When Andrew Wright, James Latham’s Ossett site director, stood in the vast new empty warehouse the company acquired at Tingley, West Yorkshire last year, he knew it was an opportunity to push the boundaries of what a distribution depot could do.

Lathams bought the freehold property, a former MFI depot, built in 2000, and covering 69,000ft2 on a 4.5-acre site with a significant yard area, for £2.7m to provide a more modern, efficient and larger storage facility than the existing Ossett site.

"Being a fairly big free-spanning building was like having a blank canvas and we were free to make a plan to avoid congestion and bottlenecks," said Mr Wright.

Bottlenecks in the Ossett operation had been restricting business, but Tingley made it possible to plan separate areas for goods inwards, a customer collect area and loading/unloading, which means no overlaps and no need to stop the workflow.

Using almost the full height of the 11.5mhigh building for storage became a key part of the plan.

"The only way we could increase the height of storage was by racking," said Mr Wright.

"Traditionally the timber and panels business has stacked products on top of each other. But our business is now so diverse in every product range, which we need access to. We have the widest range of products under one roof in the group."

The new storage has also improved handling efficiency. "Most of our customers don’t want to hold stock until they need it so efficient handling, storage and picking is vital," said Mr Wright. "As well as the excellent storage density in the new premises, we’ve doubled, and in some cases tripled, throughput, and eliminated double handling and picking errors."

Racking specialist Stakapal and handling solutions manufacturer Combilift made alterations to their equipment so Lathams could store up to 9.5m high, providing 39% more storage capacity than at Ossett, despite having a smaller footprint than the former building.

Combilift capacity
James Latham introduced Combilift 4-way fork lifts into its depots 10 years ago and it has a standard specification – the C4000 4-tonne capacity LPG-powered model, which enables trucks to be moved from one depot to another if necessary.

Because of the demands of lifting full loads to the top bay of racking at Tingley, it was initially thought that larger trucks would be needed. However, Combilift engineers added extra capacity to the fork lifts, which have a 9.3m mast height, while maintaining the same dimensions as the rest of Lathams’ fleet.

"This is an example of Combilift’s flexibility to accommodate our specific requirements," said Mr Wright.

Other features on the Combilifts include hydraulically operated fork positioners for easy in-cab adjustment to handle the varying sizes of panel products and packs of timber, and telescopic forks have been fitted to some of the trucks for manoeuvring larger panels with a depth of 2050mm.

Combilift and Stakapal also developed a new take on the guide rail system which accommodates rollers on the trucks. With the new system the steel elements were replaced with larger-diameter polyurethane rollers and rubber-mounted lead-in sections which improve shock absorption, reduce steel-onsteel wear and result in quieter operation.

Stock held at Tingley, which has the highest sales turnover of any Lathams site, is worth about £4m.

As well as panel products, there are door blanks, worktops, hardwood, softwood and laminated timber, as well as some new specialist panel products – Latvian-made Dendrolight and the German HIF Finesse product – which attracted considerable interest at the depot’s recent customer open day.

Tingley is also Latham’s storage hub for Bausen hardwood flooring and HI-MACS solid surface.

Lathams built an additional large, steelframed warehouse alongside the building for bulk storage and offices were also added. The whole project was completed on time after six months and now Lathams is looking to capitalise on the improvements and the location – just a few hundred metres from junction 28 of the M62.

"At the new facility we have taken all of our previous experiences from around the group in materials handling, distribution, IT and communication technology, combining them to provide what we believe is one of the most modern, efficient storage and distribution facilities in the timber industry," said Mr Wright.

Further planned improvements include working with Lathams’ software provider Progressive Solutions to implement wi-fi handheld terminals for warehouse staff who currently use print-outs to pick orders. This will improve accuracy, speed and facilitate up-to-date information on the computer system. But despite the technological and efficiency improvements, said Mr Wright, the most important element was still people.

"While we may have made a large investment in the site and the operations, it really is about the people that make it tick," he said.