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Innovative container handler and stacking crane

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KENT Moving and Storage’ new state-of-the-art storage and warehousing facility in Villawood, New South Wales, has taken its long term storage operations to new heights.

Costing $15 million and taking two years from concept to completion, the Sydney depot at Villawood commenced operation in May 2004. With a capacity for 1,300 full size shipping containers under cover, Kent's new container storage facility is the largest and most up-to-date in the southern hemisphere, and the largest of its type in the world.

The facility is designed with a fully enclosed storage warehouse which stores over 36,000 m3 or thirteen hundred x 20 foot containers at any given time. It stores the containers 5 wide x 6 high and 41 deep.

Incorporating new offices and an expansive transit area, Kent's new Villawood warehouse will employ computerised crane technology imported from Holland that will allow any container to be sourced and removed from stock within 20 minutes of the office receiving the request.

Setting itself apart through quality, innovative technology and better facilities is not only what keeps Kent ahead of its competitors but it has also heavily influenced the standards in Industrial Manual Handling Techniques (MHT) and operational and storage processes within the removal industry.

Where did it all begin?

Recent upgrades to the Australian national rail system have all but eliminated the bugbear of state border trans-shipments and have streamlined interstate containerised freight movements. But with few exceptions, the Australian removal industry has been slow to recognise the need to revue their container storage methods.

Obviously, a country the size of Australia would be well served by an efficient national rail network. But historically, the Australian Government left rail planning and construction up to individual states, many of which built different gauge tracks. As a result, freight travelling interstate had to be unloaded and re-loaded at each state border that employed a different rail gauge. Because of this, a high proportion of interstate freight was transported by road, on a highway system that (by US and European standards) left a lot to be desired.

"Prior to 1995, the different rail gauges made interstate rail transport in Australia inefficient and cost prohibitive," said Graham Kent, Executive Chairman of national removal firm Kent International Movers.

So like other Australian national operators, Kent moved most of its interstate shipments in line-haul pantechnicons of 80-120 cu m capacity, unloading the vans at their interstate storage depots, warehousing the furniture until the day of dispatch and then loading it again to deliver to the final destination.

But since 1995, upgrading of the national interstate rail network in line with a standardised 435mm national rail gauge has made it possible for trains carrying containers to travel between Brisbane and Perth via Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, all on national standard gauge track. The last major link in the standard gauge network - Adelaide to Darwin - was commissioned in January this year. Along with improved efficiencies and cost structures within the rail network, standard gauge has triggered an across the board change from road transport to rail transport on most interstate routes.

Like most national removal firms, Kent quickly realised the advantages offered by efficient coast-to-coast containerised rail transport. But unlike most national operators, Mr Kent also recognised the need to revise storage methods to take full advantage of the long-term benefits offered by the container system.

In the early 1990s, Kent formulated a plan to provide enclosed, secure warehouse storage for containers, on concrete hardstand, fully protected from weather, in all Australian capital cities. This became Kent's vision for the future, and Kent is now well on the way to turning the plan into reality.

According to Mr Simon Maclennan, National Operations Manager, Kent Moving and Storage, the unique difference in the new storage facility is that the actual design and construction of the building was coordinated AROUND the technologies that were chosen for use within the structure.

"The team at Kent had the foresight to select the technologies prior to the construction stage therefore saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process," Mr Maclennan said.

Taking two years to construct, from planning to execution, the Kent storage facility is controlled by a world-first automatic container storage program that controls the stacking of 20 ft storage containers through an overhead gantry system.

Problems identified with the old facility.

During the planning stage Kent identified that they did actually handle storage containers very often other than to stack them and that the use of space for the operations could be significantly reduced by better designing the new facility.

The Kent team also recognised that if they could access the right solutions needed for their storage and warehousing prior to construction stage then they would be able to design the facility around the technologies rather than the other way around. This in turn would have long term cost savings and operational benefits to their business and its bottom line.

