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Maximising storage capacity through 'cobotic' warehouse control systems

Rico Logistics, an industrial and parts fulfilment group, safely maximised the storage capacity of its new warehouse facility on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Rico leased the building at Minworth in Summer 2019 to support its rapidly expanding business. Following a consultation with Narrow Aisle’s Warehouse Systems Division, the company adopted a storage solution which enables all of the available space in the facility was utilised.  

By introducing racking that made use of the full height of the building, Rico has been able to optimise pallet locations and pick faces to ensure that the site delivers the most cost-efficient storage cube. 

Fleet support

The project was undertaken in two phases and, now complete, provides some 11,000 pallet locations. At its highest point, which is in the apex of the building’s roof structure, the new racking scheme delivers a 14m high top rack beam.  

A fleet of five Flexi articulated VNA trucks – all of which are the latest Flexi ACiON models from Narrow Aisle – is in operation within Rico’s new store. The trucks feature digital electric motor technology that allows all independent drive, hydraulic and power-steering motors functions to be controlled digitally to ensure the most productive and energy-efficient performance throughout the working day.   

In collaboration

“The collaborative robotic – or ‘cobotic’ – control systems in the heart of the Flexi ACiON 1500 model deliver a more integrated performance, and result in greater reliability and higher productivity combined with significantly reduced operating and maintenance costs,” says Narrow Aisle’s managing director, John Maguire. 

He continues, “The advanced suite of cobotic technology is, in effect, connected to the truck’s nervous system and it allows features such as the operator’s vision camera, height selection system and aisle sensing technology, to be integrated without the need for hard-wired relays, contactors and so on. This means that far less components are required and, as a result, truck uptime is optimised.” 

Picking pallets at height is not a problem due to the truck’s integrated tilting carriage and fixed mast design which eliminates mast sway – even at heights of 14m. This feature enhances the truck’s already class-leading high lift stability. 

“By fixing the mast and allowing the operator to tilt the fork carriage, pallets can be picked and put-away on the top beam of the highest racking smoothly, safely and efficiently,” says John Maguire. 

Safety first

The truck is equipped with ‘reverse proximity sensors’ that provide a clear audible and visual indication when approaching any object, especially useful when manoeuvring at rack aisle ends. 

And safety at Rico is further enhanced by the Flexi ACiON’s ‘smart stop’ system. Developed by Flexi Warehouse Systems’ team of software engineers, the ‘in-aisle sensor’ disables the truck if it has come in to contact with an object, such as pallet loads, racking or rack guards within the aisle. The truck can only be restarted once the driver has reported details of the collision to the designated line manager, thus ensuring that no potential truck/rack impact incidents go unreported. 

John Maguire says, “Some of the most serious incidents of rack collapse within warehouses occur because truck operators fail to report collisions and the damage caused goes unnoticed until it is too late. The ‘in-aisle impact sensor’ system and cut-out feature mean that at Rico there is absolutely no chance of aisle impact being overlooked.” 

Flexi believes that in the future these new cobotic sensors that aid safe driving may eliminate the need for barriers in the rack system, allowing user to concentrate their investment in providing safety guards to separate pedestrians from truck operations. 

The intralogistics upgrade at Rico’s Minworth unit was overseen by a team from Narrow Aisle’s Warehouse System Division and was completed on time and within budget, while Rico’s new fleet of articulated fork lift trucks were supplied on a contract hire package with inclusive service and maintenance support provided. 

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