It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that storage and handling are important areas for businesses to consider. They affect the bottom line and overall efficiency of companies.

The success of the recent IMXH 2004 exhibition at Birmingham NEC, billed as the UK’s only comprehensive show for the materials handling and storage industry, perhaps illustrates just how big and important a sector this is.

Initial figures from the March 2-4 event show more than 17,500 visitors and exhibitors attended, with visitor numbers up 3% on the 2001 inaugural event.

Details collected on registration indicate visitors had more than £7bn to spend on material handling equipment and 76% of those surveyed were considering purchasing new products as a result of the exhibition.

The event was aimed at buyers and users of forklift trucks and accessories; IT/warehousing systems; third-party logistics; transport and distribution. It included racking and shelving systems and featured seminars on legislative updates.

Topics discussed included the new “Thorough Examination” safety scheme for fork-lift trucks, impending legislation on corporate manslaughter (the government aims to introduce a draft bill soon), employment law and working time regulations.

Forklift truck manufacturer Linde, which is promoting its new global brand after dropping the Lansing name, had a big presence at the show, while Toyota launched its Platinum Programme, which aims to provide safer, cleaner, quieter and more productive trucks.

A sideloader name exhibiting at the show, perhaps unfamiliar with many in the UK timber sector, was Hubtex. Its German-made electric four-way trucks have been supplied in Britain for many years but were badged under the Boss brand. Now the machines, which include diesel/gas versions, are supplied direct to the end user by Milton Keynes-based Hubtex UK.

Big in Europe

The Hubtex name is big in Europe, where the company initially specialised in handling equipment for the textile industry. Now it serves a variety of sectors, where handling long, heavy or difficult loads is required.

Combilift, which has made remarkable inroads to the UK timber sector since its launch five years ago, reached a milestone recently by passing the 500-mark for UK sales.

The 500th multi-directional truck, part of an order of four, was supplied to James Latham plc’s Bristol branch. The four-tonne capacity Combilifts are being used at the Yate outlet, where an extra 40,000ft2 of storage facilities have been developed in response to growing business.

A covered racking complex and guided rail system, part of a £300,000 site expansion and improvement scheme, were designed specifically for the Combilift, enabling the company to keep aisle widths to a minimum and stack to 6.8m.

Other timber sector investment has included Lawsons builders merchant’s expansion of its Sidetracker multi-direction lift truck fleet to boost materials handling at three of its North London branches. All the branches stock timber and building materials on busy, restricted sites.

The company already operated one Sidetracker at its Edgeware branch and it decided to order three for its Whetstone operation and one for Harrow. Stock is held on racking in yards at all three sites, with aisle widths minimised to boost storage space.

The use of 12in diameter load wheels on the trucks has reduced load deck height to 16in, increasing vertical storage space. Load capacity is 3,000kg with a lift height of 5.7m and adjustable forks to cater for different loads. Guide rails are designed to give them quick access to products without damaging goods or racking.

Landed stock operations

A growing trend in the trade is the opening of landed stock operations by some of the largest overseas timber suppliers. UPM and Stora Enso both recently announced the opening of dedicated import service centre operations this summer.

UPM’s plans involve Forth Ports building a 6,000m2 covered shed and service centre at Tilbury for the company’s WISA sawn timber and specialist joinery products which will be shipped in on ro ro vessels. The centre, to service customers in southern England and the Midlands, will have state-of-the-art racking and systems to facilitate a pick-a-pack service, offering the ability to supply mixed loads of timber.

David Mason, sales manager for UPM-Kymmene Wood Ltd’s landed stock operations, said the centre would help facilitate a just-in-time delivery service, rather than the traditional way of ordering large quantities three to four months in advance.

The Tilbury operation will copy UPM’s Hull service centre, which opened in 2002.

Today, the Hull centre’s storage capacity is 7,000m3 (about 1,000-1,250 packs) – double the original capacity. Previously, there was no racking in the one dedicated shed and a combination of counterbalance forklifts and sideloaders were used to free stack incoming timber three packs high.

Mr Mason said: “The racking did not come until last year. There are restrictions on space because we also have paper and plywood. It’s a very tall shed but not much space on the ground. So, now we are racking six packs high, which allows us to get the volume out we need.”

Storage regime

Timber handling operator Northern Cargo Services, a subsidiary of Associated British Ports, invested £320,000 in the new storage regime. The racking system was supplied by Rotherham-based Redirack Ltd, while two diesel-powered Combilift forklifts, guided by rails, handle the timber. The trucks’ lift specifications of three tonnes at 7.5m high allows the top racks to be used for large packs up to 6m long.

Mr Mason said the changes had made a big difference, with timber coming under cover more quickly.

At Tilbury, racking is expected to take up half the covered shed, with the rest for forward direct bulk contracts and plywood. About 90% of products are sawn timber, with a small volume of value-added items.

Wakefield-based Pro-Dek Storage Systems has supplied storage solutions to many big names in the timber industry, including Timbmet, Howarth Timber, Silvermans and International Timber.

Managing director Brian Ellis said the industry was realising the benefits of having narrow-aisle warehouse storage in combination with specialist forklift technology, while racks were being made higher to make use of the lift height of the trucks.

“Racking used to be secondary but now it’s at the forefront because it’s crucial you get the product out at one time without having to move all the other products about.”

He predicts buildings will get taller and builders’ merchants will offer more and more products. Also, companies are increasingly wanting to minimise damage to their products and eliminate waste.

He said cantilever racking arms could be supplied in different configurations to give each type of timber product a “dedicated location” rather than wholesale standardised arm lengths, which can result in wasted space.

“The beauty of dedicated locations is you can allocate the correct height for each product,” he said.

Storage solution

Pro-Dek supplied a storage solution for Howarth Timber when it moved from its 130-year-old East Street site in Leeds to Cross Green last year. The £50,000 contract involved the supply of external and internal cantilever racking, internal pallet racking, internal vertical storage racking and a mezzanine floor. A typical product stored on external cantilever racking is carcassing timber, while boards and doors are stored on the pallet racking.

Under the mezzanine is “pigeon hole” storage for profiled timbers, while products stored in internal vertical storage racking include architraves and coving.