One of the biggest issues faced at the old storage facility was the need to have two forklifts on-site; one to handle 20ft containers and one for the heavier 40 ft containers. Not only were the forklifts cumbersome to manoeuvre around the yard but the maintenance, repairs, servicing and fuel consumption was also an ongoing and costly outlay.

Container forklifts require big yards, extended turning areas and heavy concrete pavements all of which would impact on the new development.

The team at Kent acknowledged that they preferred not to take the two forklifts to their new facility and searched for a more cost effective, efficient and flexible container handling solution.

Maximising the space for the storage area of the new facility was paramount in the planning stage. This included minimising yard and turning areas and identifying the yard, pavement and concrete structures that would be required around the facility based on the larger forklifts compared to other available solutions.

"To take the forklifts with us it would have meant a thicker concrete pavement in and around the facility which is an extremely costly exercise. Future budgets would also need to have provisions for ongoing repair and maintenance costs of the yard and pavements, as well as servicing and repair costs on the forklifts," Mr Maclennan said.

Kent therefore made the decision to research for new and innovative solutions for automatic storage and container handling and to design the facility around these technologies where possible.

According to Mr Maclennan two of the most significant technological advancements chosen for the new facility were the Mobicon Systems’ container handler and the Automatic Container Stacking Crane.

What is the Mobicon container handler?

The Mobicon is a unique, flexible, container handler with the lowest axle loading in the world. It can drive directly under an awning, inside a warehouse door, turns in tighter spaces, is more maneuverable and has the ability to handle any size container.

"The Mobicon is not only the most innovative container handler on the market but it is also the most cost effective. Investing in a Mobicon eliminates the need for side loaders and larger fork lifts within the yard," Mr Maclennan said.

The 33 Tonne capacity Mobicon is designed to handle any length container, from 16 foot through to 52 foot. It lifts the load from the bottom container castings which allows the machine to handle flat beds, tank containers and curtain sided containers. The overall height of the Mobicon is very low allowing it to access through most roller shutter doors. The "Two Tower" design provides the flexibility to operate on sloping or uneven surfaces. Compacted gravel and bitumen yards are also suitable for the Mobicon.

How does the Mobicon work at Kent?

The Mobicon is used to transport any size container in and around the yard, it has the ability to load and unload vehicles and place 20 ft containers inside the warehouse and on to dock tables. The speed, height/visibility and maneuverability of the Mobicon also add to safer operations. The Mobicon has the ability to drive directly into the storage facility Kent eliminating the need for container forklifts and trailers waiting at docks.

A significant point is that Kent selected the Mobicon container handler as their first choice and designed the new facility to utilise the system. A key element behind choosing the Mobicon was due to the systems innovative and unique low weight and narrow track design. According to Mr Maclennan the low axle loading has enabled Kent to save approximately $30,000 before construction began simply by eliminating the need for a 12 inch concrete road around and inside the facility.

"I am not sure if people realise how significant the design of the Mobicon is, as the low axle loading of the machine eliminates the need for thick concrete yards which can be a tremendous benefit to any company that is moving containers around their own yards," Mr Maclennan said.

"If companies followed the Kent model they too can design and construct facilities around the Mobicon and the long term cost savings and benefits for them would be tremendous," he said.

Pre-planning and forward thinking by people like Simon Maclennan clearly ensured the success of the Villawood facility.

"Trying to work with engineers and builders and explain to them that they simply do not need the levels of concrete that they have in the past is a huge paradigm shift. If we can educate the owners of the companies about the Mobicon then maybe they can in turn teach the construction industry. It is a flip in thinking that will need time but is worth it in the long run."

The constant wear and tear of larger forklifts on yards causes companies to sustain ongoing maintenance and repair bills that can have a significant drain on expenditure. The Mobicon weighs only 12 tonne empty and as the weight is evenly spread across the 8 wheels the wheel loadings are less than 6 tonne when carrying a 30 tonne container. In contrast a container forklift weighs approximately 35 tonne and carries up to 30 tonne containers. Forklifts have an axle loading of 50 tonnes or more and many industrial yards and pavements are not suitable for carrying these loadings day after day.

