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Ingredients to success

21 November 2018

Warehouse manager Nicki Milner explains how ingredients supplier Muntons got to grips with space constraints, rationalised the forklift fleet, and deals with health & safety. HSS editor Simon Duddy reports.

Muntons is a leading player in the supply of malted ingredients to the food and drinks industry and is a great example of a company where warehousing is not the driving passion, but is absolutely vital to success.

“At Muntons, warehousing is not the core business, but my guys are the last people to touch the product we manufacture before it goes all around the world, so they’re critical,” says Nicki Milner, warehouse manager, Muntons.

Muntons is based at a 46 acre site in Stowmarket, with eight separate warehouses on the site, each serving different functions and parts of the plant.

Nicki explains: “The biggest challenge is being at full capacity. This is testing for the warehouse team as capacity has not grown in line with production. We fit a quart into a pint pot and are very creative about how we store product.”

One of the storage facilities is based on a VNA layout. It is currently 96% utilised and its 1,100 pick locations are served by a Linde K13 VNA truck.

“We are very pleased with this warehouse, it’s working very efficiently. We recently updated our Linde VNA truck. The technological improvements have been notable. The old truck was 10-11 years old and we initially got it on a 7 year contract and extended it.

“Myself, a warehouse supervisor and an operator went to visit two suppliers. We were very impressed with the Linde demo centre in Basingstoke. It was the operator’s choice essentially.”

Muntons also uses a Bendi articulated forklift to serve a double deep rack set up, which stores home brew kits for a major retailer.

Looking ahead, Nicki says a consolidated on-site warehouse that leaned more heavily on innovative technology could take the operation to another level. This may become important if Muntons continues to grow its already substantial export business. 

In the malt warehouse, the firm uses reach trucks in a wide aisle configuration. This old grain store has stanchions, which the racking had to be built round.

Muntons also utilises a temporary warehouse from Aganto. The firm hired this in 2012 and bought it 3 years later, as it worked out cheaper in the long run.

Nicki says: “When we started the wholesale operation, we used the temporary building to get packaging slightly nearer to production. I really am a fan, the service from Aganto was second to none. If we had the space I would put up a few of their buildings.”

In addition, Muntons stores product off-site on 3PL premises nearby when necessary. 

Looking ahead, Nicki says a consolidated on-site warehouse that leaned more heavily on innovative technology could take the operation to another level. This may become important if Muntons continues to grow its already substantial export business.

Forklift rationalisation

When Nicki took on the role of warehouse manager, she made rationalising the forklifts a priority. Muntons is now a DHL Lead Logistics Partner, with DHL managing forklift procurement as part of the arrangement.

“Yes, there is an on-cost but with DHL as partner, it frees us up to focus on core tasks. It also allows us to tap into DHL’s superior purchasing power.”

Muntons acquired a Jungheinrich forklift fleet through the arrangement. The fleet comprises ten gas trucks, two electric reach trucks, two electric counterbalance trucks, one electric pallet lifter and one electric pallet truck. The fleet is a mix of new and used equipment. 

“Getting the new trucks was a great opportunity to ask ‘what do we really need?’ We had too many trucks. Part of the issue was that each cost centre was responsible for hiring trucks previously. 

“We also made sure we got trucks with correct mast heights etc, making sure the fleet was fit for purpose.”

Safety vigilance

Nicki has worked in warehousing for her whole adult life and says higher standards in health & safety is the biggest change she has witnessed.

“When I started working in warehouses in the early 1980s, operatives would think nothing of shimmying up the racking and being lowered on the forks of a forklift. You just don’t do that these days. People criticise health & safety but it is my number one priority as long as it is applied with common sense.”

Muntons has a lot of different vehicles on-site and around 100 workers with forklift driving qualifications. The policy in the warehouse is to move operators around the different vehicles so they don’t get bored, and so there is less chance of them becoming complacent to dangers in the workplace. Job rotation also helps reduce staff turnover.

Continuous improvement

On the face of it, the job of warehousing and handling at Muntons is simple – to deliver packaging to production teams, and take away the filled packaging at the end of the process and store it. But warehousing is always changing, says Nicki, and many improvements have been made over the years to increase efficiency and keep up with production.

For the future, Nicki feels Muntons needs a warehouse manager with a more technological background. For herself, Nicki would like to progress to an advisory role in the near future.

“My passion is on the health and safety side,” she says. “I feel I have learned a lot over the years and my experience can be of use in helping companies raise standards in the warehouse.”

A struggle to be taken seriously

Nicki Milner went into warehousing in the early 1980s and entered management in the early 1990s. Somewhat depressingly, Nicki says not much has changed for women in logistics in the intervening years.

“I was the only female out of 12 operation managers in the organisation I worked for previously. In 15 years with that company, there was only one other woman operations manager.

“In 11 years at Muntons, I’ve had one lady come to an interview, and I didn’t employ her, because a gentleman had better experience. We have only two authorised female forklift drivers out of 100 on site.”

The HR team at Muntons is actively trying to get more women into the production side of its business.

“They approached a local college, who said no women are signing up to logistics courses. Perhaps at that age it’s just not seen as an opportunity?

“When I was a kid my mum wouldn’t let me play with Meccano, so when I saw a warehouse it felt like a big Meccano set to me. Within six months I was building the racking. That was my real passion at first.

“I didn’t choose logistics, I got a job as a picker and took to it. I loved the way you could organise things and make the warehouse more logical and efficient.

“As a woman, you do have to try harder though, it has been a struggle to be taken seriously.”