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 over 30 years ago and have built an excellent reputation for cost-effective, reliable and exceptionally high long-term value.
Narrow Aisle Flexi design and build in the UK with high quality reliable ‘Tier One’ European sourced components across the range, which also allows them to provide exceptionally high levels of aftersales parts support. The company offers technical and aftersales support through 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 has since its inception in 1976 been 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 and counterbalance truck technology.
What new products/services will you be launching next year?
Our Flexi warehouse system division has developed and supplied higher lift Flexi MAX units that have incorporated 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 and increase productivity.
Tell us about your business highlights or a project you have recently completed?
Narrow Aisle Group Ltd and Flexi Rentals Limited.
Narrow Aisle Group, established in 1976, is a profitable British manufacturer that distributes its products in over 60 countries.
Narrow Aisle Ltd introduced its state-of-the-art digital motor control system technology, allowing for the first time on any articulated warehouse truck the power steering to be run off an independent motor that saves 50% of the previous power requirements across its Flexi range of VNA warehouse trucks.
With all drive, hydraulic and power-steering motor functions controlled by AC motors, the trucks in the Flexi digital battery power collection are described as a ‘tour de force’ in articulated warehouse truck technology.
The electric drive technology at the heart of our Flexi digital range builds on our over four decades of design strengths. We believe, we have taken the Flexi digital 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 and health uncertainty is a drag on growth in UK material handling industry. Until these issues are resolved it is unclear what the market in 2021 might be. However, our sector of the MHE market, Intralogistics, is growing significantly on the back of demand driven by e-commerce home delivery fulfillment, and third-party warehousing. We are budgeting for a year of modest growth in the UK but expect further growth in markets around the world, especially in the USA.
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, online food/grocery fulfilment. We expect modest growth in the local market but are interested in developing key markets in the Middle East.
Are you investing in new premises over the next 12 months?
Our recent factory site investment has come online, with additional projects to increase output at our Tipton site, particular emphasis on our facilities to aid inbound component logistics and spare parts sales. An investment strategy that will see the company significantly increase its capability at its production sites over the next three years was announced in January 2019, these investments will allow the company to supply increased volumes for Flexi digital truck batteries and spare parts into all global markets.
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 acquire new Flexi digital models. The Flexi range includes LiTHION battery power product to suit multishift work and customer applications.
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 digital trucks are at an all-time high. Yet, in the majority of cases, due to investment in our supply chain we are able to build and deliver new trucks with the correct lift height in under 6 weeks from the date that an order is placed.
We benchmark our production performance against similar sized operations in our sector and understand that our customers are very satisfied with our performance in this key area. Logistics is a fast changing and demanding market.
Are you involved in any major trade shows or other industry events next year?
In 2021 we hope to attend all the major events once again in the UK, (Intralogistex and Multimodal) subject to COVID-19 restrictions. Our focus is now very much on markets outside of Europe.
The return of the much more international Promat, Chicago USA show will allow our business to take advantage of international exposure and the new business connections we can make in the Americas and around the world.
What recent changes/improvements have you made in customer service?
Our recent investments in 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, is very popular especially overseas and has allowed us to provide a better service to all.
Do your solutions reduce manual handling and physical lifting?
Our Flexi PiCK has proven to be ideal for building mixed pallet loads and is suited for handling and picking layers of product from palletised loads and assembling full pallets of mixed product. It is especially suited to the grocery retail sector, where huge volumes of heavier packaged, canned, and bottled products are manually picked in their supply chain every day. Our recently introduced Easi-Pick range of customer order picking vehicles aimed at the home delivery e-fulfilment sector are proving to be very popular and this range will be extended in 2021.
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 technologically possible in the correct application. However, to make improvements available to more customers we have invested in a digital platform in our Flexi 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, safe driving and potentially reduce driver abuse costs.
How do you help customers make optimum use of their existing warehouse space?
The Flexi digital range of articulated warehouse trucks are now the most efficient in this market, they have been developed specifically to improve storage capacity and eliminate double handling. They can also provide excellent customer order assembly efficiency in manufacturing and logistics.
The Flexi StorMAX ‘two deep’ product creates 50% more warehouse capacity compared to traditional reach trucks, it works well in any warehousing business that has invested in warehouse management systems (WMS) to plan and track pallet/load stock.
The Flexi StorMAX allows users to handle two pallets deep from the same side of each very narrow aisle – which effectively doubles the capacity of each run of pallet racking in the warehouse. Flexi StorMAX customers have reported that this high-density system requires significantly fewer truck assets to achieve higher pallet throughput speeds, compared to storage solutions that feature, for example, automated pallet ‘Shuttle’ technology or drive in rack systems.
How much do your solutions and products contribute to warehouse safety?
All models in the Flexi digital 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 can do the work of two trucks: they can unload or load vehicles in the yard much like a traditional counterbalanced forklift truck, and when inside can operate within the VNA aisleways but without the extra cost of steel rails or wire guidance needed on a Combi truck.
To what extent are you drivers of technological change?
Flexi Narrow Aisle introduced during 2020 the all new digital controlled models across its top-selling Flexi range of truck-based intralogistics solutions.
Each Flexi product is now supplied with digital motors and controls. This allows lithium-ion battery power; the LiTHiON Flexi range is proving to be of great interest to customers with many installations working successfully.
Thanks to developments in lithium-ion battery technology, Flexi LiTHiON trucks require 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 lithium batteries come with a warranty of 7 years, a clear step forward for many 3PL customers.
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 in multishift operations.
What big news can our readers look forward to seeing in Warehouse & Logistics News from you in 2021?
Our new Flexi MAX 25/1500 product lifting to over 14 meters was of great interest to new customers. We have installed new contracts already for a number of new ‘high bay’ very Narrow Aisle projects across the UK, also popular in the Americas and Middle East where new warehouses are becoming taller each year.
0121 557 6242