Weighing up the options when it comes to choosing a counterbalance truck can be a precarious job, but more than ever the focus is on reducing costs, flexibility and energy efficiency. Lucy Tesseras reports.
Sustainability may be the buzz word in the board room, and when it comes to operating an efficient counterbalance truck fleet, reducing fuel consumption and improving energy efficiency go hand-in-hand with lowering costs.
Phil Pearson, Linde MH UK, says: “The mix of trucks in the material handling fleet can potentially make a significant contribution to the overall greenhouse gas emissions of an organisation, so choosing the right trucks to ensure the operation is running as efficiently as possible is already and will continue to be a key consideration in carbon reduction objectives. Plus with fuel and energy costs continuing to soar, running the most efficient trucks will help to keep operating costs under control in the future.”
Linde offers Eco Mode on its counterbalance trucks which enable operators to adapt the speed and acceleration parameters, which Pearson claims can reduce energy consumption by up to 20 per cent while retaining 90 per cent productivity.
Three operating modes are now available as standard and can be preset at the factory or activated by a Linde service technician to match operating requirements.
Performance mode delivers the highest level of truck performance and low energy consumption; efficiency mode adjusts truck performance to offer an optimum energy saving for intensive applications; and full economy mode is designed to provide the best consumption to productivity ratio.
Toyota offers a similar system on its Traigo 48 electric counterbalance trucks called Power Select Function which is designed to maximise productivity and efficiency. It includes three pre-set functions and one adjustable travelling mode which can be set via the display’s push buttons: S for standard mode, P for power mode and H for high power mode.
Tony Wallis, operations director at Toyota, says the benefit to the customer is the “opportunity to adjust the performance of the truck to the application to maximise productivity and minimise wasted fuel consumption. The focus can be on operating hours (S), maximum performance (H) or a combination of working efficiency and operating hours (P) S-P-H”.
Toyota is actively testing a number of alternative fuels in different applications to establish the best option for each type of operation.
He says: “We believe that such solutions will be based on a combination of traditional as well as ‘new’ fuels in the short to medium term. There is a lot of hype within the trade press and our industry regarding these new technologies which is all very positive and good for development, however we must also focus on the efficiencies of any solution and get the right balance of sustainability.”
Daniel Heap, product strategy manager of counterbalance trucks at Yale, reckons there is only so far you can go to make a traditional truck energy efficient. He says: “The future holds the development of lithium-ion batteries. The prohibitive thing at the moment is cost, plus there are still certain issues with the technology. Things aren’t far off though and I believe that ultimately lithium-ion is the way forward.”
In fact, Phil Pearson says Linde has market-ready lithium-ion motive power and hydrogen fuel cell technology for electric trucks. The manufacturer recently demonstrated two ready-to-use lithium-ion battery prototypes – a Linde T16 pallet truck with 1.6 tonne load capacity and an electric forklift from its new E25 2.5 tonne load capacity range and a fuel cell tow tractor.
“However, while interest in lithium-ion motive power is growing, particularly for use in small trucks,” says Pearson, “the cost of taking this technology to market remains a significant barrier to large scale commercialisation. And while this remains the case, Linde MH will continue to focus its efforts on development and delivery of even greater fuel efficiencies across its products.”
Linde has developed and incorporated fuel cell technology into its product range, which can now be ordered as a customised option.
Jungheinrich’s Craig Johnson is keen to promote the benefits of hydrostatic drive technology when it comes to improving efficiency, which is at the heart of the Jungheinrich 3/4 Series engine counterbalanced truck range and is designed to minimise fuel consumption throughout even the most demanding shift.
“In fact,” he claims, “test cycles have shown that over the course of 2,000 hours of typical operation, a Jungheinrich 3/4 Series truck will save some £2,000 in fuel costs in comparison with a similar capacity counterbalance truck without hydrostatic drive. For sites where a large fleet is in operation, the savings can be extremely significant.”
Peter Madoc-Jones, product marketing manager at Hyster, believes that as the price of fuel continues to rise and operations are increasingly sensitive to environmental concerns and cost, energy efficient features are highly likely to dominate counterbalance truck designs.
He says: “High capacity, electric-powered, counterbalance forklift trucks, such as the new Hyster J4.0-5.0XN series, are becoming more prevalent in a wide range of applications, replacing IC trucks, as fuel prices rise and developments enable extended battery autonomy.”
In fact, demand for high performance electric counterbalance trucks is continuing to rise as companies look to increase productivity while keeping emissions down.
In a bid to answer this demand Yale has introduced the VM 4.0 to 5.0 tonne series, which is designed to offer a combination of energy and fuel efficiency, better ergonomics and increased productivity.
