With demand growing between 10 and 25% per year, the temperature has been rising in heating equipment company Ferroli's logistics operations.
Based at an old site just off the A38 near Burton on Trent, which the company moved to when outgrowing their first UK base in Birmingham, the main building started out as a fairly simple operation. Now, this has been transformed with the use of dynamic live storage and spares operation from Bito Storage Systems.
“This wasn't purpose built for us, and as the height isn't great we began by stacking product on the floor,” recalls Colin Walters, Finance and Operations Director for Ferroli UK. “Although simple, this started to give us a few headaches as we grew, especially as our business is highly seasonal.”
The 4.4 acre site takes domestic and commercial central heating boilers, plus spares and accessories. Most of the supply comes from the company's main base in San Bonifacio, Italy, although products also arrive from Spain and China.
Deliveries are to builders and plumbers merchants throughout the UK, with whole pallets of fast moving lines going to the larger national builders merchants, smaller customers often requiring picking and repacking.
Arriving on pallets, boilers were block stacked on the floor of the 119,000 sq ft warehouse. “This could lead to problems such as product damage, from crushing or collision with the fork trucks,” comments Colin. “We also had more difficulty maintaining stock rotation, which is important for product warranty periods.”
A further issue was encountered as the volumes increased, Colin comments; “although the warehouse is not a modern high bay, we were not making the most use of the height we had.”
After a search for likely solutions, and the right partner, Colin called in warehouse and storage specialists Bito. “The company was very responsive. They provided advice and designs to significantly update our UK warehouse.”
The main focal point was the area where boilers, often stacked 12 to a pallet, are stored and handled. Here, Bito devised a dynamic live storage solution, based on a single block of pallet live storage.
A mixture of two and three level storage, able to accommodate the differing pallet heights in the business, the storage uses an incline of 4 degrees, allowing pallets put into the rear of the block to slowly move on rollers under the power of gravity to the front.
As the 40 lanes are filled, pallets queue up behind the first in order, a fact which delights Colin. “We now have perfect stock rotation using this live storage system, simply by the way it works.” And it certainly works for Ferroli. “We haven't had a single problem since it was installed.”
In total, the dynamic pallet live storage block contains up to 1,000 pallets during the September to March peak. Each 25 pallet capacity lane is 19.15 metres long and has an incline from the front to the back of 766mm, designed to control Ferroli's size and weight of pallet load.
Pallets are removed from the front of the Bito live storage block when required, either for direct supply to customers, or for order picking where smaller quantities are required. Partly picked pallets are then moved to a forward holding area, where they can be used first for subsequent orders.
“We now have maximum use of height, something which will allow us to operate from here for years to come,” comments Colin. “We also have a great track record on product damages, as the stock is all held safely in the live storage until we need it.”
The spares operation has also been transformed. Three aisles of boltless shelving, equipped with tote bins, have been installed by Bito to smooth operations in this increasingly busy area. “This is now clean, tidy and well organised,” adds Colin.
The plastic parts containers, 300, 400 & 600mm deep enable fast and efficient picking of spares and help with accuracy, according to Colin. “This is an important area of our business, where good customer service is vital, especially as volume is increasing by around twenty five percent each year.”
Colin is confident that the new operations, will ensure high levels of customer service for years to come. “The live storage for our main products, and shelving for spares, was definitely the right decision.” He is so please with the service from Bito, that the company is also kitting out the on site technical laboratory, which will be used for on site test and analysis.
Ferroli also believe the warehouse operation will easily accommodate more improvements in the future. For example, Colin Walters comments; “it will work very well with the new warehouse management system we are installing soon.”