Lift trucks heighten comfort and throughput in grocery DC

As part of ongoing warehouse optimization, customized fleet increases productivity and cuts costs.

By ·

With sales approaching $500 million a year, Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE) operates a 380,000-square-foot distribution center serving more than 300 members and 650 independent retailers in New England. After re-evaluating its equipment needs and maintenance practices, the company deployed a fleet of lift trucks tailored to specific temperature-controlled environments.

Storing dry groceries, perishable products, freezer meat, deli, dairy, produce, the entire facility is temperature controlled, including areas with refrigerated storage and blast freezers. Lift trucks move product throughout the facility, starting at the receiving dock. To select product to ship out of the warehouse, operators use a voice picking system that is synchronized with a replenishment system. As product gets selected for shipment, the voice picking system updates lift truck operators on which pick slots need to be replenished.

“It’s like a synchronized dance of product coming in, being put away, then retrieved,” says Robie Robichaud, vice president of warehousing and transportation for AGNE. “The goal is to not let anything run out. This way operators will not have to go back to try to re-pick something that was not there the first time.”

Despite a smooth materials handling process from dock to slot, productivity in the old facility suffered due to limitations with slotting availability and ceiling height. The facility and equipment were being damaged due to improper sizing of lift trucks, which were going too high. After evaluating several brands and models, the company partnered with a nearby dealer to deploy a fleet (The Raymond Corp., tailored to multiple working environments, aisle width, ceiling height and overall flow of the operation.

The new fleet includes two reach truck models that improved operator visibility when working at a clear stacking height of 32 feet. Both also use efficient motors that require fewer battery charges and smaller, less expensive batteries. With temperatures reaching as low as -20°F, some of the lift trucks are fitted with heated operator platforms and heated control handles. The system also automatically cycles on and off when moving from cold areas to other areas of the warehouse.

In addition to the reach trucks, the facility now uses a mixture of new and existing equipment. Orderpickers are used for high-level picking or planned item retrieval functions; end rider pallet trucks are used for loading and unloading tractor trailers as well as low-level orderpicking; and pallet trucks are used for delivering products to retailers.

Robichaud notes improvements in warehouse visibility, lift truck productivity and cost savings. Combined with continuous upgrades throughout the facility in recent years, AGNE has seen a 58% total improvement in throughput and achieved cost savings of up to 18%.

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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