Maintaining high standards

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Truck operators themselves can achieve significant maintenance cost savings simply by paying attention to the way their trucks are used. Prevention is better than cure. It’s an age old proverb, but one that is particularly pertinent when it comes to forklift trucks. Optimising vehicle maintenance is key to minimising long-term costs, boosting productivity and promoting safe operation. But all too often it seems to be overlooked.

To support better practice, Briggs Equipment has launched Speedshield in the UK, an asset management tool developed in the US which is designed to increase preventative maintenance and boost driver safety.

The system enforces pre-shift checks and only allows licensed drivers to use machines so the risk of misuse or accident is reduced. Usage and service intervals are monitored so engineers know exactly when a machine is due to be checked, and furthermore, Speedshield identifies the type of maintenance required so each machine is efficiently serviced at the right time, helping to save money and reduce downtime.

“We want our customers to be in full control of their fleet, minute-by-minute,” says Briggs’ BE Fleet divisional manager, Les Knight. “Speedshield gives customers the ability to be pro-active instead of reactive. It provides real-time fleet information instead of standard KPIs.”


The system can be hardwired onto any vehicle without the need for converters and connects via global roaming GSM that sources to the strongest signals. Customers can then access information gained via a web-based application, eliminating the need for an additional software licence.

Speedshield’s speed zoning tool can also help extend the life of a forklift, as General Motors in Australia discovered after it deployed the system in 2005, initially to boost safety.

The system gave the company the power to automatically limit equipment speed in manufacturing areas to 3.1 mph, while still allowing it to travel on the internal road network at 7.5mph. Within the first 12 months of operation, General Motors saw a dramatic reduction in variable equipment costs such as tyres, which did not need replacing until year three.

Furthermore, the life of the fleet was due for evaluation in 2008, at which point it was extended for a further three years.

Similarly, thanks to proper care and attention, a customer of Mauritius-based engineering company Ray & Lenferna has been able to continue using the same battery from Exide Technologies in its Toyota forklift for the past 15 years, only recently calling the supplier for a replacement.

Jean-Marie Nuteau of Ray & Lenferna explains: “The customer has stuck to a regular maintenance schedule and operated the truck, battery and charger within good-practice guidelines, which goes to show what can be achieved with the right product. Fifteen years service is a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider the battery has been operated in a tropical climate.”

In general however, Simon Brown, managing director of Bendi, says there is a “total disrespect” for forklift truck batteries, which he reckons is the second biggest cause of problems after abuse.

“It’s all about looking after batteries,” says Brown, “because as voltage drops the current goes up and it often means batteries are weakened prematurely. When you consider machines cost £30,000 to £40,000 it beggars belief. Daily checks should be carried out; operators need to make sure batteries are not drying out, that they are charged appropriately and that the right type of water is replaced at the right time. Following a good battery management regime for checking and charging will mean you get a hell of an increased performance from the truck.”

Jungheinrich UK’s sales director Bill Goodwin agrees that battery maintenance is key, so to enhance battery pool efficiency, the manufacturer developed JiBOS (Jungheinrich Intelligent Battery Organisation System) which monitors and controls battery usage.

The system guides operators to the most appropriate battery in the charging area via an LED light helping to create cost savings over the lifetime of both batteries and chargers, as well as lowering the number of batteries needed to operate the fleet.

Goodwin reckons: “JiBOS promotes longer battery life through uniform usage and optimises maximum available battery cooling time. As a result, both battery and charger fleets age at the same rate, which means reduced maintenance and operating costs for the user.”

When it comes to batteries there are a number of options, but low maintenance batteries in particular have seen a flurry of interest of late. However, Jeff Aylott, head of aftersales at Linde Material Handling UK, warns that they might not be suitable for everyone. “Low maintenance batteries and the charging equipment that goes with them represent a significant investment compared with normal battery technology. This presents the operator with the classic dilemma – do the savings from low or no maintenance [batteries]justify the initial investment?”

Large operators may well benefit from switching to low maintenance batteries, explains Aylott, but they usually have sophisticated charging facilities, backed up by robust charging and maintenance routines. “For the smaller operators, the current high investment does not make sense. So, while the interest in low maintenance batteries has increased, at this stage each customer needs to decide if they are able to make the investment/return sums work for them.”

When it comes to reducing costs, Derrick Dalton, business development manager at Toyota Material Handling UK, tells operators to be wary of any hidden costs when purchasing a forklift fleet, particularly when it comes to maintenance packages.

“In a recent independent survey, when asked what factors they considered when taking on a service contract, over 55 per cent of UK buyers identified ‘no hidden costs’ as a critical buying criteria – the most cited response. We believe they are right to ask searching questions of their prospective suppliers.

Whole picture

“Operators need to look at the whole picture of maintenance because the cheapest service cost on paper is not necessarily the cheapest maintenance cost throughout any contract term. In the current climate it could be tempting for suppliers to come in at a very low cost to get the deal and then find ways to recoup their margins over the life of the contract.”

He advises operators to check thoroughly and identify what is covered under the contract, ensuring first-time fix rates and response times are understood. “Having the cheapest contract but having to wait days for parts or a response can be extremely expensive in lost productivity,” he adds.

Roger Massey of Barloworld Handling also recommends that operators read the small print. “Check the detail of the service and maintenance package and be careful when comparing quotes. Parts costs, call-out fees, labour, over hours usage and effective service response all play their part. It is important to tune the package and frequency of scheduled maintenance according to usage and the environment in which the equipment is to operate.”

