Amethyst Group is a leading provider of warehousing and distribution services to a range of manufacturers wholesalers, retailers and e-traders operating in the consumer durables, automotive, machinery and clothing and fashion sectors.
With over 1.2 million square feet of shared-user warehousing and around 500 full time employees, Amethyst operates from six distribution centres located in the heart of the UK.
The company's capability in the consumer durables market was significantly enhanced in 2003 with the acquisition of CPD, a leading third party (3PL) contract logistics provider of warehouse and distribution services to the toy sector and at its site in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, Amethyst now provides warehousing and distribution services to some of the toy industry's best known and most successful brands. Clients who use the facility include: Bandai, who produce the highly popular Power Rangers merchandise; educational toy manufacturers, Leapfrog; Vivid Ravensburger, suppliers of 'back to school' products; and Character World who offer a range of children's bedroom fittings, as well as pharmaceutical suppliers Ranxbaxy.
To keep pace with the demands of its client base, Amethyst recently added some 60,000 sq ft of additional warehousing space at the Wellesbourne facility.
At peak periods, such as in the run-up to Christmas, over 100 trailers a day arrive at the site. The contents of each incoming trailer is put into stock before orders are picked, packed and dispatched to retailers such as Woolworths, Boots Plc, BHS, Toys R Us, Asda, Tesco, Homebase, B&Q and Argos and a host of other small, independently-owned outlets.
“Our delivery solutions range from complete loads going to high street retail NDC's to a couple of parcels to the independent specialists. Seasonality is something we are very well geared to handle with flexible staffing and storage facilities,” explains Stephen Booker, Chief Operating Officer of Amethyst's Consumer Products Division.
Incoming trailers are unloaded at one of the site's eight loading bay doors using powered pallet trucks and the full pallet loads are collated at a marshalling point close to the goods-in area.
Amethyst use a paper-based warehouse system at the Wellesbourne site. Warehouse staff note relevant information relating to incoming orders – such as the quantity on each pallet, product code, the presence of appropriate CE markings etc – and this information is manually input into the company's computerised bulk location system. The system then allocates a pallet location within the storage cube.
Once the necessary paperwork for the pallet location has been generated, full pallet loads are taken by a fleet of seven Narrow Aisle FLEXI articulated forklift trucks to their position within the racking.
The new warehouse features 48 aisles of pallet racking and over 20,000 pallet locations. Because of the concurve design of the warehouse roof, the height of the racking varies throughout the facility, but, at the store's highest point, the top beam of the racking is 9.5 metres high.
Full pallet loads are held in bulk on the upper racking levels while picking bays at ground level are used to make up orders for the many hundreds of small independent toy shops served by the Wellesbourne site.
With low level order picking such an important part of the Wellesbourne operation, articulated trucks represented the optimum handling solution. Because of its design, the articulated truck is perfectly suited to working in narrower aisles alongside order picking staff without creating a health and safety issue, as John Maguire, Narrow Aisle' sales and marketing director, explains: “From the feedback we have had there is growing concern that the use of traditional products – such as man-up Combis – can compromise order picking efficiency and health and safety within warehouses where there is a high degree of low level order picking.”
He continues: “There is a discernible trend in the mechanics of customer order picking with more demand for smaller volumes of outers per SKU more frequently which leads to more SKUs per pick list. Everyone – particularly retailers – wants less inventory in store so the amount of break-bulk and ground level picking of single items within RDCs is growing fast. As a result, warehouse operators need more ground level locations to maintain efficiency and, at the same time, they want to maximize the use of expensive warehouse space.”
Within the racking a transfer aisle approximately halfway down the length of each aisle further improves efficiency by enabling the Flexi trucks and the order pickers to move from aisle to aisle as quickly and safely as possible.
Once picked, the orders – either full pallet loads for delivery to the bigger retailers or smaller orders from the ground level picking bays for the independent shops – are held in a processing aisle where any relevant pre-delivery work is undertaken before dispatch. For example, goods bound for the Argos chain of catalogue shops have a label with their Argos catalogue number printed and applied to each individual unit at this point.
Amethyst chose FLEXI trucks after a full evaluation of the materials handling systems available. They have been supplied on a five year lease package with maintenance. “They are highly manouevrable, fast and safe and have proved extremely low maintenance,” says Paul Stokes, warehouse and distribution manager at Amethyst's Wellesbourne site. “The operators really enjoy working with them and I think this is reflected in the high producitivity levels we are achieving with them,” he adds.
Paul Stokes continues: “In the toy industry, timely and accurate delivery is essential to our clients. They face costly contract penalties and lost sales with major high street retailer customers if they fail deliver on time and to maintain their competitiveness they need a cost efficient supply chain with security and control over stock.
“At Amethyst we understand that our client's success depends on accurate and timely delivery of goods, cost efficiency, flexibility and quality control and the FLEXI trucks play a vital role in helping us to achieve the goals.”