Daniel Heap, product strategy manager of electric counterbalance trucks at Yale, says: “Our intention with the new VM was to create an electric truck that would withstand the rigours of four to five tonne applications.”
The compact design features a dual drive front axle and extended steering axle with a small aisle width, meaning it can operate in aisles down to 4,161mm.
The super-cushion tyres make the range suitable for riding over rough terrain, plus as and the front axle is fully sealed vehicles can be used outside. The trucks have a top speed of 20km/h and a maximum lift speed of 0.42 m/s.
Driver comfort was also high on the agenda when developing the series as Heap says ergonomics and productivity are very closely linked – “the more comfortable the operator the more productive they will be”. As such, the VM series features easy on/off access, unobstructed floor space and generous head room to accommodate operators up to 194cm tall.
Additionally, the Yale full suspension seat is fitted as standard, which has Whole Body Vibration levels of 0.6m/s and can be specified with the AccuTouch mini lever which has an angled, cushioned arm and palm rest with fingertip control designed to reduce repetitive strain injury.
When it comes to cost, the price of an electric truck could seem deceptively high, says Heap. He says: “The up front cost of an electric truck will be more expensive compared to a diesel truck, but over a five-year period it will be more economical, particularly as it will require fewer services.”
Crown’s rugged 2.0-3.0 tonne C-5 range, its first IC-engine counterbalance truck, was designed to lower total cost of ownership by reducing maintenance and downtime as nearly all parts are made from steel rather than plastic to minimise damage.
Simon Emery, UK managing director of Crown, says that while this costs more initially it is vital in protecting the components within the truck and will cost less over the lifetime of the machine.
As fuel and energy prices continue to rise operators could be tempted to look at cheaper trucks from the Far East, but there have been stories within the industry of companies buying these machines and then falling into trouble when they needed servicing or new parts as they just weren’t available.
A point which is highlighted by Toyota’s Tony Wallis. “As with every item purchased in the world, there are ‘value’ brands. This is a fact of life, particularly in Western civilisation. Over the past few years there have been a number of value brands introduced to the European market, many of these come from the East, for example China and Taiwan where labour, etc is cheaper.
“Customers have the choice to buy these brands and as with any other market some buy these products.” However, he advises prospective buyers to look more closely at costs and investment than ever before.
“Our experience tells us that when considering ‘value’ brands, customers also need to assess the risk to their business, by purchasing or renting one of these. For example, issues such as service support and coverage, replacement trucks if required, quality and longevity of the product and importantly how reliable it will be to do the job required day in and day out. All of these could add risk to a customer’s business if not correct.”
David Ellison, chief executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association reckons “value brand” is an interesting term as cheaper to buy does not necessarily mean cheaper overall.
He says: “When buying a forklift truck, it is important to remember that its purchase price is a small fraction of the price of ownership. Over a five-year period, it is less than ten per cent of your truck running costs (eg wages, fuel, insurance). For many businesses out there, having an efficient and dependable truck makes better economic sense.”
However, that being said he reckons that the developments in new technology and fuel sources will make the average truck more expensive, and while he reckons the actual market for counterbalance trucks will continue to increase there will always be room at the lower end for “cheaper, less sophisticated” machines.
“Value brands will inevitably make a marginal impact,” he adds, “but as you would expect with the purchase of any piece of capital equipment, most customers continue to choose brand names they know and trust.”
In fact, Jungheinrich’s Craig Johnson, reckons: “The influx of truck brands from the Far East is not having a noticeable impact on the large fleet user market. They might be attractive to those operators who have a requirement for a single truck that is only for occasional use, but at facilities where truck uptime is critical to the day-to-day business operation they are not making an impression.”
Yale’s Daniel Heap says with the move towards full service contracts he’s not sure if a truck manufacturer from the Far East could offer the same level of service. He says: “It could be a cheaper investment initially, but if the parts aren’t available when they are needed it’s not a viable option. Instead we would offer a second-hand truck as Yale can provide 98 per cent of its serviceable parts within 24 hours.”
In the current climate it seems that one of the most important things for operators when it comes to choosing a forklift fleet is flexibility as volumes coming through the business can be unpredictable.
Tony Wallis, operations director at Toyota, says: “Many of our customers would agree that the way their business looks now is very different from how it looked a year ago, and how it may look in one or two year’s time, so we believe the key factor driving innovation in our business solutions is flexibility. Customers need to be confident their needs will be met both now and in the future.”
Toyota offers Flexible Rental packages which allow customers to alter their fleet and service mix during the life of the contract, should their business needs change.
