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AWH leading the change in Australian wool storage with Aisle-Master Forklifts

Aisle-Master working in narrow aisles at AWH

AWH Pty Ltd was established in 1998 in order to remove the duplication of primary warehousing functions within the Australian wool industry. They have 15 facilities across Australia, covering over 900,000 m2 of warehousing space, providing them with the ability to handle over 65% of the Australian wool production. Due to the size of their application and popularity of their services, AWH sought to improve upon efficiency within the workplace through exploring alternate methods of storing and handling wool bales. Adaptalift Hyster was able to step in with the perfect solution in the form of an Aisle-Master Narrow Aisle Forklift, which allowed AWH to lead the change in Australian wool handling and storage methods and provided them with the ability to solve issues brought about by the current work climate.

Since the late 1980’s, the production of wool in Australia has more than halved. This has caused many issues within the industry and has resulted in the need to change original methods of wool handling and storage. Due to the decline in wool production, AWH has had to adapt as traditional methods have become less effective. One of the main changes affecting the company was the continuing decrease in the quantity of bales in each sale lot. Traditionally, wool bales were stored in blocks of stacks on the ground, approximately 8 bales deep and 4 bales high, equating to 32 bales in one stack with a standard height of 3 metres. The current climate has meant that more bales need to be removed from the traditional stacks, in order to gain access to the chosen sale lot bales required for dispatch. After the wanted bales had been retrieved, the unwanted bales had to be replaced back into the stack.

This method was creating major concerns regarding productivity for AWH, who handles over 1 million bales per annum.  In a single centre, AWH can have up to 45,000 bales of wool at the peak of the season, and they need to keep track of every bales precise location. In order to solve this problem, AWH decided to trial a new method of storing and handling wool within their Gillman store in South Australia. This began with changing from the traditional floor stacking system, to racks for wool bale stacking. This allowed them to shift the storage strategy from bales stored per square metre, to bales stored per cubic metre, resulting in the utilisation of previously unused warehouse space above the traditional floor stacks. This change in method meant AWH could have a better knowledge of where bales were located and provided them with direct access to each wool bale without having to take out and replace unwanted bales, effectively improving the productivity of the company.

Narrower aisles with the Aisle-Master at AWH

With improvements made regarding the storage of wool, AWH sought to make further changes in terms of how the product was handled. AWH required a machine that would complement their new storage methods and provide them with the flexibility to move wool bales from the rack to the delivery truck outside. This meant crossing various types of terrain and inclines in and out of wool stores. Furthermore, they also wanted the ability to operate in narrow aisles and to reach up to the ten metre height of the racks to retrieve and further improve upon storage methods through creating more storage space within their warehouses. Additionally, AWH needed the forklift to have a bale clamp attachment, as the wool bales are stacked by themselves and not on pallets. This was resolved through the use of the Aisle-Master Narrow Aisle Forklift with a bale clamp attachment provided by Adaptalift Hyster. This allowed AWH to increase efficiency through providing a solution to all of their requirements. 

In order to ensure the Aisle-Master was suitable for AWH’s application, Adaptalift Hyster conducted a 4-week trial at the Gillman store, which proved to be an immediate success. The flexibility and multi-use of the machine fitted the brief exactly. Furthermore, Adaptalift Hyster had a special lighter clamp designed for the project and fitted to the Aisle-Master. This provided AWH with manoeuvrability in narrow aisles and was successful from the outset. Shane Buckley GM South Australia explained, “No other unit would give us this flexibility in our new racking system.” This is demonstrated within the Aisle-Masters unique articulation, allowing for more control and the ability to move and handle odd shaped and soft bales at heights of up to 7.5 metres. Further benefits of the Aisle-Master are its user-friendly design, which is a result of its operation being similar to standard counterbalance forklifts, making driver acceptance far simpler. AWH have also implemented a standard pallet-racking layout. Therefore, if there should ever be unutilised space or a downturn in the wool industry, then a quick changeover of the clamp to standard tynes on the Aisle-Master means it becomes a narrow aisle pallet mover.

The success of the Gillman store trial resulted in two more AWH stores switching over to the new system, the next being the Spearwood site in Western Australia, with Lara in Victoria following shortly after. AWH now have racking at three sites and currently run 12 Aisle-Masters in their fleet.  Shane Buckley notes that the Aisle-Master “operates like a conventional forklift and gives far more confidence to the operators when handing wool bales. It allows safer and easier handling of awkward wool bales and its manoeuvrability is key in this area.”

The project has now been running for over 12 months and all elements have gelled together incredibly well. This has been a result of the strong partnership between AWH and Adaptalift Hyster, who have worked together to ensure the successful implementation of new racking layouts and handling systems within AWH wool stores. With the innovation and drive to succeed shown by AWH within this project, they show no signs of slowing down in the future and further developments in the upcoming months continue to look promising.

Changes in the wool bale handling method, within the AWH business, has led to greater efficiencies, less downtime and faster turnaround times, as well as the simplification and increased accuracy of wool bale identification systems. The partnership between AWH and the Aisle Master product has been a huge success, from the consultation period through to the field trials and the eventual implementation of the project. The acceptance of the Aisle Master product in a very traditional industry has been excellent. It is a testament to AWH’s commitment to succeed and their ability to embrace change in order to stay competitive and efficient in a rapidly changing environment.

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