Halfords-PR1.jpgHalfords has reduced the battery charge and change area at its Redditch national distribution centre by over 75 per cent following the introduction of the latest Hawker equipment from EnerSys Motive Power. The changes freed enough space for Halfords to consolidate high value and ecommerce stock into a single area to promote greater efficiency. The company has also eliminated manual handling of batteries and expects battery efficiency and lifetimes to be improved.

“The changes were driven by the need to generate space to allow us to integrate our high value and ecommerce storage,” says Steve Mole, at Halfords. “Enersys delivered a solution which came together to create a neater environment, alleviate manual handling and improve the overall performance of the batteries.”

One of the best-known retailers in the UK, Halfords currently has 433 stores throughout the UK and Ireland selling a wide range of automotive and cycling products. The company’s main distribution centre in Redditch covers 275,000 sq ft and supplies mainly automotive products and accessories while a separate 140,000 sq ft facility in the town is dedicated to bicycles. Halfords has recently opened its second store in the Czech Republic as part of an expansion programme in Central Europe.

The distribution centre was operating close to capacity when Halfords identified an opportunity to integrate the storage and distribution of high value products such as in-car audio and satellite navigation with the growing ecommerce operation, where the same products are very popular. Bringing the two operations together offered a number of benefits including greater efficiency, reduced combined stock and a smaller footprint. The challenge was to find a suitable area for the new operation.

One potential location was the battery area, close to the existing ecommerce section, which occupied approximately 840 sq metres in a corner of the warehouse. This was used to park and charge up to 70 pieces of materials handling equipment overnight. Halfords recognised that the space could be reduced dramatically and battery management and handling improved by introducing the latest equipment. The company invited a number of suppliers, including incumbent Enersys, to prepare proposals and tender for the contract. Enersys was selected after a rigorous selection process because it presented the best proposal based on overall costs, quality of equipment and service support.
Enersys worked closely with Halfords to prepare a detailed design for the new battery area and finalise plans for the transition. The project was scheduled over summer 2006 with a deadline of October to allow Halfords to take full advantage of the important Christmas season.

“The project was completed on budget and a week early which allowed us to take full advantage of sales during the peak period,” says Steve Mole.

The new area was designed so that battery positions are arranged close together along both sides of a narrow aisle with their respective chargers mounted overhead. This maximises the density of the charging stations and reduces the overall footprint. The result is that the new area occupies just 182 sq metres and is 78 per cent smaller than the old facility. Narrow aisle pallet racking and picking locations have been installed in the remaining 658 sq metres for the high value and ecommerce items.

These headline figures only tell part of the story because the new area now incorporates many state-of-the-art facilities which support advanced battery management and changing to provide additional benefits to Halfords.

Enersys’ Hawker management system works in conjunction with the ‘intelligent’ diagnostic capabilities of the power sources to oversee every aspect of battery utilisation. Batteries are allocated in strict rotation which means that the best available unit, the one with the most charge, is always used. This overcomes the potential problem of operators simply taking the nearest battery regardless of its true state of charge. Battery utilisation is spread more evenly so that none gets heavier usage than the others. The service life of the batteries is prolonged and the risk of unexpected maintenance issues is reduced.

A large wall-mounted display indicates which battery should be used and where it can be found. The display provides information on all available batteries but the management system stipulates the one with the most charge should be used and sounds a piercing alarm if anyone tries to take the wrong one. The lift trucks are configured so that a battery change is required when the charge reaches a 20 per cent threshold. This leaves enough energy for the truck to return to the charging area where it is parked in a designated zone ready for battery changing.

Most batteries are handled using Enersys’ Hawker ProSeries BBH semi-automated change cart, an electric powered trolley known as the ‘bull’ which runs rail-guided along the aisle between the charging stations. The bull’s platform accommodates two batteries which allows it to collect a fully-charged battery from the specified charging location and swap it with the depleted one from the truck. The bull’s extending electro-magnetic arm and powered roller bed work in combination to ensure the smooth transfer of batteries. The whole process is completed by one person in a single quick and efficient duty cycle which avoids the need for manual handling and helps users comply with health and safety regulations.

“A VNA truck can be in and out of the changing area in around three minutes without rushing,” says Steve Mole. “The improved health and safety is a big benefit and we have eliminated manual handling.”

One of the many benefits of computerised battery management is that the number of spare batteries can be reduced. In traditional charge and change operations each truck is typically supplied with a pair of dedicated batteries which are swapped whenever required. This often means that batteries in heavily worked trucks become less efficient, and need replacing, before those used in equipment with lighter workloads. Computerised management allows a closer analysis of truck operations, battery utilisation and recharge patterns so that the overall requirement can be identified. Halfords needs just 1.7 batteries per truck to maintain efficient fleet performance. This meant that less space was required in the charging area because fewer batteries are on charge at any given time.

The only batteries not handled with the bull are those from older counterbalance trucks which cannot be rolled on and off. These are handled using a small crane installed in the charging area but changes are nevertheless managed using the computerised system. As part of the overall project Enersys modified some of the existing batteries and chargers to work with the newer technology. This included converting some chargers for ‘early break, late make’ capability which automatically turns the current on or off when someone connects or disconnects the battery. This removes the need to turn the charger off and eliminates the risk of arcing. Halfords elected to dedicate a member of staff to oversee battery operations and to carry out routine checks and topping up. The result of the changes is that the company expects higher performance and greater reliability from its power sources.

“We expect to extend the life of the batteries by up to 15 per cent by keeping them clean and only topping up when required,” says Steve Mole.

Halfords now has a policy adopting high frequency charging during scheduled replacements because of the performance and efficiency benefits. Enersys supplied one of its simpler Hawker ProSeries Tugger battery handling trolleys in case of any problems with the main system but, according to Steve Mole, this is still in its packaging because it has not yet been needed.

The project was undertaken during the summer and completed a week ahead of schedule in October 2006 which allowed Halfords to make the best possible use of sales opportunities during the busy pre-Christmas period. A plus point for Halfords was having a single point of contact at Enersys throughout, a role undertaken by John Lawton, who has since been appointed Enersys’ European Director of Marketing.

“John has a lot of experience and knowledge and his project management was excellent,” says Steve Mole. “Working with one person who led his team and saw it through was a big plus factor.”

Enersys Motive Power
Karen Smith
Tel: 0161 727 3800
Email: karen.smith@uk.enersys.com

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