Total cost of ownership delivered via innovation: Customer and supplier working in true partnership

As the second largest postal operator in the UK, Whistl delivered around 3.7 billion pieces of mail in 2016. The company has six depots across the UK where each letter, parcel or package travels through a maze of sorting systems to their precise destinations. In a complex structure where accuracy is everything, there are circa 15,000 transport belts in motion.

James Sharples, Whistl’s National Engineering Manager in Northwest England, has over thirty years of experience in the postal industry. He understands that pro-active maintenance of every belt is the ‘key’ to what makes fast and efficient delivery possible. Although Whistl had already been using Habasit belts supplied through a distributor for many years, James Sharples decided to go directly to the source to help initiate a new form of innovation.

Reliability for the long run

His first inspiration came off the clock. As a passionate cyclist, James Sharples was familiar with the idea of run flat tyres, tyres which make it possible to reach your destination despite the wear and tear of the road. This made him wonder if conveyor belts could do the same. What kind of maintenance would prevent the possibility of a total breakdown?

Whistl operators were already accustomed to following a strict maintenance routine of changing particular belts every two weeks, but James approached Habasit to see if it would be possible to increase the reliability of the belts while decreasing the cost of turnover.

“Habasit is always open to change,” explains James Sharples. “When we come up with a new and innovative idea, they are instantly looking for ways they can support us.”

This time was no exception. Richard Cole, Habasit’s Key Account Manager for Whistl, worked closely with James to find a unique solution. Habasit engineers set to work to create a prototype which would meet the unique demand, and soon, the Tri-Colour ABT belt was created.

The green light means go

“The new belt has a traffic light system,” explains Richard. “The belt colour changes with wear from green to amber to red. When the belt is green, the operators know it is fine. When the surface turns to amber, they know to keep an eye on it, and when it finally turns to red, they know it needs to be changed.”

This seemingly simple system has had dramatic results with visible savings. Not only do operators no longer have to fear unpredictable breakdowns, but the replacement cycle has jumped from two weeks to every three months.

Whistl utilises around 50 different types of belts at each depot, but James Sharples says that before they came to Habasit, they hadn’t realised the enormous range of possibilities available to them. The recent collaboration has opened up a wider conversation for future developments. With up to 25,000 items being processed every hour by every machine, the postal system requires speed, accuracy and absolute reliability. Habasit is pleased to be a partner who can provide all three. (ST)

Richard Cole Key Account Manager

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