CASE STUDY: Roper Rhodes overhauls supply chain with Narrow Aisle

A move to a new storage unit and the introduction of some of the latest intralogistics technologies, allowed bathroom products specialist Roper Rhodes to make considerable immediate supply chain cost savings.
Roper Rhodes rapid growth in recent years required it to entirely overhaul its warehouse operations and wider supply chain in a major project with the help of Narrow Aisle.
Roper Rhodes rapid growth in recent years required it to entirely overhaul its warehouse operations and wider supply chain in a major project with the help of Narrow Aisle.

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Roper Rhodes is an independent supplier of bathroom furniture and products. Founded in 1979 and based – appropriately – in Bath, the company’s range is sold via a network of merchants and other bathroom equipment specialists across the UK.

Due to the success of the business, the company recently looked to overhaul its storage and intralogistics processes. Roper Rhodes had, for a number of years, operated several ‘satellite’ storage sites within a few miles’ radius of its main Bath headquarters facility, so, when a much larger building became available in the Avonmouth area, the company took the opportunity to consolidate all of its warehousing and logistics activities under one roof.

But, while it offered the storage space Roper Rhodes sought, the new facility had to undergo some significant modifications to enable it to function efficiently and Flexi Warehouse Systems – the intralogistics project division of space saving materials handling specialist, Narrow Aisle Ltd – was chosen to develop a collaborative turnkey solution and then project manage the upgrade.

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The former print works is, in fact, five separate but linked buildings and these annexed spaces have been designed to handle different aspects of Roper Rhodes’ inventory management operation.

The first of the units works as a goods-in and goods-out area where incoming product lines are block-stacked before put away and outgoing orders are collated and assembled before being loaded on to delivery vehicles.

The remaining four units are a mix of half- and fully-racked stores featuring two deep racking designed by Flexi Warehouse Systems and served by a combination of Flexi SToRMAX and Flexi AC 1200 articulated lift trucks, as well as a fleet of low-level order pickers (LLOPs) with long forks to handle the ISO type pallets which are used as a base for assembling customer orders.

The project was completed in phases to meet Roper Rhodes’ business needs and the efficiency and financial gains have been almost immediate, as Flexi Warehouse Systems’, John Maguire, explains: “Because Roper Rhodes had outgrown the space that its various original units offered, the company had been using third party warehousing to store many slow moving lines.”

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“This not only incurred significant storage costs but also led to additional transport costs, and double handling within Roper Rhodes’ internal supply chain as well as an unacceptably high incidence of avoidable and costly product damage,” he adds.

The Flexi solution involved housing all slow moving items within high density two deep racking accessed by Flexi SToRMAX trucks and, because it enabled Roper Rhodes to dispense with its third party storage site – and the overheads that came with it ­­– straight away, this was the first phase of the new store to be completed.

In simple terms, the Flexi SToRMAX technology and two-deep system installed across the Roper Rhodes site, allows two pallets from the same side of each very narrow aisle to be handled - which effectively doubles the capacity of each run of racking within the store.

Adopting this configuration allowed Roper Rhodes to achieve 4900 pallet locations just within the slow-moving storage system. This figure is a staggering 50 per cent more pallets than would have been possible within the available footprint using a conventional reach-truck-based solution.

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In total, the entire facility offers 14,200 pallet locations, which provides an additional 6,700 pallet locations in single and two-deep pallet racks. The Flexi clear narrow aisles allow all ground level locations to be utilised as dedicated product picking locations to service Roper Rhodes trade customer orders as well as their online customer order fulfilment.

To ensure that the battery-powered materials handling fleet – including the Low Level Order Pickers – operates at optimum efficiency, Flexi Warehouse Systems installed an integrated battery charging system. The low energy usage Hoppecke system features the latest call-forward alert technology to identify the most appropriate fully-charged battery for the truck operator to select when it is time to change. This means that batteries often last for up to 12 hours between charges, extending battery life and dramatically reducing energy consumption.

John Maguire added: “Flexi Warehouse Systems’ ability to offer a complete service from design through to supply and installation of all storage and material handling equipment allows companies to make real operational cost savings and by utilizing some of the latest intralogistics technologies and handling techniques at its new facility Roper Rhodes has been able to create a highly cost-effective and efficient operation with a very attractive pay-back period.”