Open and shut cases

At its factory at Sindelfingen, Germany, international automobile supplier Brose produces door systems for the Mercedes S, C and E ranges. Historically, the company has assembled some 4,200 of the door systems every day and delivered them on a just in time basis to the production lines at the nearby Daimler plant.

However, the amount of orders processed at the factory in Sindelfingen has increased dramatically recently so much so that the company expects daily production targets of 9,000 units to be hit soon and, as a result, Brose found that both factory and warehouse space at the site was nearing capacity. With expanding the physical size of the existing plant an unattractive option, Brose sought to maximise the available space at the facility. Jan Francke, production manager at both the Sindelfingen plant and Broses sister factory at Rastatt, identified the Flexi articulated forklift truck from Narrow Aisle as a potential solution to the companys space problem after seeing a demonstration of the trucks at the LogiMAT exhibition at Stutgart.

Although relatively unknown in Germany, the articulated truck concept was clearly well suited to Broses needs, as Francke explains: During the LogiMAT fair an experienced fork lift truck driver from our factory inspected the Flexi truck. We were impressed by the fact that the Flexitrucks can work in an aisle width of only about 1700 mm at a capacity of two tonnes and, moreover, they can lift as high as 12 metres. The Flexi solution was compared with two alternatives a reach truck and a machine that had been especially designed for Brose.

We dismissed the bespoke machines as we could only truly judge how effective they were once they had been manufactured, says Francke. The reach truck was considered unsuitable because of its width. If we used reach trucks we would have had to increase the distance between the pallets and consequently we would have lost space, says Francke. After a thorough analysis, Brose specified the Flexis and, since August 2008,  the company has leased two Flexi EURO trucks. Thanks to the flexibility of the new forklift trucks Brose has been able to create a more compact space layout at the factory in Sindelfingen and also remodel the layout of the warehouse and production facility. The remodelling was done simultaneously with the introduction of the new industrial trucks.

Fundamental to the success of the remodeling is the Flexi EUROs ability to work in aisles as narrow as 1642mm wide (with a Euro pallet) or 1762mm wide (with an ISO pallet), which has allowed Brose to reconfigure its lineside buffer store. By significantly reducing the aisle widths between the pallet racking in the store from their original width of 4 metres down to only 2 metres whilst still conforming to the German aisle security legislation, the company has increased its pallet capacity by more than 20%, which means that greater numbers of component stock units can all be held in the premium line side space available.

Instead of an aisle width of 4 metres we are now mainly working with a distance of only 2.6 metres between our racking faces, says Jan Francke. The rearranged racking takes up considerably less space which has made room for a higher production capacity, he adds. The introduction of the FLEXIs has also led to a significant reduction in forklift operating costs at the Sindelfingen site:  the articulated trucks compact dimensions and ability to work both inside within the aisleways and outside to unload in-coming deliveries of door components, means that Brose is now using Flexi EUROs to do the work that previously required both counterbalance and reach trucks.

Brose operates two shifts at Sindelfingen which means that smooth and efficient battery changes are essential. The FLEXI is driven by a three-phase AC motor and battery changes only take two minutes. Brose has ordered a new battery for each of the two electric lift trucks. The new narrow aisle storage concept is working well at Brose, as Jan Francke explains: The only disadvantage of these trucks is their comparatively lower speed. Due to this we have calculated an additional travel time of 5 per cent.  However, this has to be seen in relation to the longer distances which alternative materials handling systems would have had travel if we had used them because it would have been necessary to expand our warehouse to accommodate them. By using the Flexi we could keep our optimised material flow in the factory and avoid expensive modification of the warehouse.

With the ability to lift 1500kg loads to heights of over 7 metres, the Flexi EURO features all the design characteristics that have made the Flexi range of articulated forklifts the biggest selling articulated trucks in Europe. For example, a range of 'clear vision' lift mast options is available - all triplex full free lift to suit the operating conditions. Treaded cushion rubber tyres, plus front drive wheels provide excellent traction even in slippery conditions when the truck is fully laden. Battery change is easy due to the trucks low lift-off or roll-off rear access facility to ensure that changeover downtime is kept to a minimum.

Like all models in the Flexi range, the Flexi EURO is equally at home inside and outside the warehouse facility and, importantly, the fact that the truck has a traditional four wheel configuration means that stability is not compromised. Despite its small dimensions, the Flexi EUROs operator compartment remains deceptively spacious and has been developed to ensure maximum greater comfort throughout even toughest shifts; while the trucks European Standard automotive style accelerator and brake pedal layout ensures even more leg space for the operator and improved safety.

John Maguire, sales director of Narrow Aisle Flexi, commented: The Flexi EURO is creating a lot of interest throughout Germany especially in manufacturing industries where space is at a premium and costs need to be controlled. We have demonstrated the product at several trade fairs in the country throughout 2008 and the feedback we have had has been overwhelmingly positive.


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