One of Europe’s leading promotional clothing and leisurewear distributors has doubled storage capacity and significantly improved throughput and picking efficiency at its distribution centre following the introduction of a new warehouse layout designed around Jungheinrich VNA order pickers
Established in 1990 Ralawise is one of the biggest distributors of promotional clothing and leisurewear in Europe.
A privately owned business, the company supplies over 1850 different product lines to a vast network of UK, Ireland & Europe-based customers. Ralawise’s clients vary enormously in size but each business specialises in decorating clothes by embroidering or printing motifs and messages on to them before selling them on to their own clients – usually companies, sports clubs, schools – in fact, anyone that requires clothing that features some form of corporate branding.
The corporate workwear, leisurewear and promotional markets are buoyant and Ralawise’s success has been such that the company recently decided to undergo a major overhaul of its logistics operation to ensure that it keeps pace with the growing demands of its expanding client base.
The company approached a Manchester-based logistics consultancy firm who, in partnership with Jungheinrich UK Ltd’s Systems and Projects Division, devised a solution that has effectively allowed Ralawise to double the storage capacity and significantly improve throughput and picking efficiency at its distribution centre.
The facility comprises two separate units, ‘O7’ – a 40,000 sq ft goods-in warehouse and ‘O6’ – a 100,000 sq ft picking store. Incoming container loads of clothing arrive at the site from the Far East and Europe on a daily basis and are put away and stored in the goods-in building until such time as they are required in the picking warehouse. A short stretch of tarmac links the two stores.
Before the overhaul of the storage process, Ralawise’s warehouse staff had handballed individual boxes of clothing from the incoming containers on to a pallet, which was then shrink-wrapped and put away within the racking in ‘O7’ by reach trucks. When it came to the picking process, the reach trucks retrieved the pallet on which the required box of clothing was stored and dropped it to ground level. There, another warehouse operator would remove the box from the pallet and take it to a marshalling area using a counterbalanced truck. For stability reasons the pallet then had to be re-wrapped by hand and returned to its location in the racking by the reach truck.
Jungheinrich and the consultancy firm quickly identified that this process could be made more efficient and recommended that the warehouse racking scheme be redesigned and the reach trucks replaced with VNA order pickers. As a result, the aisle widths have been condensed from 3.4 to 1.4 metres wide – meaning that the ‘O7’ warehouse can now accommodate double the amount of pallet racking. The racking beams have been boarded to allow individual boxes to be put away on shelves without the need for a pallet. The reach trucks and the counterbalanced machine have been replaced with Jungheinrich VNA order pickers.
The better space utilisation within the unit means that the store’s capacity has increased from some 24,000 boxes to over 60,000 while the switch to VNA order pickers has increased the speed of throughput by between 6-7 times.
"The new configuration and the move away from the old reach truck and counterbalanced truck combination has completely changed our business," says Andy Milne, Warehouse Operations Manager at Ralawise. "We had been experiencing bottlenecks in our goods-in store but these have been completely alleviated."
Three wire guided electric-powered order pickers in operation at Ralawise are Jungheinrich EKS310 models and are fitted with a 7.5m triple stage mast. To increase operator comfort and, therefore, performance, the trucks are equipped with CD player/radio and a cold air fan, while controls on both sides of the cab maximise safe operation.
The order pickers have simplified the put away and, particularly, the picking process significantly. Now orders are picked by the VNA trucks and transferred directly to a marshalling area within the goods-in store from where they are shuttled across to the picking warehouse by a Jungheinrich reach truck fitted with all-weather cushion tyres.
Once inside the picking warehouse the reach truck lifts the pallet loads up to the required level of a three tier mezzanine bulk store where each box is put away until it is required to top up one of more than 40,000 wire mesh SKUs from which outgoing orders are picked on the ground floor of the building.
Ralawise stocks each item of clothing in its range in a choice of colours and in sizes from small to XX Large and to optimise picking efficiency its SKUs are arranged on shelving by product type with the most frequently picked sizes at the most convenient levels for the order picking staff. In some cases, particularly slow moving lines have been moved on to the upper tiers of the mezzanine store.
Ralawise’s clients place their orders via the web, by email, fax, or over the telephone. Once an order has been received and processed, a paper-based, sequential picking list is produced and staff pick individual orders – which can be anything from a single T-shirt – into plastic boxes which are wheeled around the SKUs on trolleys. Once each order is complete it is delivered to a packing station where it is checked, before being packed and despatched by courier to arrive at its destination. Over 1400 parcels leave the facility each evening and orders received by 4.30pm can be picked and delivered to a client by the following day.
"We are the store room of the embroidery industry," says Paul Shore, Ralawise’s Executive Director of Operations. "The majority of our clients do not want to store huge amounts of stock so we look after it for them! But that means when our clients order something from us we have to make sure that we get their goods to them as quickly as possible. We’ve been successful because of the quality of the service that we offer and, clearly our logistics operation, is at the heart of our service offering.
"Because we are selling more products to more people, we had to make sure that our logistics system can cope. The changes we have made to our goods-in store have allowed us to get more product flowing through our warehouse without increasing the footprint of our site and the VNA order pickers are fundamental to the success of the entire operation.
"We have been extremely happy with their performance and energy efficiency – they seem to work forever between charges – and our staff enjoy using them."