Versatility and efficiency are key to choosing the right counterbalance truck, says Johanna Parsons.
Whatever your operation, it’s a fair guess that if it’s warehouse-based, you’ll use a counterbalance truck – or several. But the ubiquity of the counterbalance means that there are more choices to make, and often many pitfalls to avoid, when choosing the right beast for the job in question.
Last month Toyota Material Handling launched the new Toyota Traigo 80-volt electric forklift, which it describes as “suitable for long, intensive operations. Robust, compact and versatile.”
Initially the firm has made six models available, including the 2.0 tonne, 2.5 tonne compact, 2.5 tonne, 3.0 tonne compact, 3.0 tonne and 3.5 tonne. The firm has latched on to the versatility of the counterbalance, and has seemingly left no application out. All models can all be supplied with a range of cabins for indoor and outdoor use, and with a range of chassis, masts and extra options.
As with all of the Toyota Traigo range of electric counterbalance forklifts, the Traigo 80 is equipped with the Toyota System of Active Stability and AC motors as standard. The manufacturer says that its maintenance-free Toyota AC motors coupled with the latest generation of controllers make it possible to increase vertical and horizontal speed by up to 20 per cent.
Toyota also reckons that the compact mast design, new hydraulic layout and improved controllers give up to 20 per cent more energy efficiency than its predecessor. And, it says that this equates to some 20 per cent more operational time between battery charges.
These are the kind of statistics that are of increasing importance as e-commerce and multi-channel operations demand harder, faster, longer and stronger performance. Materials handling equipment that needs frequent or lengthy charging is causing real problems for operations that often need to work round the clock to meet 24 hour, or overnight delivery deadlines.
On the other hand, Allison Tucker, counterbalance product manager at Linde says that the main effect of the surge in e-retailing is a demand for used and short term rental trucks. This is perhaps a reflection of a reluctance to make a large capital outlay while the multi-channel landscape is still developing.
Jungheinrich has also seen a noticeable trend for used trucks, and a lot of truck users opting to acquire their fleets on contract hire packages.
Jonathan Morris, sales director of Jungheinrich UK explains, “Investing in a business remains crucial, but tying up working capital could mean missing out on other opportunities. It is therefore essential that the truck supplier offers a range of options and a flexible approach to help truck users meet both the requirements of their business and the changing needs of the marketplace.”
As Morris points out, the attraction is in the structure of the cost, which on a lease package can be planned and predicted, with “no surprises.” But here again, even in this seemingly risk averse strategy, there is the potential for danger.
“We advise customers to ask what is meant by ‘maintenance’? Does it include all repairs caused by wear and tear?
“We remind people that what is left out of a contract is often as important as what is included, and that they should never be fooled by an artificially low price. It could mean that either you are not going to get the full service or there has been some financial manipulation on residual values,” says Morris.
Similarly, Neil Warren, Jungheinrich’s used equipment and short term rental director has advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of buying a second hand truck. “Because most forklift truck users are not fully trained to spot signs of wear and tear – perhaps around the mast and the axle – I would advise anyone looking for a used truck to try and find a certified lift truck Thorough Examination engineer to take a look at the truck for you before you buy.”
He explains that the market is awash with used equipment, and reckons that although the majority are sold by reputable dealers, machines will often have returned from long term contracts.
He warns: “It is very easy to get your fingers burnt if you don’t know what to look for when buying a used forklift…
“Some of these machines are third and fourth life contracts that have worked in some tough applications and have no service history. I think it is fair to say that truck refurbishment standards and processes fluctuate wildly from dealer to dealer.”
Even with the best quality refurbished and certified used truck, when reliability and efficiency are paramount an investment in new trucks may still be the best bet. A new truck will always have a longer life expectancy. And new developments mean there are also real performance gains to be had from new trucks on the market.
Linde’s Tucker says that total cost of ownership is more important than ever, and new trucks are often the winner of the comparison. “Efficiency and safety are always key factors, as well as promises of a service to support a customer’s specific needs.
