Berry Systems began life in the 1970s as a supplier of spring steel vehicle safety barrier systems for multi-storey car parking, which went on to be progressively adopted as the benchmark system for UK car parking. Since then, Berry Systems’ safety barrier portfolio has grown to cover a wide array of ‘off-highway’ solutions for industrial and commercial situations, with products to protect plant and people from accidents with fork lift trucks, pallet trucks, and trolleys, as well as cars, vans and HGVs.

Berry Systems offers a complete design, supply and installation service for all kinds of safety steelwork and related equipment. Standard products supplied include pedestrian handrails for walkways, bollards, racking protection, column protectors and height restrictors as well as wheel guides/stops, loading bay guides/barriers and a full range of safety barriers for both internal and external use. The specific design of Berry’s custom-made barriers takes into account industrial premises’ particular requirements, for example barriers that stop the forks of a fork lift truck penetrating the barrier. It comes down to Berry’s extensive experience in this sector and ability to cross fertilise ideas and systems and technology between the car parking and industrial sectors for both types of customers’ benefit.

A growing part of Berry Systems’ business is in the retail sector, including barrier installations for Sainsbury’s distribution centre at Hams Hall, the Co-op’s Regional Distribution centre at Birtley, and car parking installations nationwide for Asda and Tesco. Ian Darlington, Managing Director of Berry Systems, spoke to Warehouse & Logistics.

Warehouse & Logistics News – As MD of Berry Systems, do you personally get involved in developing tailored barrier solutions for individual customers?

Yes, I do. Tailored solutions are very much a team effort. My background before taking on the MD’s role was on technical contracts, so I often take the lead on major projects.

WLN – Do you supply and install your systems direct or through independent installers?

We do both. We do sell through approved distributors and even direct to end users, but we prefer to use our own installation teams, so we have complete quality control and also can ensure that all health and safety requirements are covered. With a safety related range of products that’s very important to us.

WLN – When was Berry Systems founded, and by who? Who owns Berry Systems?

Berry Systems was founded by a private inventor in the 1970s. He patented the spring steel buffer system that still forms the core of our barrier range, although it’s been extensively developed and improved over the years. Since 1999 we’ve been part of Hill and Smith Holdings plc.

WLN – How big is Berry Systems in staff and turnover? How fast are you growing?

We don’t publish separate figures for Berry Systems, but Hill & Smith’s turnover is about £400m and employs some 3,000 people.

WLN – Where is your UK head office? Do you have any regional offices elsewhere? What about other countries?

We’re based at Bilston in the West Midlands and handle everything from there. We also have a network of distributors in export markets, principally in Europe but also Australia, where many of their standards are similar to ours.

WLN – Which are your biggest selling items of off the shelf equipment for the industrial sector?

Our most popular ‘off the shelf’ item is probably a set of a standard Armco type barrier and posts, together with all the fittings and fixings needed. This can provide very simple and effective protection against vehicle impacts – provided you’ve identified what those risks are and the performance level required. I’m afraid that’s not always the case, but because people are familiar with seeing Armco crash barriers along the motorways on their daily commute to work they think they must be good enough to  protect against the low speeds typical in and around industrial premises. But think on this. Cars weigh about 1,500 kg on average. A fork lift truck is likely to be 3,000 kg plus. Cars may be travelling at 70 mph or more, but they usually hit the barriers a glancing blow. In a factory, or indeed a car park, it’s just as likely to be head on. So the force imparted by a fork lift truck hitting a barrier head on is going to be more than double that of a speeding car and glancing blow. That’s why the right choice of barrier and posts is so important and also the correctness of the fixings.

WLN – Where do you design and manufacture your standard products?

Our manufacturing and R&D both happen at the Bilston factory, and the same goes for our tailored solutions. UK-based manufacturing is something Hill and Smith are very keen on.

WLN – What materials are your barriers made of? What exactly is spring steel?

We use a wide range of materials overall, but the mainstay is steel in various grades and specs depending on the product. Some of our barriers use steel wires or rods rather than pressed sheets, but the majority have one design feature in common, flexibility. If a barrier ‘gives’ on impact it can absorb some of the impact forces. Drive a fork lift into a rigid barrier and you’ll not only damage the barrier, you’ll also make a mess of the fork lift truck. A flexible barrier will reduce this damage considerably and often eliminate it completely. Spring steel was the original inspiration for this. Steel is not noted for being flexible, but some grades are surprisingly so. If it’s shaped correctly and properly mounted it will, as the name suggests, compress on itself under pressure and then return to its original position and shape. We make a range of buffers in various shapes that take advantage of this characteristic and have all been tested to destruction, so we know just how much they will withstand and how far they will bend. Steel is very tough but any system is only as good as its weakest point, so we test ours against impacts in all areas, not just on the barrier between the posts but also impacts that hit directly onto the posts. To work properly, a system must be flexible right along the length of the barrier.

WLN – Where do you source your steel? Do you import your barriers into the UK in a pre-formed state?

We buy steel stocks to our required spec on the open market. This raw material is then formed into our barriers, posts and other components in our own factory in Bilston.

WLN – Where do you rank in the worldwide league table of suppliers of car park and industrial barrier systems?

I’m not sure there is such a table. Standards vary so much around the world, from stringent in the UK to non-existent in some places, so it’s difficult to compare suppliers in such diverse markets. However, we would certainly claim to be the UK market leader in car park safety barriers, and one of the major players in the industrial sector. It’s harder to quantify the industrial sector, as it could range from a bit of barrier to protect a machine in a small factory to a full installation for a national distribution centre.

