This Month in Modern: Lift trucks still the workhorse

This month in Modern we fix the spotlight on the gradual, but steady application of a lift truck fleet management program that’s now driving impressive productivity gains and generating considerable cost savings for the folks at Scotts Miracle-Gro.

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It’s nearly impossible to cover the materials handling market these days without concentrating on the increasing adoption of high-speed order fulfillment systems geared to help retailers meet the multi-channel challenge—there’s nothing hotter.

However, we can’t forget that there are many manufacturers out there who are running tremendous businesses without a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, this month in Modern we fix the spotlight on the gradual, but steady application of a lift truck fleet management program that’s now driving impressive productivity gains and generating considerable cost savings for the folks at Scotts Miracle-Gro.

In this month’s System Report, executive editor Bob Trebilcock takes us inside Scotts’ 780,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center in Marysville, Ohio, where between January and May they receive and ship 9,150 pallets of product a day in support of the nation’s busy growing season. To keep things moving, their primary tools are stretch-wrapped pallets stacked on the floor and moved by a fleet of lift trucks that function around the clock.

As you can imagine, productivity at Scotts is all about the number of pallets moved from manufacturing into storage and from storage onto the back of a trailer—and with such a short window of time to ship, the demands placed on the lift truck fleet are extraordinary. Just a few years ago, the downtime from losing two or three trucks to repair and maintenance was putting a significant dent in productivity while escalating rental charges just to keep pallets moving on schedule.

Trebilcock walks us through how John Smith, Scotts’ manager of raw materials, and the warehouse team in Marysville set out to re-evaluate its lift truck requirements. As part of that effort, the team decided to add single-double lift truck attachments to handle two pallets at a time. The also brought in a new high reach truck model to increase efficiency and create a more ergonomic environment for the driver.

As part of those additions, the team methodically began to implement a lift truck management system that not only helped them improve fleet uptime, but allowed them to stay on top of truck technology, identify training needs and control costs. For example, the system now includes planned maintenance of specific components based on hours of use, helps the team get a better grasp of rental costs during peak season, and will help them right-size and optimize leases in the future. And now that the system has gradually baked into Scott’s operations, it’s offered the team a new-found confidence that it can match the necessary productivity levels—especially during peak season. “I can’t remember a day that a lift has been down for more than a shift,” Smith tells Trebilcock. “If a lift can’t be fixed at our facility, our local dealer brings over a replacement to keep us running.”

And while it may not include automatic guided vehicles or sophisticated automated storage systems, the Marysville operation has achieved impressive results nonetheless.

“Scotts palletizes their product, moves it with lift trucks, stores it on the floor and ships it out in bulk—it’s not sexy stuff,” Trebilcock says. “But manufacturers still want to optimize their processes and reduce their operating costs. Scotts has done both with this program. Fundamental improvement stories like this will always find room in our pages.”

About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at

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