Launched in 1972 from the modest surroundings of a spare bedroom in Rayleigh, Essex, as an electrical goods mail order business, Maplin is now one of the most significant retailers in the UK.
The company offers an extensive range of over 14,000 products and, in addition to its traditional printed catalogue, Maplin now operates a highly successful website which attracts over 140,000 visitors every day (enough to earn it a place in the top ten sites in the UK's 'Shopping, Appliances and Electronics' category) and a network of over 150 retail outlets throughout the UK and Ireland that is currently expanding at the rate of approximately one new store every two weeks.
With hundreds of new and innovative lines sourced and introduced every month, Maplin has a medium-term target of 250 retail sites throughout the UK and Ireland and expects online sales to continue to their upward curve.
To keep pace with its anticipated development, Maplin recently moved to a 200,000 sq ft state of the art distribution centre (DC) at Manvers, close to Rotherham.
The Manvers facility not only services all of the company's UK and Ireland stores but also acts as the e-fulfilment centre for Maplin's website. As a result, careful consideration had to be given to the type of materials handling equipment and storage systems required.
Maplin Electronics selected a materials handling partner which was the Systems & Projects Division of Jungheinrich UK Ltd. Jungheinrich supplied and installed everything – from high bay pallet racking to conveyors and work benches and, of course the forkllift trucks operating at the site, as Gareth Hunt, Maplin Electronics supply chain director, explains: “All elements of the project went to tender but we considered that, given the complex nature of the work, it was in our best interests to deal with a single supplier.”
Goods enter the warehouse via one of 17 loading bay doors – all with dock levelers. Many of the deliveries to the site are container loads that arrive from the Far East and, often, their contents are not palletized. In such cases goods are taken from the container, using ride-on pedestrian powered pallet trucks, to a marshalling where they are either put on to pallets and delivered by reach trucks to the high bay pallet racking in the bulk store or transferred directly to a cross docking area for onward shipment to the Maplin store network.
The bulk store features over 7,000 pallet positions and the pallet racking was supplied and installed by Jungheinrich. Full pallet loads are held in bulk on the upper racking levels while picking bays at ground level are used to make up shop-bound orders and orders from the website. The bulk store feeds a forward pick area where smaller items are stored within a short span shelving system – again supplied by Jungheinrich.
Interestingly, because, Maplin supplies its stores with small quantities of many different line items orders for both the 'bricks and mortar' outlets and those bound for individual mail order customers can be picked from the same pick face, as Gareth Hunt explains: “Typically orders received via our website or from our catalogue are for two or three items, while we resupply our stores with small quatities of a wide range of SKU's very frequently, it therefore makes sense to have warehouse staff picking orders for stores alongside colleagues picking for individual customers.”
A conveyor system links the bulk store, the order assembly area and the dispatch area.
Orders for stores are delivered via the conveyor system to the assembly station where they are collated on to pallets or blue tote boxes – depending on the make up of the order – before being transferred, again by conveyor, to the dispatch area. Orders generated by the company's website follow the same route but are packed and sent – via courier (in this case DHL) directly to the customer's home.
“Material handling systems integration is, by definition, the bringing together of multiple technologies in an interconnected system and delivering successful integrated projects (regardless of every size) demands expertise across a whole spectrum of materials handling equipment,” says Steve Richmond, General Manager of Jungheinrich UK Ltd's Systems & Projects division “Having a wide range of products – from pallet trucks to racking – in the marketplace allowed us to provide a system that meets Maplin Electronics handling requirements , now and in the future and the system has been designed and built in such a way that it will be able to accommodate the company's growth for the next ten years.”