The White Company has been making impeccably stylish, beautifully designed products, principally in white, for over 20 years. The high street and online retailer has experienced considerable growth over recent years and, as part of its expansion plans, has recently consolidated its three UK warehouse operations into one distribution centre (DC) at Swan Valley in Northampton. This 200,000sq. ft. DC (350,000sq. ft. including the mezzanine floors) is designed to handle the storage and worldwide distribution for both the retail and online businesses as well as the furniture products for the UK market only.
"We wanted to facilitate our phenomenal business growth and also benefit from having all our UK warehousing operations under one roof," explains Shaun Anders, operations manager for The White Company. He continues, "Our Swan Valley DC is ideal and we have been busy over the last six months customising it to our specific processes and requirements. A significant element of this customisation has been the introduction of a conveyor system to improve the work flow in the gift wrap, packing and dispatch area of the business.
"Our goal was to achieve a minimum throughput of 1,225 containers per hour at peak times. This included a mix of totes and cartons of varying sizes and weights. The maximum carton load required was 30kg, but we handle a considerable range of carton sizes and weights, so the conveyor system had to be able to handle all these with ease."
The selection process for the conveyor supplier was administered via a competitive tender run by Total Logistics on behalf of The White Company. Seven companies were invited to put forward initial proposals and from these two were selected to present detailed plans.
Shaun Anders again, "From the outset, we were very impressed by the professional approach LB Foster Materials Handling demonstrated. We were particularly influenced by the head of the project, Phil Taylor, who was completely open and honest in his dealings with us. He was always friendly, helpful and very co-operative.
"Whilst their proposal offered excellent value for money, it wasn’t the main decision driver. The strength of the LB Foster team, however, was definitely a major factor in our decision to appoint them as our partner for the project. We had stipulated a tight timeframe for the installation and their collaborative approach was a real benefit during this phase.
"They were onsite with four other contractors at the same time, all working in a confined area with their own individual deadlines to meet. LB Foster’s collaborative approach made light of this potential challenge and ensured everything went to plan."
The new conveyor system runs from the gift packing benches to the dispatch area. On route, there are four branches of conveyor merging into the main conveyor. These spurs take packed boxes and totes away from the main packing benches and on to the dispatch area.
"The system had to be designed and built under the mezzanine floor which has a lot of steel supports that had to be circumnavigated so it was far from ideal," claims Anders. "In addition, there was a lot of hidden detail work in ensuring the conveyors from the main packing benches merged seamlessly into the main line. For health and safety purposes, we also specified two lifting gates in the main conveyor line to allow easy access to the fire exits in case of an emergency."
At peak times the system has to handle a minimum of 1,100 cartons (max. weight 30kg/carton) and 125 totes an hour. In terms of the cartons, there can be significant differences in size and weight from one box to the next and whilst the totes are one size, the weight of each can vary considerably. The system also includes full accumulation to ensure smooth running at all times and this is aided by the controlled merges as the boxes and totes join the main conveyor.
“LB Foster Materials Handling did a very professional job. The work was completed on time and in budget and I would definitely recommend them. As with any installation like this, there was a small snagging list, but their engineers dealt with those very quickly and now the system does everything we asked for,” concludes Anders.