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Retail Technology, Retail technology News

John Lewis stores at highest levels

Friday February 26 2010

Logistics supplier handling solution meets challenge of multichannel retailer’s warehousing operations

Logistics supplier handling solution meets challenge of multichannel retailer’s warehousing operations


John Lewis sells a wide range of products of various shapes and sizes presenting an interesting challenge for its warehousing operations. To help maximise storage space, Barloworld was the only company able to offer a very narrow aisle (VNA) handling solution that gives John Lewis staff the flexibility to work with walk on racking at heights of over 10 metres.


John Lewis, the UK’s largest department store, typically stocks approximately 350,000 separate product lines from its 29 shops, and has a growing online business. With a varied product range spanning electrical, gifts and toys through to garments, beauty and home and garden, the size and shape of the products presents several storage challenges.


Wide variety of goods presents storage challenge


“Mattresses, washing machines, sofas and other large and heavy goods all have to be stored carefully while maximising the space available in our warehouses” explains Ted Weager, senior project engineer for John Lewis. “We wanted to store products at heights of over 10m which is easily achieved for palletised goods, but not when large items need manual handling.”


John Lewis had previously used aisle cranes in some of its operations, but wanted to find a flexible solution that was more cost effective. A specialised order-picking forklift with a long cage on the front looked like a possibility.


“Barloworld was the only company that could offer a solution. They already had a proven innovation using the Hyster C1.5 VNA machine with a walk-on platform and lattice gates on both sides,” said Weager. “We trialled the concept at the Park Royal facility in London and now have three machines successfully operating there”.


Barloworld said it is the distribution partner for Hyster, the only manufacturer that has a VNA machine with a mast strong enough to handle a 3-metre long metal cage and a load of 800 kilograms in any location on the platform. The patented quad-form mast, which is 1.2 metres wide and 1.1 deep overall, ensures minimum deflection allowing a full load to be transported forward or backwards while simultaneously lifting or lowering.


System key to multichannel fulfilment service


In the spring of 2009, John Lewis opened a combined service centre in Avonmouth to provide warehousing for stores and home delivery in Wales, Bristol and the South West. Due to the success in London, John Lewis designed the new facility based on the solution from Barloworld and now operates three Hyster VNA C1.5L order picking machines in 10 aisles.


“We have maximised storage space in the new Avonmouth warehouse cube and spent only a quarter of what we would otherwise have invested on cranes,” he said, adding that lifetime costs are also greatly reduced.


The VNA machines operate using wire guidance on a superflat warehouse floor in aisles only 1.7 metres wide to maximise storage space. The C1.5L incorporates powerful AC motors, proportional speed control and automatic braking at the end of each aisle for added safety. Before the driver can operate the truck from the comfortable seat with joystick controls, the metal lattice gates must be closed on both sides.


Efficiency does not compromise safety design


As an additional safety feature, once positioned in the correct bay, the operator must press a button that triggers flaps on both sides of the cage to bridge the short gap between the platform and the racking.

The lattice gates, with gaps too small to put hands through, can then be opened a full 2.7 metres giving a two man team walk-on access to the racking for items such as superking size mattresses.


“At 10m, the cage feels incredibly stable with minimum movement, giving the team an enclosed environment in which to pick and put away stock quickly and efficiently” Weager added, explaining that the machines are unique and therefore have to cope with increased activity during the busy build up to Christmas.


Elsewhere in the facility which has 20 loading bays, Barloworld also supplied Hyster P2.0 powered pallet trucks for lateral goods movement and a Hyster Matrix reach truck fitted with a carpet boom to handle carpets up to 7.5m in length.


Service support is provided by local Barloworld service engineers with operator training also conducted onsite by Barloworld and John Lewis’ own in-house instructors.