“However, at the moment, total cost of ownership is certainly the main driver in this economic climate. Our new EVO counterbalance engine 2-5t range aims to meet all those requirements by offering the best of efficiency, ergonomics and safety.”
She explains “With our new EVO range we reduced fuel consumption by 28 per cent compared to our previous model (or up to 38 per cent when comparing our new 36kW version), driving down the cost of ownership further.”
A huge factor in cost efficiency is also the defining feature of the counterbalance, its versatility. It is one of the main reasons why the format is so enduring. A all-rounder machine you can use for everything is obviously of better value than having to fund different trucks for each different task.
And versatility is the key for Crown’s new SC 5300 three wheeled counterbalance forklift series. Its compact three wheel design was designed to combine the handling power and stability of larger counterbalanced trucks with the ability to perform multiple indoor/outdoor applications in tight spaces.
It is available with a load capacity from 1.3 to 2.0 tonnes and battery capacities from 330 to 750 Ah. The optional Battery Transfer System can support multiple forklift trucks and offers an easy and secure method to exchange batteries in just a few minutes.
It has Crown’s latest generation 48-volt AC motors, the Access 123 patented on-board diagnostics, Crown-built motors, electronic braking, cornering speed control and a choice of hydraulic control levers.
The firm says these features have been combined to optimise performance, energy consumption and uptime. But an important factor in uptime is the productivity of the operator.
Crown says the SC 5300 Series has been designed to make operators’ work as stress free as possible, with easy entry and exit, a fully-adjustable seat, adjustable steering column and a choice of three different hydraulic control levers.
These days, minimising stress-induced fatigue is a big concern for all manufacturers. “Our electric counterbalance range not only meets the EU directive for vibration levels but has the lowest vibration when tested against others…” says Linde’s Tucker. And she underlines the importance of such factors in the overall efficiency of a truck. “A comfortable operator is a happy and productive one and we design our trucks with the operator in mind. It’s all about longevity.”
It’s easy to take the humble counterbalance truck for granted. It is often the hardest working piece of kit in a warehouse, and with such an established role, it can be tempting to bank on the form’s reliability, and to simply stick with what you know.
But neglecting your counterbalance fleet can be a costly mistake. With new options on the market there are real opportunities to reap rewards from the right equipment, and neglecting your counterbalance fleet can be a costly mistake.
Case study- Linde counterbalance delivers F1 kit for Caterham
As of last December, Linde is the official materials handling supplier for Caterham F1 team.
This followed an investment that took its UK rental fleet up to some 10,000 machines.
Linde supplied three engine counterbalance trucks, which are used to load over 25 tonnes of equipment onto air freight containers which transport F1 kit by air to Grand Prix competitions across the world including Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, India, Brazil and Texas.
The team took a 12 tonne truck, a three tonne and 3.5 tonne truck.
It’s essential that F1 kit arrives at these destinations in perfect racing condition, so the counterbalances are relied on to provide precise and careful handling.
The trucks were also used to load and unload heavy equipment onto delivery vehicles, to move equipment from Caterham F1 team’s old base in Hingham, Norfolk to its new premises in Leafield.
Richard St Clair Quentin, commercial manager at Caterham F1 team, said: “As an F1 team, we need to travel across the world to each Grand Prix safely, knowing that our equipment is in good hands.”
In addition, Linde recently delivered an Approved Used Truck to help with the manoeuvre of epoxy moulds used to produce carbon fibre composite panels.
St Clair Quentin said: “This particular application requires an agile, precise piece of equipment. Matt [Dearman, Linde’s used equipment manager] recommended the L 10 which has been used every day now and is proving to be an invaluable member of our team.”
“Linde’s global network of trucks has meant that a majority of our destinations have been markets in which Linde has a strong presence so we’ve had Linde trucks at hand to offload our equipment too.
“The Linde global network is only one of many factors in why we chose Linde over its competitors. The short term option for the next two years is ideal for us and we hope to continue to work with Linde in the future.”