LWC Drinks Ltd – the UK’s largest independent drinks wholesaler – has introduced a fleet of space-saving Flexi Truck very narrow aisle (VNA) articulated forklifts across its nationwide estate of distribution depots, including the company’s recently opened new 173,000 sq ft bonded DC in Chadderton, Oldham.
The Oldham site – located just 10 miles from Manchester city centre, and 1.5 miles from junctions 20 and 21 of the M60 – is twice the size of LWC’s previous local facility at nearby Openshaw and represents an investment of £12.5 million for the company.
The national beverage wholesaler’s success has been built and continues to rely upon the smooth running of its supply chain network. Across most of the country same-day delivery is offered seven-days-a-week from LWC’s network of 14 depots. Meanwhile, in those areas where same-day delivery is not possible, LWC offer a next-day service to a client base that includes some 13,500 licensed establishments across both the on-and off-trade.
The Oldham site also features a dedicated area for Click N Drink, LWC’s DTC division, which it launched in 2020 when the majority of its trade customers had been forced to shut down to comply with the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions that were having such a devastating impact on swathes of the hospitality and leisure sectors.
With a relentlessly demanding delivery schedule and a product range comprised of more than 8,000 lines – including over 1,200 draughts, 500 bottled beers, 200 ciders, 2,800 spirits, 1,500 wines and 1,300 soft drinks – efficient and cost-effective storage systems and reliable materials handling equipment are essential for LWC.
“LWC has long been an advocate of Flexi Truck space saving technology across its business and the intralogistics systems in operation throughout LWC’s national depot network have been based on Flexi Truck technology for many years,” said John Maguire, managing director of Narrow Aisle Ltd – the West Midlands-based designer and manufacturer of the Flexi Truck range.
“By providing a highly cost-effective format that is reproduced by LWC at all of its sites, Flexi Trucks deliver tremendous space savings within the stores as well as synergies with the company’s other handling equipment that enables LWC’s truck operators’ existing skills to be utilised – an important consideration in the current climate when qualified lift truck drivers are in short supply.”
The new very narrow aisle FLEXI Truck articulated forklifts supplied to LWC, are the latest ‘Digital’ Flexi Truck models to be developed by Narrow Aisle Ltd. ‘Digital’ Flexis require minimal maintenance, which means that they ensure optimum ‘up time’ while the trucks’ ultra-efficient battery system allows sustained levels of performance to be achieved so that even the most demanding pallet throughput targets can be met.
Ease of operation and, therefore, pallet put-away and picking speed, is further enhanced by the trucks’ unique independent digital power-steering which makes Flexi Trucks particularly easy to manoeuvre within aisleways.
Articulated ‘over rotation’ and smooth digital steering combine to ensure that one turn of a Flexi Truck’s steering wheel is all that is required to enter or de-stack a pallet.
The drinks wholesaler has introduced a new warehouse management system (WMS) and duty management system at the Oldham site. The IT investment will help standardise LWC’s operations across its distribution network and ensure that the company continues to perform as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The data capture devices that link the materials handling equipment to the WMS are mounted on the Flexi Truck’s unique ‘Halo Bar’ – an innovative accessory option that acts as a mounting for RDTs, hands-free order picking screens, label printers etc and delivers unobstructed operator forward vision so that Flexi Truck drivers can perform productively and safely at all times.
The Flexi Trucks undertake a wide range of duties. For example, LWC’s new machines will be used both outside the Oldham unit and other sites to unload incoming curtain sided trailers and inside the store to deliver pallets directly to the pallet racking system – eliminating the need for the traditional double handling that is often required at facilities where a mix of counterbalance forklifts and reach trucks are deployed.
Because LWC is committed to running its business as sustainably as possible, energy efficiency was an important influence on the company’s MHE purchasing decision. The new ‘Digital’ Flexi Truck models provide extended shift life from a single battery that has not only cut energy consumption and brought about a considerable reduction in fleet operating costs at the new Oldham site as well as LWC’s other depot facilities, but has also delivered an upgrade in productivity efficiency due to the reduction in truck downtime required to change or charge batteries.
Battery charging technology
Furthermore, the trucks’ operational efficiency is given an extra boost thanks to an integrated battery charging and changing solution designed and delivered by Narrow Aisle’s Warehouse Systems team.
Featuring operator ‘call-forward’ alert technology to identify the most appropriate fully charged battery when a change is due, the advanced fast charge system will dramatically reduce LWC’s overall mains electricity consumption and, therefore, minimise truck fleet running costs across its properties. The unique 6 hour battery charging time will allow the company to operate with only two batteries per truck on a three-shift usage pattern as required.
Maguire commented: “LWC Drinks Ltd has operated Flexi Truck articulated forklift truck technology across its business for many years. The company recognises the space saving and operational benefits of Flexi Truck technology and we are delighted that we will continue to enjoy such a successful relationship.
“The ‘Digital’ Flexi Trucks supplied to LWC represent the next phase of the iconic Flexi Truck articulated forklift’s development. Designed to minimise the use of battery energy in every work cycle by using digital lift drive and steering systems that are integrated with the latest rapid low energy charging technologies, ‘Digital’ Flexi Truck models provide a sustainable and efficient long term solution to users.”
Narrow Aisle is providing fleet management and maintenance support services across the LWC national depot network.