WLN – What proportion of your installations are barrier systems for car parks, versus for industrial customers?

Multi-storey car parks can require quite a few kilometres of vehicle barriers at a single location, and this tends to distort the figures when a large contract is won. An industrial location will need a greater variety of products such as wheel guides, height restrictors and column protection units, often in great numbers but not a great run of vehicle barriers. In terms of numbers of orders it’s probably 60% industrial, 40 % car parks but the value figure is probably the other way round. What we sell via distributors could go to either sector, and we wouldn’t necessarily know which.

WLN – Have you supplied any barriers to London Olympics venues?

We have already installed barriers on the Olympic site at the media centre and several plots on the athletes’ village and are hopeful of winning more contracts there.

WLN – How are you geared to service the needs of customers in the industrial sector for tailored solutions?

It starts, obviously, with the technical sales force handling the initial enquiry. They identify the need to involve our engineers and designers. We’ll do a site survey and we can then determine whether we need a specific project team or not and who needs to be on it. The salesman remains the main link with the customer, to maintain consistency.

WLN – In your installations do you provide the complete safety barrier solution, including civil engineering, building works, electricals, line painting, signage and CCTV as a one-stop service?

Our products don’t involve electrical connections, so we tend not to get involved in that or the CCTV. Line painting is usually a final finish operation after we’ve left site but apart from those, yes. Civils, building works and signage.

WLN – In non-technical terms, what speed of impact and so on can your barriers withstand?

Our barrier systems have all been tested at MIRA to the requirements of BS 6399 and to destruction. This enables us to calculate the forces involved in impacts by anything from a car to an HGV at a variety of speeds and what would be needed to withstand such forces. Usually there are a number of ways of achieving this and, in its simplest terms, it’s a question of the balance between the inherent strength of the barrier and by how much it deflects on impact. It’s pretty straightforward designing a rigid barrier that will stop the vehicle – and stop it pretty abruptly. All the force of the collision is then absorbed by causing damage both the barrier and the vehicle. At the other extreme, a very flexible barrier could stop the vehicle with almost no damage, but would have to flex a very long way to do this, which just wouldn’t be practical. The reason factory owners need to talk to Berry Systems is that we can assess and quantify the likely hazards and design barriers to the most appropriate compromise for all concerned with safety of the people involved in these accidents being the prime concern. To summarise, give us the speed, approximate angle of impact and weight of the vehicle, and we can design a barrier to contain it.

WLN – How have UK safety barrier standards changed over the years?

Over the last three decades the car parking and industrial market’s standards and authoritative recommendations have advanced considerably, and our solutions we offer have kept pace with, and in many cases, exceeded these requirements. That said, the few standards and regulations that exist were largely developed for car parks, not fork lift trucks and HGV. While the British Standard BS 6399 gives the formula for calculating the forces involved with heavier vehicles, many people only look at and test for the car figures.

WLN – What do the building regulations say?

Part K of the Building Regulations merely says you have to adhere to BS6399.

WLN – How do you test your barriers?

We test our barriers independently to destruction at MIRA, with vehicles driven at British Standard Speeds of 10 mph and 14mph. The latter speed actually creates twice the impact force of 10 mph – it’s not directly proportional and barriers to withstand this in car parks are known as twice force barriers. We then use sophisticated computer modelling to provide data for a wide range of vehicle weights. Nobody else tests their products as extensively – some companies just do push tests in laboratory conditions, if that.

WLN – How do UK safety barrier standards compare with Europe and elsewhere?

Most countries have their own standards but Europe has now adopted a European norm, but with countries like the UK having their own local variation. Sometimes the forces required will vary, or the impact height will be different but there’s a lot of commonality and we can usually adjust our systems to suit the local standards.

WLN – Do companies get better risk assessments from insurers if they have your safety barriers in place?

The answer is not ‘specifically,’ but most policies will expect companies to adhere to British Standards, so if your barriers don’t comply, it’s possible your insurance might not cover you. We get lots of referrals from Health and Safety inspections

WLN – Can you tell us about your clients where you have provided both car parking barrier systems and industrial barriers on the same site? How does the cross-fertilisation work between the two sides of Berry Systems?

Fundamentally the industrial and car park barriers are the same systems but set up for specific uses to withstand different forces. This might involve changing the post centres, the height of the likely point of impact or the steel gauge of the barrier or the strength of the posts. If we’re on site fitting the barriers and so on for a loading bay or goods in area it’s easy for us to sort out the barriers for car parks too. So we don’t really have two sides to our products. It’s just that with car parks we’re usually talking to the architect or main contractor, whereas on the industrial side there’s more direct involvement with the end user.

WLN – Can you name some of your industrial customers?

Our customers come in all shapes and sizes, but some of the names you would recognise include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-op, IKEA, Robert Wiseman Dairies, Premier Foods and many more.

WLN – What are the service intervals for your barriers? With proper maintenance, how long should they last?

Service is little more than a visual inspection and occasional tightening of the mountings if required. It’s usually carried out by the customer themselves. How long they last depends on how often and how hard they are hit. Other than that, they won’t degrade over time in terms of performance. They’re not affected by UV, and they won’t go brittle. The galvanising is guaranteed for a minimum of 25 years. With correct maintenance they should last for many years.

WLN – What factors do you see affecting demand for your products and solutions? Where do you see Berry Systems going from here?

Increasing emphasis on health and safety means it’s ever more important that people choose barriers correctly. No one else does such vigorous testing as Berry Systems That will stand us in good stead for the future as test evidence will be more crucial and will give us a competitive advantage. So the future looks set for continued growth.

Berry Systems

Tel: 01902 491100

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