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Reach trucks are the workhorses of the warehouse and the pressure is on to make them go higher and faster as companies seek to boost productivity. At the same time, minimising cost is an important element in the equation and operators are increasingly prepared to consider the used vehicle market as well as innovative approaches to cost control.
Maximising the use of space in a warehouse often means going higher so it is no surprise that there has been pressure to increase maximum operating heights. Craig Johnson, marketing manager at Jungheinrich UK, says: “Reach trucks are now lifting to higher levels than ever before. Ten years ago the average reach truck lift height was nine metres but these days trucks can lift to 12 metres. This extra reach capacity enables an extra layer of pallets to be stored on the same storage footprint.”
This, he points out, can be the difference between stacking pallets five high and six high – 20 per cent more. “The large food retailers use 12 metre mast reach trucks as do most of the leading 3PLs.”
Hyster’s product development manager Robert O’Donoghue points out that reinforced masts can lift loads above 12 metres and have been an important innovation in the last couple of years, meaning that the use of roof space can be maximised with the freedom to store items in a greater number of locations.
He also points to greater use of RFID in the future which will ease stock control and ultimately control the speed and operation of individual trucks. “The introduction of diagnostic tools and fleet management systems will allow service teams to fully understand the usage and maintenance requirements of the fleet from a distant location. This will ensure that preventative maintenance can be programmed around the actual service needs of the trucks and timed for minimum disruption to operations.”
Speed is another important issue. Tony Wallis, operations director at Toyota Material Handling UK, says: “While some operations may not find it possible to increase their efficiency by simply opting for a truck with a higher travel speed, most can boost productivity by looking for trucks that reduce cycle times by offering higher lift speeds and increased acceleration.”
Wallis highlights the use of AC motors to give fast lifting and lowering times. “High residual capacity and a stable design allow the BT Reflex to place a one tonne pallet at 12 metres. Driven by the requirements of customers such as retail distribution centres, this development will give many other sectors the flexibility to improve the utilisation of their cube.”
Jungheinrich developed its first generation of AC motors back in 1994 but the technology has moved on considerably since then and the latest generation AC motors offer exceptionally high performance. Johnson says: “Jungheinrich has also designed and manufactured the truck’s fully sealed electronic controller and designed and tailored the onboard software so that it is perfect for forklift truck use. Our higher lifting reach trucks also reduce energy usage – and therefore truck running costs – thanks to both regenerative braking and regenerative mast lowering features.”
Comfort is important to keep fatigue to a minimum as the operator goes through his working day. David Bowen, Linde’s sales and product training manager, says: “Lower fatigue ensures better concentration leading to safer, more efficient working. Height indicators, height pre-selectors and CCTV systems can also be offered to make the operator’s job easier.
“All of these functions make the work easier for the operator. The height indicators shows the operator where his forks are in relation to beam levels, the height pre-selector does the same but actually stops the lift hydraulics at the selected beam level, while the CCTV A good quality used truck that has been fully refurbished to the relevant European standards represents far
better value than certain new models on the market.gives him visibility of the pallet and the empty pallet space to ensure safe handling.”
Roger Massey of Barloworld points out that drivers “often work long shifts and fatigue will have a knock-on effect on productivity and accident damage. Remote telemetry devices, such as that recently launched by Barloworld Handling, will help to reduce maintenance costs and allow greater management control, by allowing the warehouse manager and the service team to better understand any damage or service requirements from a remote location.”
Wallis says: “A key factor is the development of transitional lift control of the mast, providing smooth, careful handling throughout the lifting range. The software on the BT Reflex has been configured to anticipate the movement of the forks, triggering an increase in hydraulic pressure ready to cushion the forks through the free-lift transition.
The tough market of the past year has meant that operators are prepared to consider the used truck market where before they would have gone for new. In response, the manufacturers have been developing their portfolios of products and services in the used market.
Johnson says: “It is always worth considering used products. A good quality used truck that has been fully refurbished to the relevant European standards represents far better value than certain new models on the market.” He points out that the profile of the typical used forklift buyer has changed recently.