Last year Barloworld launched Truckserve, a service package for new and used forklift owners which offers a scheduled programme of maintenance designed to minimise unforeseen repairs and unproductive downtime. The initiative comprises two levels of service: Truckserve and Truckserve Plus. The standard programme is designed for forklift trucks that are used less frequently, or for less intensive operations. It consists of a tailored service plan, annual brake inspection, truck condition report, tyre survey and 24-hour breakdown cover, which includes same-day response.

Truckserve Plus is designed for more intensive operations. In addition to the standard package it includes a maximum four hour service response, annual “thorough examinations” to ensure companies meet legal obligations under LOLER regulations, a battery topping-up service and annual anti-freeze replacement. A planned equipment performance review is also included together with driver training assessments.

When it comes to designing new trucks, ease of service and maintenance has perhaps in the past been overlooked in favour of power and performance, but it is increasingly being seen as an equal priority.

When Cat was designing its N-Series of 4.0 – 5.5 tonne lift trucks, Han van de Wal, product manager IC trucks, says serviceability was one of the manufacturer’s goals.


The range features a new automatic transmission with a compact design, allowing for better service access and a lightweight floorplate that can be taken out in five seconds providing easy access to components.

In addition, a digital display has been fitted to warn drivers if an unexpected fault occurs and provide error codes to ensure engineers bring the right parts for quick, first-time-right trouble shooting. The trucks also feature LED lights as standard which are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle, helping to avoid unscheduled maintenance. Furthermore, hydraulic oil is now used to activate brakes so brake fluid no longer has to be checked, and the mast features larger bearings to reduce wear and tear, both of which help to lower downtime.

Nexen’s new X range has been designed with an emphasis on simple, easy maintenance in a bid to increase uptime and throughput. It features an onboard system that continuously monitors critical mechanical and electrical elements along with fluid pressure and temperatures. It also has an easy-to-remove footplate, which, along with the high opening angle of the engine cover, provides easy service access to all components.

When it comes to the types of maintenance packages operators are looking for Linde’s Aylott says there has been a shift towards extended interval servicing. “This has not been prompted by the recession,” he explains, “but by the increased durability and reliability that is now designed and built into the trucks. Only a few years ago, it was not unusual to have service intervals at 250 hours. Then it extended to 500 hours and now it can be 1,000 hours for some trucks. All this helps manufacturers to lower operating costs for the customers.

“At Linde we are also investing in on-board telemetrics – where the truck tells us when it needs servicing or when there is a potential problem developing. This will also help reduce costs and ensure trucks are operating at maximum potential for the maximum time.”

However, while technology and innovation do play a huge part in reducing downtime and increasing efficiency, Bob Hine of BITA believes truck operators themselves can achieve significant maintenance cost savings simply by paying attention to the way their trucks are used.

This is something which Toyota has reiterated through its Pride in Performance initiative. Business development manager Derrick Dalton says: “On some sites we work with, damage can be seen as just a way of life in the warehouse, a cost that is simply accepted. But we have demonstrated time and time again that with the right approach, damage can be tackled effectively bringing huge cost savings.”

As part of the scheme, Toyota provides support material to raise awareness of the impact of damage to the truck’s working life and subsequent cost to the business. “Something we find really effective,” says Dalton, “is to give operators cost comparisons they can relate to. For example, damage to a powered pallet truck could easily equate to the cost of a family car like an Auris. At the other end of the scale, allowing damage to a reach truck could be equivalent to the cost of a sporty Lexus.”

You’ve got the power
EnerSys has launched PowerNet, a software system designed to improve battery fleet management of all lead acid battery technologies.

The system is designed to increase control and savings by scheduling charging to avoid costly spikes in electricity demands and ensure the correct rotation of batteries. The system also takes advantage of off-peak electricity rates by setting power thresholds for specific times.

John Lawton, EnerSys’ European marketing director, says: “Scheduling power consumption to minimise peak charges while achieving optimum life and service from batteries is the goal of good battery management.”

It is compatible with up to ten battery families and more than 500 chargers. No data input is required, but each battery family and the types of truck are given names to enable easy identification. All data is displayed on a battery room screen that shows the next battery to be used, available batteries and battery equalisation charging and defaults meaning it is no longer necessary to assign batteries to specific trucks. Battery performance and service life are also improved.

PowerNet runs on a standard PC and allows management reports to be accessed remotely via a LAN or internet connection. It automatically switches chargers on and off at the best time to maintain electricity consumption within the chosen parameters.

Reports include a charge analysis to view the number of complete, incomplete, equalisation charges and charging errors; an alarm history to indicate when a wrong battery has been selected; the minimum/ maximum number of charged batteries that are available and the number of battery changes; the fleet utilisation and the batteries’ depth of discharge; and power consumption graphs and a record of automatic charger off/on events.

Lifetime achievements
Bob Hine of BITA reckons waste disposal also has a direct bearing on lift truck maintenance intervals as it affects the amount of engine and hydraulic oil that is changed over the lifetime of the equipment.

“Where BITA members are using bio-hydraulic oils, typically these are doubling the life of mineral oils, extending oil-change intervals from 3,000 hours to 6,000 hours, which significantly reduces waste disposal.

“Oil condition monitoring, particularly on large truck fleets, is another valuable way to save money and reduce waste, by ensuring oil-changes only take place when required,” he adds.

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