“As a supplier, we can offer service agreements which allow this flexibility, combined with options like standby trucks and short-term rental to ensure our customers are able to run a fleet that always mirrors their requirements.” He says Toyota has also seen an increase in its fleet management services such as Toyota I Site and Care Reports.
Similarly, Roger Massey, marketing manager at Barloworld Handling, says: “The current climate is encouraging operators and suppliers alike to look for innovations in the management of their fleets to reduce running costs.” Barloworld has developed a telemetry device, which is fitted to forklift trucks and other handling equipment to capture live performance data for analysis over a dedicated web portal. The fleet management system records the use of each truck so Barloworld can plan maintenance according to the actual working hours of the fleet rather than a set period of time. This means servicing is attuned to the needs of the fleet and can highlight potential problems earlier leading to reduced downtime.
Despite the emergence of more specialist equipment, the popularity of traditional counterbalance trucks has remained strong.
In fact, Phil Pearson of Linde reckons: “The traditional counterbalance truck remains the most popular workhorse in most material handling operations and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future due to its versatility and high productivity.”
Similarly, Wallis says: “Over the years, material handling methods have changed as the industry has evolved. This has resulted in many types of trucks being developed to handle loads particularly in warehouses.
“However we find the traditional counterbalance still provides most handling requirements and is still regarded as being the most flexible for most handling requirements.
“Generally customers still refer to them as ‘forklift trucks’ and not counterbalanced trucks as we know them. This acts as testament to the longevity of the basic design and its purpose.”
On the flip side, however, Jungheinrich’s Craig Johnson says that in factory environments, he has noticed a trend away from counterbalanced trucks to tow tractors for side line deliveries.
“We have identified that the increase in demand for tow tractors is a result of changing trends in the manufacturing industry. Many manufacturing companies are reconfiguring their internal logistics systems to maximise efficiency of line side parts delivery processes. In a lot of cases, manufacturers are adopting the ‘milk run’ principle as the most efficient way of getting parts to the production line. This involves delivery of parts on a defined route around the factory, often to a set timetable.”
case study – John Lewis turns waste oil to bio power
John Lewis is turning waste oil from its in-store restaurants into bio-diesel which is being used to power a Jungheinrich counterbalanced truck at its Brackmills distribution centre in Northampton.
The oil is collected directly from stores by John Lewis’s own delivery vehicles and brought back to the distribution centre where it undergoes the chemical process that makes it suitable for use as a fuel. The forklift truck, which features a Volkswagen engine approved for biofuel, is used for a range of yard duties including sorting, stacking and unloading wooden pallets and other
John Lewis uses a fleet of more than 70 Jungheinrich forklifts at its Brackmills site, the majority of which are electric-powered.
“We take our corporate environmental responsibility seriously and are committed to recycling 75 per cent of all the waste we produce across our group by 2012,” says Lawrence Ireson, maintenance manager at John Lewis’s Brackmills site.
“Converting waste cooking oil into fuel forms a small part of this commitment. We have been using a bio-diesel blend in our transport fleet for some time so it seemed natural to use the same fuel in our Jungheinrich IC engine-powered counter balanced truck.”
case study – Sugar high for Tate & Lyle
Sugar giant Tate & Lyle has increased loading efficiency by 15 per cent after introducing a fleet of five Mitsubishi Grendia trucks at its Silvertown site in East London.
Long battery changeovers, truck breakdowns and poor servicing of the previous fleet led operations manager Martin Hiscock of the site’s management company, Solent Stevedores, to put his materials handling supply out to tender.
“We had two key aims,” he says. “Our new fleet needed to deliver on performance and reliability.” Particularly owing to the non-stop nature of the operation and the wet, dockside location.
The company chose Bronze Mechanical Handling, Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks’ dealer for the South East, which suggested the Grendia 3.0 tonne LP gas truck FG30N, each of which was fitted with Cascade double pallet handler attachments.
Bronze’s sales director Chris Slater says: “The customer required all of the power and speed of a diesel with none of the associated emissions. The FG30N benefits from an advanced, clean-burning engine that comes with a three-way catalytic converter as standard.”
Previously, Solent Stevedores’ counterbalance operations at Silvertown came to a halt as soon as the trucks reached the quayside, where the product would be dumped to await transfer onto ship using pallet trucks.
As the Grendia is more compact and features a high visibility mast drivers can now manoeuvre sacks of sugar directly into the holds of the ship. Martin Hiscock concludes: “The introduction of Grendia to our Silvertown operations has made an enormous difference: improving loading times by 15 per cent.”