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issue: October 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Material Handling
A Marriage of Expedience

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by D. Douglas Graham, Contributing Editor e•mail: editor@appliance.com

Trane Residential and Hyster Company partner to move HVAC product out the door.

Hyster S50FT lift trucks are custom-equipped with pressure-regulated Long Reach carton clamps to minimize carton damage.

In distribution, as in retail, it’s all about location, location, location. Back in 1993, Trane Residential Systems (a subsidiary of American Standard Company of Piscataway, New Jersey, U.S.) opened a cutting-edge warehousing operation in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., a site considered by the company ideal for national distribution.

The new facility was created to provide Trane customers and distributors in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere with easy access to the HVAC maker’s complete line of residential product, and the warehouse has become a busy place. The facility is operational 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.

“The facility was developed to create a distribution point for all SKUs produced from our seven residential product lines and many of our sourced products,” says Tom Berry, manager of residential systems warehousing, Trane Residential Systems. “We do all outbound product mixing from that warehouse to customers and distributors in North America, and a few destinations overseas. The main facility measures 240,000 square feet. There are satellite warehouses located within a 1 mile area as well, which combined with the main warehouse bring the operation up to nearly 400,000 square feet.”

More than 40 Hyster lift trucks help to meet heavy distribution demands at Trane Residential.

Motorizing Distribution

Because it is central to Trane’s distribution scheme, the St. Louis Distribution Center was configured to process large volumes of merchandise quickly. To help achieve this throughput, Trane recently deployed a fleet of 40 Hyster® Fortis™ S50FT forklift trucks, powerful material handling vehicles made to muscle product around a warehouse on a 24-hour basis. The forklifts were leased to Trane by Shipping Utilities, Inc., a St. Louis-based dealer of material handling equipment. According to Shipping Utilities’ Hyster Dealer Dan Horner, the S50FT matched Trane’s requirements spec by spec, and are ideally suited for the job of continuous order fulfillment at high speed. The forklifts are also custom-configured for Trane’s warehousing operation.

“The Hyster Fortis S50FT is equipped with Long Reach carton clamps,” Horner explains. “It’s a 5,000-pound-capacity truck, but when equipped with Long Reach carton clamps hanging 40 feet in the air, the vehicle’s weight tolerance limit drops to only 2,600 pounds. That, fortunately, was precisely the weight Trane had in mind. The company had to start out with a bigger truck so that, when its capacity went down because of the carton clamps, the vehicle would still function at the weights and heights required.”

A Maintenance Crew of One

According to Berry, Trane has a long-standing partnership with Shipping Utilities, and their agreement called for the dealer to supply the forklifts as well as a maintenance package for servicing them in the high-speed, high-stress environment into which the vehicles would be deployed.

“Forklift downtime is a factor at the distribution center due to the tremendous volume of business going through there,” Berry explains. “We see a great deal in the way of tire-wear, run down batteries and mechanical troubles both big and small that can really throw a wrench in the works and slow everything down. We can’t afford too much of that, so we have a tech on site named John Walker whose job it is to keep on top of problems, and perform routine maintenance. John’s a senior mechanic at Shipping Utilities, Inc., and very knowledgeable. He works closely with our people here at Trane, and we make a point of calling him in on discussions about new material handling equipment acquisitions and upgrades.”

Trane’s return on investment (ROI) on the relationship is more about cost-avoidance than cost-savings, Berry says. Using Hyster forklifts and working with Walker has kept annual operating costs within budgetary limits that are lower than they would have been had Trane elected to use its own material handling equipment and personnel. This, according to Berry, represents the best of all possible worlds. The greatest cost-savings achievable in operations such as the St. Louis Distribution Center are those earned via the evasion of downtime, potentially the most costly time of all in the daily life of a busy distribution center.

“While Trane definitely earns significant ROI out of this venture, the payback hasn’t been measurable in terms of dollars and cents,” he adds. “The downtime avoided as a result of the relationship has proved a premium in and of itself. How much of a premium? That’s anyone’s guess. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. As it applies to this situation no truer statement was ever made.”


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