Thinking bigger

12 December 2012

Selecting suppliers who can take on more than one aspect of a project brings advantages, says Bill Goodwin, sales director of Jungheinrich UK Warehouse managers no longer simply want to be sold trucks. They want answ

Selecting suppliers who can take on more than one aspect of a project brings advantages, says Bill Goodwin, sales director of Jungheinrich UK

Warehouse managers no longer simply want to be sold trucks. They want answers to a wide range of logistical headaches and need partners who can help address these. This means choosing a supplier that can offer a broad range of materials handling products and services and has the core competencies and skills to design and deliver a logistics system around them.

To achieve optimum throughput, productivity gains and, therefore, cost savings, companies across a broad range of industries are turning in ever greater numbers to integrated product solutions featuring a mix of handling equipment. If you are considering such a multi-product system it is vital that you choose a MHE partner capable of supplying a full line-up of products and services.Multi-product systems that are designed around a limited range of equipment seldom work well because instead of an integrated facility that suits the goods stored and the pick and product flow rates required, users usually get something that has been planned primarily to accommodate the restricted handling equipment their supplier offers.

I have visited numerous sites where, on the advice of a systems integrator, companies have dramatically mis-specified their handling system. I have seen highly automated systems perform far less efficiently than traditional manual systems ever would and conversely, been to sites bristling with lift trucks where a semiautomated or even fully automated system would have increased efficiency and throughput and lowered operating costs tenfold.

Reducing the pressure Of course, in addition to choosing the right type of trucks or handling equipment there is a host of other technology designed to reduce the pressure on warehouse personnel by making his or her day-to-day operational procedures more straightforward and thereby generating higher productivity and picking accuracy.

Warehouse management systems, on-truck data capture systems, RFID-based warehouse navigation systems and forklift truck personnel protection systems are just some of the technologies that are available to bring efficiency, productivity and safety benefits within the store.

However, going forward, it seems clear that truck manufacturers will increasingly be expected to take on the role of 'system suppliers' if the potential benefits of these integrated solutions are to be fully realised. There are obvious benefits to be gained by developing these technologies as part of the truck but it is essential that the integration of the technology is carefully carried out and is a robust solution delivered by the actual truck manufacturer. Simply 'bolting' on lots of additional equipment will not guarantee the overall benefits and improved efficiencies that the technology can bring.

It is also important have clearly defined procedures and structures to establish responsibility for the after sales support and maintenance of both the truck and any sub-systems that are part of it.Where a number of suppliers simply bolt sub-systems on to a forklift truck disputes can arise over the responsibility for the ongoing management of the critical interfaces. That's why it is important that users choose a truck manufacturer that can provide the trucks and the sub-systems - be it RDTs, scanners or warehouse management systems - and the personnel with the skills required to maximise their performance as part of their service support team.

But it isn't just with hi-tech add-ons that the single supplier approach brings advantages. For example, although it's best known for its forklift trucks and other materials handling equipment, Jungheinrich has offered a full range of racking and storage systems as a core part of its product portfolio for over 20 years and the fact that we can supply a full range of materials handling equipment and design and build a client's racking system is an increasingly attractive proposition for many customers. It is something of a cliché, but being a 'one-stop-shop' means we are able to simplify a project for a client's management team by providing full integration of the rack and truck systems to ensure total value is gained from the project.

Having our own range of batteries and chargers also helps our clients. By providing both truck and battery charging solutions we simplify maintenance procedures and eliminate the confusion that sometimes surrounds the cause of truck downtime.

It is not uncommon in the event of an electric-powered truck breaking down for the truck supplier to blame battery malfunction for the problem and the battery supplier to argue that the cause of the malfunction lies with the mechanics of the machine itself. Because Jungheinrich is able to offer truck, battery and charger, our clients never face potentially awkward 'blame game' problems.

Today's logistics professional is faced with a sometimes bewildering choice of materials handling equipment and the pros and cons of using forklift trucks, very narrow aisle (VNA) equipment, stacker cranes, conveyors or automated guided vehicles, or a combination of product types,must all be considered. Then there's the racking and warehouse management system to think about. But having a partner capable of supplying and taking responsibility for more than one aspect of the project can, and does, make life so much easier.