“Historically, the biggest buyers of used materials handling equipment have been small to medium sized companies keen to increase or upgrade their truck fleets but with budgets that cannot quite stretch to new machinery. However, financial considerations are not always the key driver and many large, profitable organisations also choose to invest in used equipment if their forklift usage patterns and the intensity at which their trucks are expected to perform do not warrant purchasing new units.”
And Mark Sullivan, head of Linde’s used trucks and short-term rental, agrees: “It’s most definitely worth considering used equipment. To ensure that we offer products to the required quality we have been running our Linde Approved standard since 2004. This ensures that, via our nine refurbishment centres around the country, that all the trucks are refurbished to the high standard required by Linde, wherever they are in the UK, without incurring the cost of unnecessary transport.”
According to Mike Jones, general manager of Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks UK: “We have a package that we believe fits the current economic climate perfectly… starting from the driver-friendly design of the RBN, through acquisition and on and on throughout it’s working life.”
For the buyer this starts with Mitsubishi’s Reliable Rate Finance – a factory subsidised programme that sees interest rates typically three per cent lower than the industry average. In cash terms that can mean a saving of £1,770 on a £17,500 truck over five years. Mitsubishi also offers a five-year warranty package, which stays with the truck and not with the original buyer – which helps to maximise its second-hand value.
Increasingly truck suppliers are offering more sophisticated fleet management services that can improve productively overall. Linde, for example, offers a warehouse design and simulation service using its bespoke software system called Stratos. Bowen says: “This provides accurate layout drawings for racking, marshalling areas, office space and so on, allowing the overall practicality of a design – be it a greenfield site, warehouse extension or a refurbishment project – to be assessed, the number of pallet spaces determined, and the areas dedicated to bulk storage, order picking and marshalling for dispatch to be calculated.”
Toyota offers the I_Site fleet management service, which, says Wallis, gives greater visibility of what is needed, where and when, allowing operations to reduce fleet size in some cases, or redeploy existing trucks to new areas, avoiding additional spend. “We have seen reductions in out-of-contract costs of over 50 per cent in some of the organisations we have worked with.”
Hyundai expands range:
Hyundai is expanding its range of lift trucks with four new sit-on reach trucks. The machines, with load capacities of 1.4t, 1.6t, 2.0t and 2.5t, are equipped with AC electric motors. The trucks’ small turning radius, combined with their compact dimensions, ensure efficient work in narrow aisle operations. The lifting height reaches up to 12 metres.
The trucks have an anti-rollback function when stopping on a slope while electromagnetic brakes, which are fitted onto the load-bearing wheels, enable increased braking performance.

Flexi adds VNA truck to range:
Narrow Aisle Flexi has launched the Flexi VNA, which it says is the first four-wheel true articulated truck capable of operating in aisles as narrow as 1.6 metres. It uses a compact axle design, which, combined with the truck’s ability to articulate through 220 degrees, allows standard ISO pallets to be stacked and picked in 1,600mm-wide aisles. The truck has a twin front wheel drive and features Narrow Aisle’s True Radius chassis. John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Narrow Aisle, says: “The Flexi VNA is the latest addition to the range of articulated forklift trucks that our company has offered for over 30 years.”
 Carpet boom for Alliance:
Alliance Flooring Distribution has improved materials handling performance at its main warehouse in Kidderminster, maximising storage capacity and minimising the time products spend on site before delivery. It is using a fleet of Atlet trucks including eight reach trucks with special booms to handle rolls of carpet around the warehouse.
Alliance selected Atlet as its new supplier in 2006 when the existing fleet of reconditioned trucks, from another manufacturer, was at the end of contract. Atlet representatives visited Kidderminster to discuss the requirements and suggested a week-long loan of a reach truck, temporarily equipped with a carpet boom.
The reach trucks are used to handle four and five metre carpet rolls weighing as much as 450kg to heights up to ten metres. The steel boom mounted on the truck’s modified carriage is inserted into the centre of the roll which is handled between special deep-racking storage and order assembly areas.
Alliance also selected three Nissan electric counterbalance trucks, supplied by Atlet, for loading and unloading vehicles. These trucks also have special boom carriages but shorter masts than the reach trucks, which allows them to work in the loading bay.
“We have been impressed by Atlet’s approach,” says warehouse manager Nigel Wilkes. “They’ve done what they said they would and, two years into the contract, the service has been excellent.”

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