On Today's Menu: Orderpickers

Orderpickers help Boelter Supply meet the high-volume needs of the foodservice industry.

Imagine going to your favorite restaurant for dinner only to find that they're out of napkins, or attending a major sporting event and being told that the venue is out of plastic cups.

It takes a lot of supplies to run a hotel, restaurant, sports facility, university or retail store. These businesses require everything from convection ovens to pot holders, soap dispensers and mops.

Boelter Supply, based in Glendale, Wis., offers almost everything foodservice and hospitality businesses need to stay up and running.

Boelter stocks and distributes thousands of supplies, including kitchenware, appliances, table settings, janitorial supplies and furniture and even provides computer-aided design professionals to help design a facility. To store its vast offering of supplies, Boelter needs a large warehouse with enough rack space for storage. In October 2007, Boelter moved into a 100,000-square-foot building and installed 26 rows of 264-foot racking. All this space allows Boelter to store everything, including an entire aisle of cleaning products and another aisle full of trash-can liners.

The ceiling in the new warehouse is 30 feet high — 7 feet higher than Boelter's previous location — which enabled the company to install 25-foot-tall racks. With long aisles and tall racking, Boelter needed a new fleet of lift trucks that would reach the top of the racks and navigate the narrow aisles, which led them to purchase seven orderpickers and rent an additional one.

Because the new warehouse has narrow aisles, Boelter decided to install a digital wire guidance system to complement the orderpickers. In its previous building, Boelter used a rail-guided system to help operators keep orderpickers on a straight path within the aisles. The system offers lift truck tracking and stability without the need for adjustment by electronically engaging a guide wire on the warehouse floor to ensure that lift trucks always are traveling down the center of the aisle. This eliminates steel rails on floors and aisle-entry devices that reduce storage space on the ground levels of racking systems.

With a wire guidance system, operators can travel at higher speeds in the aisles and focus on handling the load and picking orders instead of steering in the aisle. The lift truck automatically slows as the operator reaches higher heights to give operators greater control as they pick products from high racks. The aisles in Boelter's facility also are equipped with end-of-aisle slowdown, which slows the lift trucks to 3 miles per hour at the beginning and end of the aisles.

“The system automatically slows you down so you don't leave an aisle at full speed,” says Steve Burbank, warehouse manager for Boelter. “The end-of-aisle slowdown helps operators keep control of the orderpickers as they are leaving the aisles while still allowing higher speeds within the aisle.”

Operator Interaction

Boelter's regional distribution center requires three shifts of employees working five days per week to stock products and pick orders for delivery. Roughly 25 employees are certified lift truck operators who interact with the lift trucks and wire guidance system daily. Michael Quesnell, distribution manager for Boelter, says the staff finds the wire guidance system easy to use.

“Order picking is most heavy during the evening shift,” Quesnell says. “Second shift pulls things out piecemeal, and first shift puts away pallets of products. This means our people are going in and out of aisles multiple times on a shift, and we can have all eight of our orderpickers running at once.”

Boelter wanted to ensure that lift truck operators were able to pick orders and put away product with as much ease as possible. Platform extenders are installed on each side of the orderpicker. The platform extenders are designed to adjust the platform width consistent with Boelter's pick-aisle size. They help operators reach into the 48-inch racks. Boelter's extenders add an extra 6 inches to each side of the orderpicker platform and still keep it within the width of the narrow aisles. The lift trucks also are equipped with a lift limit switch, which ensures that operators can only take the lift trucks to a prespecified height to avoid accidentally raising the lift truck high enough to bump pipes or beams in the ceiling.

Boelter's equipment is signed out to specific people daily so each employee operates the same lift truck every day. This ensures employees fill out the same OSHA-required inspection form each day on the same machine.

“We like to keep our operators and their equipment consistent,” Quesnell says. “That way, driving a lift truck is like driving a car. People operate it every day and know if something isn't working quite the same as it did the day before.”

Boelter keeps one spare battery on hand for every orderpicker so there is always a battery charged and ready. Orderpickers never sit in the charging area. Batteries just need to be replaced to keep the lift trucks running.

“If a restaurant needs a new fryer right before a fish fry or new linens the day before Mother's Day brunch, we'll work hard to meet that restaurant's needs,” says Quesnell. “Without our orderpickers, we wouldn't be able to meet the demands.”

Susan Comfort is product manager of Class 2 products at Raymond Corp., a Greene, N.Y.-based manufacturer of electric lift trucks.

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