Yale wraps up fleet rationalisation for Macfarlane

Introducing a 70-strong fleet of lift trucks from Yale dealer Forkway across its network of 16 distribution centres and three manufacturing facilities has allowed packaging specialist Macfarlane Packaging to reduce its total forklift fleet by 20%.

From boxes and bags to labelling and stretch wrap, the range of packaging materials and systems supplied by Macfarlane Packaging is almost endless.

As the largest packaging distributor in the UK, Macfarlane Packaging supplies some large logistics providers, manufacturers and retailers in the country as well as selling direct to individual consumers via its fast-expanding dotcom operation. It is essential for Macfarlane that it provides solid reliability when it comes to availability of stock - making the performance of its 16 regional distribution centres and three manufacturing facilities absolutely pivotal to the overall success of the business.

Equipment quality and reliability were the key considerations when the firm began looking for a new materials handling partner two years ago to replace a very mixed fleet of lift trucks and a decidedly mixed level of handling reliability. Macfarlane Packaging began looking for a single source supplier back in 2012 to support a fleet-wide rationalisation programme.

Macfarlane Packaging logistics director, Tim Hylton, commented: “There was a need to consolidate the fleet, to ensure we had the right number of trucks with the right specifications at each site to deliver an excellent level of service for our customers.” 

Once its agreements with existing suppliers came to a close, the opportunity to carry out that consolidation finally arose and, after a period of extensive research, the firm chose Yale as its preferred manufacturer, striking a seven-year contract hire deal with Yale dealer Forkway for a selection of equipment including reach trucks, counterbalanced trucks, man-up order pickers and powered pallet trucks.

The fleet it now runs is around 20% smaller in number than before and includes 17 three-wheel electric counterbalanced trucks (two ERP13VC models and 15 ERP15/16/18/20VT trucks); eight gas-powered four-wheel counterbalanced units (GLP16/18/25/35VX models); 31 reach trucks (nine MR14 units, 21 MR14H trucks and one MR16H); two man-up order pickers (MO10S); and 11 MP20X platform power pallet trucks. A single MC10 counterbalanced stacker truck completes the current line-up.

The powered pallet trucks are used across several sites for loading dock operations and feeding pallets to and from the racking areas, while the gas counterbalanced units are generally reserved for ground level loading operations outdoors, where required. The reach trucks are deployed within standard 2.4m wide aisles of racking for pallet putaway and retrieval at heights of nearly 10m at some sites, while the two low-level order pickers are used exclusively at the 52,000 square foot Milton Keynes distribution centre to serve an area of pallet racking dedicated to Macfarlane’s dotcom operation, which dispatches some 200 orders a day.

A number of the reach trucks have been fitted with load height indicators to help protect operators, handling equipment, racking and goods from any risk of damage when working at height, while the powered pallet trucks all feature extra-high load guards to protect operators from the possibility of any load shift when unloading double-stacked loads – an important consideration given that some of the pallets the company handles are very light.

All the Yale lift trucks have also been fitted with an onboard telemetry-based vehicle management system that gathers a wealth of data on individual trucks and drivers as well as overall fleet performance.

Using RFID fobs to distinguish between different staff and automatically uploading all the information wirelessly to a central data centre from which a huge range of reports can be accessed, the system is used at Macfarlane to ensure pre-shift checks are carried out, as well as logging truck run time and lift time. The system also analyses individual operator activity and detects and logs any collisions, distinguishing between low, medium and high impacts and even learning to recognise and ignore the regular bumps and vibrations caused by moving around a site - for example when moving from a pristine warehouse floor to an uneven yard outside.

The Yale electric trucks also feature an auto-shutdown system that kicks in after a user-definable period to save on battery power, helping to conserve running time and reduce the need for battery charging – a move that allows trucks at some Macfarlane sites to be charged as little as once every 48 hours.

With loads ranging from small packages up to mattress boxes measuring 1.5 x 3.0m and individual pallets carrying goods worth anything up to £1,700, precise, sensitive handling was absolutely critical for Macfarlane, said Hylton. The easily damaged nature of some goods, like rolls of stretch film, also meant it needed trucks that were simple to control and very smooth in operation. 

Above all else, however, the new truck fleet had to be reliable, said Hylton. “The reliability of the trucks was incredibly important to us, given the way our business operates,” he confirmed. “We take orders throughout the day, with receipt of goods taking place during the morning and the picking process needing to start very quickly in the afternoon. With only a limited amount of kit on site, we need to make sure it is working at all times.

“The reliability of the Yale trucks, when we trialled them, their functionality, and the feedback we got from the employees using them was all very positive,” he continued. “These trucks are absolutely critical to our operation because they can get to the highest locations in the racking.”

Hylton’s enthusiasm for the Yale trucks is only equalled by his enthusiasm for the service offered by dealer Forkway.

“We’ve known Rob Wilson, Forkway’s warehouse and specialist accounts manager, for a number of years and he has a very good understanding of our business and where we want to get to,” he commented. “That’s important, because there are requirements now in our fleet that five or six years ago, we wouldn’t have had in our business, like the dotcom operation’s use of man-up order pickers. As our business grows and changes, we need a supplier that is going to be able to offer us that flexibility – and Forkway can.

“We’ve been starting to experiment with trucks that can perform a number of different jobs, for example shifting away from the exclusive use of counterbalanced trucks outdoors in favour of powered pallet trucks that can be used both for loading/unloading across a dock and also on indoor work. It’s been about working out what the best kit is for each site and working with Forkway to determine the right number of trucks.

“They really understand the specifications we need and they make sure they have that kit available for us, which means we can flex the fleet up and down as the seasonality of our business changes,” he said. 

This has certainly paid off: apart from the 20% or so reduction in fleet numbers, Hylton’s new approach has ensured Macfarlane spends no more now on its lift truck fleet than it did three years ago.

“Moving to Yale has been cost-neutral for us, but as we all know, inflation has been rising, and the cost of metal and other materials has been rising, so for us to remain cost-neutral with a single supplier has been an achievement in itself,” Hylton said. “These trucks are absolutely fundamental to the success of our business and the reliability of the new trucks is fantastic,” he added. “Overall, the move to Yale has been a very positive experience for us and we are delighted with our fleet.” 

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