Narrow Aisle Flexi are recognised as a leader in the design and manufacture of articulated warehouse trucks. The company pioneered the development of Flexi VNA warehouse Trucks 30 years ago and have built an excellent reputation for absolute reliability and exceptionally high long-term value.
Narrow Aisle Flexi design and build in the UK with high quality ‘Tier One’ mostly European sourced components across the range, which allows them to provide exceptionally high levels of aftersales parts support. The company offers national technical and aftersales support as well as operating a global network of established independent distributors in over 65 countries. John Maguire, Managing Director of Narrow Aisle Ltd spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
What are your best-known products and services?
Narrow Aisle Ltd is a space saving solutions specialist. We design, build and distribute a range of truck-based intralogistics solutions but, we are, of course, best known for our Flexi range of articulated warehouse trucks. The VNA articulated truck’s clever design allows it to work at the same speed as a counterbalance forklift and then operate comfortably and safely within very narrow aisles. Throughput and productivity increase by up to 30% compared to systems featuring traditional reach truck technology.
What new products/services will you be launching next year?
Our Flexi warehouse system division has developed higher lift Flexi HiMAX units that are incorporating a number of new ‘Cobotic’ driver aid systems to make stacking standard pallet loads higher than ever before but eliminating many of the worries warehouse operators have about safe handling at lift height of up to 15m. Digitally controlled with integrated high definition vision systems, shelf height selectors, aisle proximity sensors and reversing aids to eliminate aisle entry damage.
Tell us about your business highlights or a project you have recently completed?
Management acquired a controlling share in Narrow Aisle Group Ltd, Flexi Rentals Limited and Flexi Training in early 2019.
Narrow Aisle Group, established in 1976 is a profitable British manufacturer that distributes its products in over 65 countries.
Narrow Aisle also announced the introduction of digital motor and control system technology across its Flexi range of VNA warehouse trucks.
With all drive, hydraulic and power-steering functions controlled digitally, the trucks in the Flexi ACiON battery power collection are described as a ‘tour de force’ in articulated truck technology.
The electric drive technology at the heart of our Flexi ACiON range builds on our design strengths. We believe, we have taken the Flexi range to a new level of performance and efficiency that is unsurpassed in our sector.
What challenges will the business environment offer to your industry in the coming year? How will you turn these challenges into opportunities?
The ongoing political uncertainty is a drag on growth in UK material handling industry. Until these issues are resolved it is unclear what the market in 2020 might be. However, our sector of the MHE market, intralogistics, is growing significantly on the back of demand driven by e-commerce fulfillment and third-party warehousing. We are budgeting for another year of growth in the UK and further growth in markets around the world.
What industry sectors do you see offering you the most potential next year?
The same positive growth sectors we operate in are all investing in new warehouse storage facilities, third part logistics, e-commerce, food/grocery fulfilment. We expect modest growth in local UK manufacturing sector also.
Are you investing in new premises over the next 12 months?
Our recent factory site investment has come on line, there will be additional projects to innovate output at our Tipton site, particular emphasis on our parts facilities to aid inbound logistics and spare parts sales. A major investment strategy that will see the company significantly increase output at its UK production site over the next three years was announced in January 2019.
How do your products help businesses become cleaner, recycle more and reduce their carbon footprint?
The company has launched a scrappage scheme that gives operators of LPG-powered articulated trucks the chance to make significant savings should they choose to dispose of their old LPG forklifts to buy a new Flexi electric models. The Flexi range now includes a LiTHION battery power product to suit every customer application, a very low carbon product.
How have business conditions changed and how have you reacted?
There is no doubt that concerns are prompting many businesses to hold more stock in their supply chain, which, in turn, is leading to something of a boom period for third party warehousing and food/FMCG industry storage requirements.
As a result, sales and rentals of Flexi VNA trucks are at an all-time high. Yet, in the majority of cases, we have been able to build and deliver new trucks with the correct lift height in under 10 weeks from the date that an order is placed.
We benchmark our production performance against similar sized operations in our sector and we believe that our lead times compare very favourably.
Are you involved in any major trade shows or other industry events next year?
In 2020 we will once again attend the major events in the UK, (Intralogistex and Multimodal), but also the reinstated Hannover Messe and Stuttgart Logimat.
The return of this much more international Hannover fair format will allow our business to take advantage of that international exposure and the new business connections we can make around the world.
What recent changes/improvements have you made in customer service?
Our recent investments in brand new computer based systems to control customer service and warranty response, technical support team van part stocks, the launch of our spare parts website with ‘click and collect’ and credit card payment options, has proven to be very popular and has allowed us to provide a better service to all.
Do your solutions reduce manual handling and physical lifting?
Our FlexiPiCK has proven to be ideal in the US market for picking mixed pallet loads and is able to pick layers of product from palletised loads and assembling full pallets of mixed product. It is especially popular to the US grocery retail sector, where huge volumes of heavier packaged, canned and bottled products are manually picked in their supply chain every day, but an increase in health related claims have increased.
How do your solutions help customers increase the level of automation in their business?
Most of our customers are looking to increase productivity and save cost with appropriate investment in technology. The single ‘one stop’ solution of automation is often not either cost effective or technologically possible. However, we have heavily invested in the digital platform in our product to allow many new ‘cobotic’ driver assist systems to be specified. These systems much like in the automobile world are providing great opportunities to increase productivity and reduce potential damage costs.
How do you help customers make optimum use of their existing warehouse space?
The Flexi range of articulated warehouse trucks are the most efficient on the market they have been developed specifically to improve storage handling as well as customer order assembly efficiency in manufacturing and logistics.
Flexi StorMAX Creates up to 50% more warehouse capacity compared to traditional reach trucks, it works well in any warehousing business that has invested in warehouse management systems (WMS).
The Flexi StorMAX allows users to handle two pallets from the same side of each very narrow aisle- which effectively doubles the capacity of each run of racking.
Flexi AC StorMAX customers in the UK and Middle East have reported that this high-density system requires significantly fewer truck assets to achieve higher pallet throughput speeds than storage solutions that feature, for example, automated pallet ‘Shuttle’ technology.
How much do your solutions and products contribute to warehouse safety?
All models in the Flexi ACiON range are, due to their standard elastic rubber tyres, able to operate safely both inside and outside the warehouse. This unique feature eliminates double handling and means that a single Flexi will do the work of two trucks: they can unload or load vehicles just like a traditional counterbalanced forklift truck and then when inside can operate within the aisleways like a guided VNA truck but without the extra cost of steel rails or wire guidance.
To what extent are you drivers of technological change?
Flexi Narrow Aisle launched in 2019, all new digital controlled models across its top-selling Flexi range of truck-based intralogistics solutions.
Each Flexi product is now available with all new digital controls and lithium-ion power; the LiTHiON Flexi range is proving to be very popular with new customers.
Thanks to developments in lithium-ion battery technology, Flexi LiTHiON trucks require virtually no battery maintenance, the truck monitors the battery function constantly and reports the battery status real time. The system precise digital control means that the batteries have a long life with a warranty of 7 years.
The Flexi LiTHiON range features batteries that can be fully charged within one hour or so, even if the battery is fully discharged – ensuring that truck uptime and availability is optimised.
What big news can our readers look forward to seeing in Warehouse & Logistics News from you in 2020?
Our new ACiON 1500 HiMAX product launched at IMHX was of great interest to new customers. We have received contracts already for a number of new ‘high bay’ very Narrow Aisle projects both in the UK, where new properties are becoming taller each year and overseas.
0121 557 6242