Evolution through partnership

Hfele UK is a distributor of furniture fittings, hardware and architectural ironmongery and its client base includes furniture manufacturing companies, planners & fitters, architects, building companies,  DIY retailers and independent stores.

One of the challenges for Mark Batchelor, the companys Operations Director has been to manage the continued expansion of the companys UK business from an existing site evolving and growing with the developing needs of the company. This has seen use and adaptation of the widest range of technologies from manual through semi-automated to fully automated solutions.

Over his 27 years of service with Hfele, Batchelor has found that the key to the successful planning and management of this dynamic operation is in finding the right materials handling partners to work with. The expertise of Jungheinrich Projects division in this respect has proved invaluable.

Jungheinrich UKs Systems & Projects Division is Hafeles partner and the two companies have forged a close working relationship over the 12 years they have worked together.

During this time, Hfele has engaged Jungheinrich in a virtually continuous series of development projects. This has involved the design installation and integration of a wide range of materials handling solutions.

Today, product arriving at the facility is either fed into the system on pallets at one of four pallet in-feed points, or loads are broken down into totes and trays, depending on weight, volume and quantity and entered into the system at one of six tote in-feed stations. Plastic totes are being used to replace troublesome cardboard containers.

Once goods are booked into the warehouse management system, pallet loads are transported by conveyor to either high bay 2 or high bay 3, whereas totes are conveyed to one of three storage areas in high bay 1.

Prior to the partnership with Jungheinrich, the crane aisles of high bays 1 and 2 had been served by an automated shuttle car system. This had limited throughput capacity and was considered to be a concerning single point of failure to the operation. So when Jungheinrich was asked to commission high bay 3, Eddie Rowlinson, project manager for Jungheinrichs Systems Division, and his team replaced the shuttle car system with input conveyors at ground level and outfeed conveyors at an elevated level. Like so many of the preceding system upgrades, this was no easy task as the overall system had to remain operational

The roof of the adjacent building [the low bay area] which was to accommodate the take off conveyor was too low, we had to build up above the roof on the low bay to accommodate it, explains Rowlinson. This was a major exercise that required the closing of the goods-in conveyors for three weeks and involved transporting incoming stock around the outside of the building in order to access the highbay stores, via a temporary infeed. This was all achieved without causing any disruption of service to customers.

In high bay 3 the first major involvement for Jungheinrich, completed in 1999 four manual man-up order picking cranes sit alongside four fully automated cranes. The last aisle can accept CHEP pallets but the building had only originally been designed to accommodate Euro pallets. Under the expert project management of Jungheinrich, a CHEP pallet solution was shoehorned into the available space.

The X-system in high bay 1 is the latest system upgrade, commissioned just before Christmas 2007. Here three fully automated tote cranes operating over 8000 locations, service requirements of 800 x 600 mm totes. The cranes are designed for a maximum carrying weight of 75 kg. A robot is used in this area to move totes from a pallet to replenish the store and provide empty totes to the picking operators.

On a mezzanine area adjacent to the X-System is a forward picking operation with bespoke operator stations. Stock totes are drawn from the system and accumulated in order sequence for the picking operatives. Instructions for the picker are given via terminals integrated into the warehouse Management System.

The Zip system for small items stored on trays consists of just one aisle at present, although plans are in place to expand the system by a further aisle, when capacity demands. This automated mini-load system, handles two trays at a time and has the storage capacity for almost 16,000 allocations of stock.

The mezzanine forward picking operation has similarities to the X-System and is also of a bespoke design for Hafele. This however has been designed to facilitate simultaneous picking and replenishment of stock. At the station three conveyor points are positioned above one another, aligning totes for action: The order tote at the bottom, the donor tote in the middle, and the replenishment tote on top. Each station has two such points, ensuring that the operator is never left idle. While he picks from one station the secondary station is replenished with a new donor tote. If a space becomes available in the donor tote, the operator is told to replenish by the computer, which has already automatically presented the correct replenishment tote.

All instructions are indicated to the operator in a simple graphic form. All the operator has to do is follow the instructions and scan for confirmation. This process of replenishing during the pick cycle is highly efficient and was specifically designed by Jungheinrich for Hfele.

Once goods have been picked from their various zones orders are presently consolidated by a manual process. This is soon to change, an automated order consolidation system is under construction and this will use a pick-to-light system to guide the operator through the consolidation process. Mark Batchelor insists that, The methodologies of pick-to-order and where appropriate, goods-to-man, are fundamental to the future vision of Hfele in the UK.

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