New technology supports safety and improved operations
Catherine MacNally swipes her employee card in the slot of a device that looks much like a car’s GPS unit. It confirms on a little screen that she is authorized to operate the lift truck to which it’s attached, then Catherine goes through a check list of questions that will ensure the machine is safe for her to operate.
This electronic unit, just 12 centimetres tall and 20 cm wide, is on all 40 forklifts in the NSLC’s Distribution Centre, from which almost five million cases of beverage alcohol were shipped out across the province last year. The 138,000 square foot centre holds $25 million worth of inventory at any given time. The nearly 60 full and part time employees who work here ship out an average of 94,000 cases a week to our 130 retail stores from Yarmouth to Cape North, as well as 60 agency stores and four private wine and specialty stores and provide products for more than 2000 bars and restaurants.
We did more than $600 million in sales last year resulting in over 4.9 million cases of beverage alcohol being shipped through our warehouse. “The onus is on us to make sure the inventory is here when it’s needed and that means we load, package up and ship out a lot of pallets in the run of a day,” said Steve Power, Director of Supply Chain.
Safe work practices are critical when you’re dealing with 25 aisles of pallets loaded with up to 2300 kilograms of product stacked on shelves up to eight metres off the ground.
We encourage all employees to take personal responsibility for their safety and the safe operation of the equipment they use to do their jobs and our managers support their efforts. We invested in new technology and initiatives last year that let them do that while also gathering information that provides managers with the insights they need to make better decisions about how the warehouse operates.
A key project last year was the installation of the forklift fleet management system called iWAREHOUSE that Catherine and her fellow workers use. It transmits computerized information, allowing the remote management of employee access to various pieces of material handling equipment and keeping track of operator certifications, ensuring operators are up to date on their training and qualifications. If the operator isn’t certified, the equipment doesn’t work.
“iWAREHOUSE means we can protect our number one asset, which is our people,” said Brad Doell, Vice President of Supply Chain and Procurement. “While we see that as its primary use, it also enables us to protect our equipment and products.”
The system has electronic forklift operator checklists and provides immediate notification of any impacts, recording damage that might occur to equipment or products.
If there’s a minor bump, the system issues a series of three beeps which coaches the employee to pay closer attention to his surroundings. If there’s a higher impact incident, an alarm notifies all employees and supervisors and the truck is slowed to 1.6 kilometres per hour which allows the vehicle to move in case an employee is trapped. The system also limits the speed at which new employees can operate the truck.
It’s installed on all 26 pallet trucks that pick and process floor and low level daily orders. It’s also on the three trucks that pick orders from elevated heights, six reach trucks that pick products in narrow aisles and on higher shelves, two swing reach trucks that load pallets from narrow side aisles and the three counter-balanced trucks for bulky loads that weigh up to 2300 kg.
The system allows managers to collect and report on maintenance as well as operational data from the trucks, records the service history of the vehicles and provides alerts if the equipment isn’t performing properly.
“It provides for training opportunities and enables us to identify any trends that we should address. It is state of the art, providing us with information that we can use to support employee safety, ensure proper vehicle maintenance and manage equipment more efficiently,” Brad said.
There are fewer incidents of damage to equipment and vehicles and there are savings because operational decisions are based on records of exactly what is going on with a piece of equipment as opposed to what is believed to be occurring.
“These immediate savings aren’t just one-time savings. We’re experiencing ongoing maintenance and part and machine replacement cost reductions because we readily have the information we need to make fact-based decisions,” Brad said.
iWAREHOUSE was one of several initiatives the NSLC instituted in the warehouse last fiscal year to address employee safety and operational efficiency. Employees played an active role in testing upgrades to equipment with their input resulting in the installation of new cameras on all narrow aisle reach trucks to help reduce neck strain on operators as they place and retrieve pallets that are higher up.
The NSLC also installed a suspension and a stance system on the trucks that reduce stress on operators’ knees and backs and afford them greater visibility and a light sensor system that encourages proper operating procedures.
“It was important that our employees had a say in choosing what upgrades would result in improvements for them. They do challenging physical work in the warehouse. Of course, the safety of our operators is paramount but we also want to do what we can to ensure their comfort on the job,” Steve Power said.
As one of the largest retailers in the province, we are committed to integrating technology that will improve our day-to-day operations and help us attain our strategic goals. The initiatives we implemented over the past year translated into improved productivity and accountability, better informed operational decisions and, most importantly, a safer work environment for our employees.