenovo, Apple and others to resellers, retailers and office product dealers in the UK and Europe.
During 2019, strong growth prompted the company to expand their operations, adding a new site in Andover, Hampshire to complement existing facilities in Theale and Milton Keynes. The new building comprises a 31,500 sqm storage and distribution facility while a further 7,000 sqm is utilised as a configuration centre.
To support the Andover operation, a new material handling fleet was ordered from its long-time supplier Crown Lift Trucks. After consultation on warehouse and racking layouts with Crown’s logistics specialists, Westcoast opted for a solution founded on a fleet of Crown TSP Series Very Narrow Aisle turret trucks equipped with the automation technologies Auto Positioning System (APS) and Auto Fence. The VNA trucks are supported by a mixed fleet comprising ESR Series reach trucks with lift heights to 13.5 metres, SP Series stock pickers, GPC Series order pickers equipped with short forks, WT Series powered ride-on pallet trucks with rear entry and SC Series four-wheel electric counterbalance forklifts.
Andy Newberry is Westcoast’s Logistics Director and outlines the background to the decision. “Since being established in 1984, Westcoast has become the number one UK distributor for many of its vendors and customers. The company has also become very successful as a fulfilment operation – it provides goods directly for its customers, both B2C and B2B. The Andover site was acquired in 2019 to support Westcoast’s aggressive growth strategy. When Westcoast took over the building it was just a shell and the company has subsequently invested £10m into the building’s infrastructure, including conveyor automation and the latest warehouse management system. The warehouse includes 22,000 VNA locations and 16,000 pallet locations and came on-line in Spring 2020.”
Resolving the VNA Challenge
The decision to use VNA equipment was taken after consultation with Crown, as Westcoast’s Simon Ralph, Site Operational Manager – Andover, explains; “We had never used VNA equipment before so that was a challenge for us, but Crown’s open and honest approach helped enormously in identifying what trucks we needed.”
A specific Westcoast requirement was to improve productivity and safety. Part of the Crown solution was to specify the TSP Series turret trucks with Crown’s Auto Positioning System, enabling the truck to take the most efficient and effective route to the next rack location, increasing productivity by up to 25 percent.
Crown’s Auto Fence system was also specified, helping to promote safe operation by automatically slowing travel speed, stopping or limiting lift height within the aisle, based on the location of the truck.
Westcoast’s Simon Ralph continues; “The VNA turret trucks, with their APS and Auto Fencing, plus their ability to connect to our systems, made an immediate impact, helping to increase pick numbers and productivity.”
During 2020 and the onset of the pandemic, an explosion in demand for computer equipment was experienced, prompted by people having to work from home during a succession of national lockdowns.
As Simon Ralph explains, it quickly became apparent that the increase in order volumes being processed by the company warranted an expansion of its material handling fleet. “Today, the Andover facility operates a 24-hour, five and a half days a week shift pattern (although this is nearing six days). Around 400 pallets are dispatched each day, with approximately 1,000 orders processed. This is treble what the company was doing when it opened the site in the spring of 2020. Growth has been stratospheric – up 25% in 2020 – so we’ve had to expand to meet that growth. Crown’s flexibility has helped us achieve that.”
Crown semi-automation enhances productivity
To meet this growing demand, Westcoast increased its material handling fleet with additional TSP Series turret trucks and GPC Series low level order pickers with long forks plus the addition of Crown’s new ESR 1000 Series reach truck equipped with 13.5 metre masts. The assistance systems inherent in the ESR 1000 have enabled Westcoast’s operators to rapidly improve their efficiency. The truck’s functionality enables faster working at height, aided by Auto Height Select, while Xpress Lower can double lowering speed safely for improved productivity.
Westcoast was so impressed with the new reach trucks that it agreed to increase the size of its ESR 1000 fleet further. Simon Ralph continues; “The ESR 1000s have performed brilliantly – we have been very impressed. The high-speed lift and Xpress Lower functions are really useful and the ability to have Auto Select, where we can set the height of the location, has considerably improved efficiency. They have also improved the performance of our operators who are 100 percent positive about the trucks – everyone wants to use them. There is no doubt that the decision to upgrade our Crown fleet has been instrumental in helping us exceed our KPIs.”
Crown’s Key Account Manager responsible for the Westcoast account is Vince Barron. He said: “The support Crown has been able to provide across Westcoast’s three sites has played a vital role in the ongoing success of the business. Our understanding of their needs made the relationship prosper. The Crown trucks have been very well received by the operators and we’ve seen the automation and assistance features on both the TSP and ESR product help bring novice operators up to speed much quicker than previously. They therefore benefit also the less experienced operator.”
Crown Infolink® upgrades operational safety
During the procurement process, safety was a number one priority for Westcoast and so Crown recommended their InfoLink® system be fitted to all trucks. Vince Barron continues; “The InfoLink system helps improve the safety of operations and protects employees by making them more safety conscious, every shift, every day. ESR operators receive coaching through on-screen safety reminders, encouraging safe behaviour when driving the trucks, with real time dynamic coaching messages. Through InfoLink, Westcoast manages operator certifications and lift truck access electronically. This helps to prevent unauthorised truck operation while also monitoring impacts to help reduce accidents and unintended damage.”
In addition to its material handling equipment, Crown also provides Westcoast with a full support service, short-term hire – bridging and support machines during peak periods, cleaning equipment, battery change facilities plus other products across the range.
Simon Ralph, Site Operational Manager – Andover for Westcoast concludes; “The Crown trucks have played an important part in helping to facilitate growth and meet the unprecedented volume demands faced by Westcoast during lockdown and beyond. We would have no hesitation in selecting Crown as our best supplier.”