A number of Staffordshire companies have adopted an innovative materials handling device developed by Antony Cook of AEC Designs, Alsager.
The device, called ForkAngles, can improve warehouse safety and efficiency by helping the drivers of counterbalance fork lift trucks to align their forks correctly with the load.
A simple visual indicator, ForkAngles has now been evaluated by several companies in the area, all of which have reported favourably on its benefits in terms of improving driver confidence, safety and potential for increasing productivity.
National Veterinary Services (NVS) of Talke has followed up its trial by installing the indicator on all of its counterbalance fork lift trucks at its main distribution centre, as well as nine located at its UK regional depots. The NVS distribution centre provides a one-stop shop for all materials and pharmaceuticals used by veterinary practices.
“It’s a challenging environment,” explains logistics manager, Danny Roberts [pictured]. We provide a Next Day delivery service to a UK customer base of some 2,200 practices. Our central warehouse stocks around 12,500 individual products and we also offer a catalogue service covering more specialist requirements, so potentially there are over 30,000 different items they can order.”
All orders received up to the cut-off at 20:00 are fulfilled during the evening and trunked to the NVS depots overnight. This involves processing around 35,000 invoiced lines daily from Talke. Whilst most of the administration has been automated, the physical work is carried out in material handling.
Daily routines include goods inwards and warehouse stock transfer movements. The despatch cycle starts with unloading returned pallets, packaging, and chilled transportation containers used for controlled items.
Like most busy distribution centres, NVS is working against the clock assembling each customer’s order and then consolidating these into trunking shipments out to the company’s network of regional depots.
The first trunking consignment departs before midnight for Carlisle and Glasgow, followed by the Midlands and South East and the South West during the night. After each consignment is unloaded at the respective depot, it is divided into drops for the local customer delivery service.
Danny Roberts continues: “Counterbalance fork lift trucks are key to every stage of the materials handling process. After hearing about the ForkAngles indicator, we decided to set up a trial to get the views of the company’s two FLT trainers, as well as some of the Talke warehouse operatives.
“Both our in-house trainer and the external training contractor were very impressed with the device, and in particular with its simplicity as a visual indicator. The installation is attached to the mast – allowing a white sleeve to move up or down within a black tube - according to the mast tilt position. The sleeve is not visible when the mast is in the neutral (forks horizontal) position.”
“Setting the mast position is quite challenging and we found that our new starters had no difficulty on a training machine fitted with the ForkAngles indicator. And perhaps more surprising even our more experienced drivers were also very enthusiastic.
“They were appreciative of the device because of the need to take extra care when loading. They were able to work faster and with more confidence. And that is immediately apparent when observing the operators at work.”
Danny Roberts concludes by stressing the need to maintain a safe working environment: “The most important benefit of Fork Angles and other devices, such as Blue Spots, is that they underline the company’s commitment to safety within the work place.
"We are currently seeking industry accreditation in this respect and these additional safety improvements are also very important when it comes to negotiating with the insurance companies.
“Our challenge is to stay safe while coping with continually increasing growth in the volume of movements within a fixed window for stock picking and loading.”