In 2019 Bowker Group will celebrate its 100th year in business – a milestone that marks the company as one of the UK’s longest established third party logistics specialists.

Founded by William Bowker, who spent his First World War gratuity on a vehicle that he used to make local deliveries in East Lancashire, Bowker Group remains very much a family concern with the fourth generation of Bowkers now actively involved in running the business.

The company has grown organically and through acquisition – most notably in 2016 when the purchase of Potter Logistics’ warehousing and distribution operations at Ripon, York, Selby, Knowsley and Droitwich was completed – and today, Bowker is a major transport and warehouse provider operating in excess of 650 vehicles and trailers and offering over one million square feet of warehousing with 110,000 racked pallet positions across nine UK sites.

Bowker continues to invest in its people, equipment and infrastructure and, at its York facility, has recently reconfigured its materials handling equipment and pallet storage with the introduction of Narrow Aisle Ltd’s Flexi articulated lift trucks to provide an increase in storage capacity of close to 30% compared to the previous reach truck based layout.

The company has used Flexi trucks across its business since 2004. “Flexi articulated forklift truck technology plays a key role in ensuring that materials handling at all of our sites is space, cost and time-efficient,” says Bowker Group managing commercial director, Neil Bowker.

The York facility is a BRC accredited ambient food store which holds both raw materials and finished products. Providing over 10,000 pallet locations, the site’s racking is 8.5 metres high at its highest point and the reach aisles are set 2.1 metres wide to allow both slow moving and frequently picked items on either Euro or ISO pallets to be accommodated and moved quickly and efficiently.

All of the pallet put away and picking within the racking is undertaken by the Flexis while the job of unloading and loading incoming and departing trailers in the yard is shared between the Flexi articulated trucks and conventional counterbalanced forklifts depending on demand during the working day.

“Our priority is always to achieve maximum storage density within the square footage we have available and Flexi trucks allowed us to reduce aisle widths to maximise storage capacity while maintaining a safe and productive operation that allows fast and efficient pallet put away and retrieval cycles,” explains Neil Bowker.

He continues: “But, we are were acutely aware of the fact that while it is essential to keep aisle widths to a minimum, the high degree of ground level order picking locations required at the York site means that we have to leave sufficient room for forklifts and order pickers to be able to work alongside each other within the aisleways. By setting aisle widths at 2100mm wide, low level order pickers can work at ground level in the same aisle as the Flexis safely and productively.”

With environmental concerns also high on Bowker’s agenda, an integrated low energy usage rapid battery charging system supplied and installed by Narrow Aisle Ltd, ensures that the electric-powered Flexis operate at optimum efficiency.

The system features the latest ‘callforward’ alert technology to identify the most appropriate fully-charged battery for the truck operator to select when a change is due. This means that batteries often last for up to 12 hours between charges, which extends the life of the cells and dramatically reduces Bowker’s overall energy consumption and, therefore, operating costs.

And, to ensure maximum Flexi truck uptime, Narrow Aisle is providing a complete fleet management and maintenance support package.

“Companies strive to be as lean as possible and the days when businesses kept ‘surplus’ equipment on site are gone, so downtime resulting from any maintenance required is likely to have a significant impact on a user’s operation,” commented Narrow Aisle Ltd’s commercial director, John Maguire.

He continued: “This makes it essential to proactively schedule preventative maintenance work to suit Bowker’s needs – thus ensuring minimum disruption to the day-to-day running of the business. “By maintaining a thorough maintenance regime we will ensure the highest performance of every truck within Bowker’s fleet throughout its lifecycle and deliver ongoing operating cost benefits which will have a direct impact on Bowker’s bottom line.”

In all, Bowker operate over 110 lift trucks across its various sites and some 20 per cent of these are Flexi trucks.

“Flexis are an essential part of our business,” says Neil Bowker. “In our experience the trucks offer a wide range of advantages that allow us to get the best return on investment from our storage space.”


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