"The Mobicon design is safer than forklifts and side loaders as it transports containers at a height of only 0.3 metres and unlike forklifts the Mobicon can not tip over," he said.

Significant changes to the loading docks at Kent

In addition, the Mobicon team provided a recommendation to Kent that they should utilise dock tables as a key element of the total container handling solution.

By introducing the Mobicon and the dock tables Kent no longer have to place containers on the dock itself thus dramatically increasing working areas and space on the docks. The previous form of dock unloading saw Kent having to not only place the containers on the dock but in a parallel formation which takes up a significant amount of space. The old method took up a lot of room and operators could not move freely around the dock.

The new dock table system allows the containers to be placed at 90 degree angles to the dock and the container doors can be opened straight out. Staff are now able to work at dock height when loading and unloading containers which has made for a safer dock area.

Previously the dock capacity was restricted to parallel placement of 2 containers actually on the dock and a further 2 on trailers again parallel to the dock face. With the Mobicon Kent can service 4 to 5 containers simultaneously, without the congestion and operational issues previously experienced.

Placing containers on the dock tables is safer than placing them directly on the loading docks.

Drivers no longer need to uncouple and couple trailers and previous injuries caused by winding landing-legs and climbing on and off trailers to uncouple air hoses is now avoided.

Kent now has improved dock loading space, safer working environments for those loading containers and can work at a 90 degree angle or horizontal formation which enables more containers to be loaded and unloaded at any given time. The new system provides more room on the docks for equipment, operators and containers which ultimately has increased turnaround, productivity and made it a safer working environment. Kent has doubled their loading area capacity and loading abilities.

What is the Automatic Container System?

Forming a strategic part of the new container storage facility is the Automatic Container System (ACS) which is a unique container processing system brought to Australia by Wilkore.

After extensive research Wilkore selected the Hollestelle ACS system for the new facility as it is the leading automated container storage system available in the removalist industry within Europe. The ACS has been developed with a revolutionary concept designed for intensive usability, manual and radio remote control and positioning system and a fully computer-operated automatic operation.

The Hollestelle Automatic Container System is designed for both speed and efficiency and maximises storage volumes at the Kent facility The ACS is the height of perfection from a spatial point of view.

Wilkore worked closely to design, construct and commission the new facility to meet current and future operational needs of Kent Moving and Storage and were asked to incorporate the ACS as a part of the design. The completed facility is now the largest Automatic Container System (ACS) in operation in the world.

Containers are handled with reduced timeframes and labour costs by using the fully computer-operated Plan Ahead Positioning System (PAPS) with a spreader for automatic handling of 20 foot ISO containers and adaptor for manual handling of 40 foot containers. The ACS has both automatic and manual function which also reduces Kent's costs in terms of labour.

How does the ACS work at Kent?

Working in parallel with the Mobicon the container crane system removes the need for Kent to own a forklift, as the ACS has a stacking capability of 6 x 20 ft containers high.

The major benefit of the ACS is the computerised technology behind the gantry crane which allows Kent to enter container numbers and then the crane automatically picks out of the store or loads into store the container in question. The entire storage facility at Villawood is fully computer-operated and automatic through the unique Container Information System (CIS).

Kent had the foresight to merge two world-leading technologies, Wilkore and Mobicon and construct a world-first by having the largest Automatic Container Storage system in the world, one of the most technologically advanced logistics facilities available and a loading area that was designed FOR the Mobicon and the ACS.

Kent, Wilkore and Mobicon have taken container handling and logistics to a new level and the facility is a fine example of what three Australian companies in partnership can achieve.

Kent's first warehouse to provide storage for shipping containers was built in Melbourne, and has the capacity to house 450 full size steel shipping containers under cover. Kent then converted warehouse space in Perth to hold 200 shipping containers, then provided container storage within Kent's Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney warehouses.

Kent now plans to hugely expand on the quality and capacity of their current storage facilities by building new, state-of-the-art fully automated container stores incorporating the latest European gantry cranes and equipment in every capital city in Australia.

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