Patheon is a leading provider of contract development and commercial manufacturing services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. The company produces over 700 products – including a number of the world’s top selling prescription drugs – for a wide range of blue-chip clients. The organisation operates a network of 11 facilities throughout North America and Europe and in the UK it has two sites – a 366,300 sq ft facility at Swindon where a range of sterile products and antibiotics are developed, tested and manufactured, and a smaller development laboratory at Milton Park in Oxfordshire.
A 1,900 sq ft high bay warehouse at the Swindon site houses everything from finished products, to the raw materials used in pharmaceutical production as well as packaging materials such as cardboard and glassware.
The store is 16 metres high and features eight aisles of pallet racking. Each rack face is 10 beams high and, overall, the facility provides storage for almost 6,000 Euro- and ISO-pallets.
For nearly 20 years the aisles within the high bay store had been served by two stacker cranes. However, when it become clear that due to their age, that the cranes were no longer performing to the required standard and had become costly and inefficient to maintain, the company decided to review its materials handling options.
"We had been having reliability issues with our old cranes," says Patheon’s Project Engineer, Steve Kettlewell. "Break downs were becoming far too frequent and, because of the age of the equipment, spare parts were often hard to come by, which meant we had to wait far too long for repairs to be carried out."
Switching the old cranes from one aisle to another was also less efficient than it should have been. Patheon’s previous materials handling supplier had installed a rail guided transfer car which ran at the end of the eight aisles within the warehouse. The transfer car delivered the cranes to the aisle in which they were required to work, but the system was slow and, like the cranes, was also prone to malfunction.
Working closely with Jungheinrich UK Ltd’s Systems & Projects Division, Patheon undertook a major reassessment of the Swindon warehouse in 2009 and, following Jungheinrich’s recommendations, a new system was installed and fully operational by October that year.
The old cranes were replaced with two new Jungheinrich high density stacker cranes. The cranes feature the latest curve going aisle switching technology, which means they can travel around the store’s eight aisles independently – allowing Patheon to dispense with the transfer car system.
By removing the transfer car and slightly shortening the overall length of each of the existing racking aisles, Patheon was able to add an extra run of racking at the end of the existing storage cube.
"The aisle changing technology is a feature of the cranes and not only enables them to move easily between aisles, ensuring total system flexibility, but also reduces the cost of the overall system," says Steve Richmond, general manager of Jungheinrich UK Ltd’s Systems & Project Division.
The design from Jungheinrich allowed Patheon to utilise their existing racking and the new stacker cranes run within a ‘U’ channel fixed to the floor of site. This meant that the previous cranes’ rail guidance system had to be removed and the ‘U’ channel prepared.
To ensure that future downtime is minimised at the store, Jungheinrich built a crane maintenance bay into the end of one of the aisles which means that, in the event of a breakdown, a crane can be simply taken out of the storage area to await the arrival of an engineer while the other crane continues to work the aisles.
Because it was important that there was as little disruption to Patheon’s supply chain as possible, Jungheinrich developed a complex installation and integration plan in conjunction with Patheon. The work was carried out two aisles at a time and the project was phased over a period of 21 weeks.
"At one point we had one old crane and one new crane operating at the same time, but it meant that we could remain operational throughout the integration of the new equipment," says Steve Kettlewell.
As well as the obvious efficiency gains that the new cranes’ greater reliability has brought to its operation, Patheon has also enjoyed significant productivity and throughput improvements since the project was completed. For example, because, the semi automatic stacker cranes now in use at the Swindon site are equipped with positioning aids to correctly align the crane at the desired location within the racking, order picking and pallet put away is much faster.
Goods enter the Swindon warehouse through one of five goods-in doors and are transferred by counterbalanced forklift from the incoming trailers to a consolidation area outside the high bay store. From here palletised loads are booked in using Patheon’s SAP system and allocated a place within the racking. The counterbalance truck delivers pallets to one of the P&D (pick and drop) stations positioned at the end of each aisle and the stacker crane collects the pallet – on a slave pallet – and delivers it to its place within the racking.
Orders picked from the high bay are either finished goods for delivery to Patheon’s clients, raw materials used for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals or product packaging. Most raw material orders are picked as full pallet loads and transferred – using a goods lift – to the manufacturing areas directly adjacent to the warehouse. Packaging materials are delivered by forklift to a packaging and despatch area elsewhere on the site. Any items of raw material or packaging that are not used are returned to the high bay store and put away until they are required again.
An unexpected benefit that resulted from Patheon’s review of its Swindon warehouse facility was a significant reduction in the number of items stored at the site. "We carried out a stock holding review which forced us to look at what we stored on site and why we stored it. As a result of that we were able to free up many pallet positions," says Steve Kettlewell.
Steve Kettlewell concludes. "After such a long period of time it was obvious that our existing cranes were no longer up to the job. However, changing the system was still quite a leap for us, so I was delighted with the way the installation was phased in and now that it is complete, we are very satisfied. The stacker cranes are faster, more reliable and generally more efficient than our old cranes and the aisle changing mechanism enables the cranes to move easily between aisles ensuring total system flexibility."