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Somerfield shops with Atlet for performance and safety

In one of its biggest single deals in recent months, Atlet has won the contract to supply 153 lift trucks to Somerfield's nine hectare national distribution centre (NDC) in Wellingborough.

The new Atlet fleet comprises 32 high-lift UHS Tergo reach trucks, 23 Presto PLP pallet transporters and 98 Select TPD low-lever order pickers. Atlet has also supplied two counterbalance trucks and has undertaken the refurbishment of a number of the site's existing Atlet trucks. Somerfield says it opted for Atlet trucks on the strength of their renowned performance and reliability, high levels of operator safety and the comprehensive service and maintenance support that Atlet was able to offer, covering not just the Atlet trucks but the counterbalance trucks and several cleaning machines as well.

The 27,900 sq m NDC, which is operated by Wincanton, has more than 33,000 racked pallet locations holding primarily slow-moving non-grocery items. Operating round the clock, seven days a week, the NDC supplies Somerfield stores – and Kwiksave outlets following the acquisition in 1998 – throughout the country, either direct or through nine regional distribution centres where fast-moving items are also stored. Currently around 820,000 cases are being picked each week, but the NDC has the capacity to increase this to around 1.2 million to meet future demands as new stores come on stream.

Pallets are offloaded from incoming vehicles by the Atlet Presto PLP powered pallet transporters. Introduced last year the Presto PLP offers high performance combined with a patented system to give superior traction and heightened stability. This five-wheel system – Friction Force (FF) – exerts increased pressure on the spring-loaded drive wheel and ensures that all wheels are in constant contact with the ground. FF gives excellent traction, particularly on slopes, dock levellers and uneven surfaces, safer braking and high lateral stability. The truck's compact double load wheel provides easy access to closed pallets, with better positioning between pallet boards.

The Presto PLP has a powerful, energy-efficient 24 volt AC motor, with 'regenerative' capabilities whereby current is returned to the battery under braking – which gives longer work cycles between charging, an important benefit in Somerfield's 24/7 operations.

Somerfield's Presto PLPs are equipped with optional ride-on platforms, for faster more comfortable operation over extended distances, which have been fitted with extra-wide side rails for easier and safer mounting/demounting. The Presto PLPs bring incoming pallets to a marshalling area form where they are directed, via the RF-based warehouse management system, to either the bulk store racks or direct to the picking faces.

The UHS Tergo reach trucks, receiving instructions through cab-mounted RF terminals, are used for pallet putaway, full pallet retrieval and replenishment of the order picking faces on the first two levels of the racking. The trucks have been fitted with high lift, 10.8 m, masts for handling pallets up to six bays high.

All models in Tergo reach truck range are now fitted with Atlet's S3 system. S3 – stability support system –automatically provides higher truck stability by governing speed and acceleration, and monitoring the interface between speed and steering sensitivity. S3 automatically reduces the speed of truck functions in proportion to the height lifted, overrides unsafe manoeuvres and reduces jerkiness in the manipulation of the controls. This enables the trucks' performance to be used to the full to achieve optimum productivity with maximum safety.

Another feature of the UHS that impressed Somerfield is its ergonomically-designed seat, which automatically tilts under body pressure to give the driver a clear upward view when stacking at height, without having to strain his neck and shoulders.

Almost all of the order picking is undertaken using the fleet of 98 Select TP low-level order pickers, with extended forks to carry up to three roll cages. Somerfield specified the TPD version of the truck, which has a rising platform that lifts the operator up to level two in the racking.

Stan Dyce, Wincanton's Health and Safety Manager at Wellingborough, explains: “EU directives on manual handling state that, to avoid strain injuries, loads weighing more than 7kg must not be handled above shoulder height. Since much of the picking is from the second level, in very intensive work cycles, this could have been a major issue.

“The rising platform on the Atlet TPD offers the perfect solution, enabling picking to be undertaken quickly, easily and – most important – without risk of strain injury. We believe the TPD has provided the answer to what could have been a really serious manual handling problem.”

All the trucks are equipped with impact sensors that log incidents into the trucks' on-board systems. “This accountability engenders safer and more careful driving,” says Stan Dyce.

Atlet has also created a customer-designed battery change and charge facility within the Wellingborough DC. The batteries on the Presto PLPs and Select TPDs are changed manually using roller beds (the new Presto features an integral onboard roller bed). The UHS reach truck has a powered onboard roller bed that drives the spent battery out into the charging location and draws a fresh unit onboard. Both systems provide quick and simple battery changing, with minimal risk of manual handling-induced injuries.

Some of the site's existing Atlet trucks, acquired seven years ago by Kwiksave, were refurbished under the Atlet Series 2 scheme, which brings used trucks back to almost as-new condition. “This was a very cost-effective way of sustaining our fleet size,” says Stan Dyce. “Although seven years old some of these trucks had done the equivalent of twenty-one year's work and were still in excellent condition – which is real testimony to the reliability of the Atlet product.

“That sort of reliability, along with the ergonomic design and high level of safety built into the trucks, and the comprehensive maintenance service support that the company is able to offer – probably the best in the industry – were the prime considerations for choosing Atlet.”

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