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Forklift batteries and trucks just keep going at Kimberly-Clark

When Kimberly-Clark was reviewing the materials handling operations at its Barton plant in 2010 it realised that by continuing the careful management of its lift trucks and the Hawker batteries from EnerSys that power them it could extend the existing contract rather than purchase new equipment. The trucks and batteries, both of which are up to nine years old, have continued to meet the demands of this busy working environment.

"We have been extremely pleased with the performance of the equipment and the service we have received from EnerSys and the truck manufacturer," says Claire Hambling, Supply Chain Coordinator at Kimberly-Clark, Barton-on-Humber. "It’s a combination of suppliers that have delivered consistently."

The Humberside plant manufactures Kimberly-Clark’s popular Huggies range of disposable nappies as well as paper-based materials for some of the company’s other production sites in Europe and Africa. Materials handling operations are split between two parts of the site, one managed by Kimberly-Clark and the other by its supply chain partner Unipart Logistics. All of the trucks are owned by Kimberly-Clark and many were delivered in 2003 with the remainder arriving during 2005. Since then the fleet has remained largely the same although production, and hence handling operations, have increased significantly.

EnerSys is one of the truck manufacturer’s preferred battery suppliers and the two companies have worked together over many years to deliver highly effective solutions to customers in a number of industries. The longevity of the Kimberly-Clark fleet is the result of specification of the original equipment and good operational management.

The Barton plant was one of the first to be equipped with Hawker LifePlus and Powertech high frequency chargers and this has helped the batteries to achieve their long service life. The chargers are matched to the batteries and automatically detect the level of discharge and supply only the amount of power needed – and no more – to restore full charge. This means less mains power is required and there is reduced risk of the overcharging that can lead to degraded battery performance and premature failures. Both types of charger automatically accommodate batteries of different capacities and are easily programmable for all battery technologies. This makes them ideal for sites like Barton with its mix of counterbalance and reach trucks, order pickers and pallet transporters.

When the equipment was originally delivered trucks and batteries were rotated regularly between the two warehouses to ensure none became overused at the expense of others. Over time it became clear that the same objective could be achieved by rotating the trucks but keeping the batteries in the same locations.

The original contract was coming to an end in 2010 and Kimberly-Clark needed to review its operations. The company is very cost-conscious but needed to be confident that its materials handling operations could support the demanding production schedules. The partners understood that the trucks could continue working but they needed to be sure of the batteries.

"We’d had very little truck downtime and they were still giving us nine hours use," says Claire Hambling. "We knew the combination of trucks and batteries and wanted to show that extending the contract was best."

The alternative was to specify a completely new set of materials handling equipment. Although some of the potential suppliers presented proposals that offered lower initial outlay Kimberly-Clark recognised that operating costs across the lifetime of the contract were more important. After assessing its options the company identified that extending the contract offered the most cost effective solution.

"Before making a change you need to be confident it will work," says Claire Hambling. "But we have confidence in the people from EnerSys and when we looked at the figures we could see that continuing with the same trucks and batteries made sense."

Although the equipment had performed well everyone understood effective management of the batteries was critical. The first objective was to provide a measurable way to check if the batteries were being overcharged or overly discharged because both relate directly to their performance and long term viability. Kimberly-Clark introduced regular, random checks across the entire set of batteries by retrieving information stored inside the chargers and assigned each battery a red, amber or green designation based on its level of discharge. The data was put on a spreadsheet so that it could be assessed and tracked more easily.

"Inevitably there had been an element of use of the trucks and the batteries," says Claire Hambling "Once we started working out charger returns we had a measurable on what we needed to improve."

The figures revealed that there was potential to reduce the number of "red" batteries and increase the number of "green". From this came a revised standard operating procedure which Kimberly-Clark devised in conjunction with its supply chain partner that could be applied in both operations. It is part of the company’s approach to implement improved ways of working into the SOP whenever possible. EnerSys provided additional training to show key warehouse staff when and how to best charge the batteries.

"The training helped us all to understand more about the trucks and batteries and pass that knowledge on to our colleagues," says Keith Lown, Inventory Controller at Kimberly-Clark.

Two key changes were made to the way the batteries are used. First, batteries are now checked and topped regularly as part of a proper process. This is important because there is much lower risk of overcharging and damaging a fully topped battery. In the past batteries were not always checked if they were busy at work when the service engineer was on site. The second change was to introduce fixed charging. This means a driver must bring the truck in for a battery change at a specific time irrespective of the amount of discharge. This single change significantly increased the number of batteries classified as "green" within the first week.

Each truck was originally supplied with three batteries to support rotation during round-the-clock production. Batteries are changed using an overhead gantry crane which transfers the depleted unit to a vacant charging position before replacing it with a fully charged unit. Each of the 118 batteries on site is mounted on a raised bed and a simple board identifies whether each is being charged or is ready for use.

Claire Hambling and Keith Lown regularly meet with Nigel Wood, account manager from EnerSys, account managers from the truck manufacturer, members of the engineering teams and representatives from the Unipart Logistics to discuss the operation. The various parties have a good working relationship, as might be expected after nine years, and work together to resolve issues. Specialists are brought in whenever needed. For example, soon after the contract was extended some of the trucks started to under perform. At first this appeared to be related to the batteries but by analysing information retrieved from the chargers EnerSys showed that batteries and trucks were performing correctly. This led the team to identify the correct cause as the trucks’ safety cut-out devices supplied by a third party and remedy the problem very quickly.

"Garry Hollyoak from EnerSys came in and showed us the information that proved it was the equipment supplier and not an issue with the trucks or the batteries," says Claire Hambling. "He was able to talk to everyone on all levels in the business and get to the answer very quickly."

"The equipment is much older than normal but if you wanted to see where batteries have a hard life this is a good place to come."

Karen Smith
EnerSys Motive Power
T. +44 (0) 161 727 3800
F. +44 (0) 161 727 3899

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