There’s so much pressure to be green these days it can seem as though you have to find a forklift that will run for a week on a spoonful of old chip fat and produce less greenhouse gas than a sparrow fart.
Certainly, there are technologies under development that could bring significant change to the market, but there are differences of opinion over which are best and which will be commercially viable first.
But ask the experts what you can do now to improve your environmental profile and you will come across practices and technologies that are surprisingly simple, save money and make good sense.
David Bowen, sales support and training manager at Linde Material Handling UK, points out that making trucks more productive and reducing their fuel consumption is obviously cost-effective as it cuts fuel costs as well as being more environmentally friendly. “Looking at existing trucks, you can fit catalytic converters to LPG trucks or diesel particle filters to diesel trucks.”
Effective operator training gets the vote of Dave Rylance, product manager for counterbalance at Toyota Material Handling. “Much like a car, the way a fork truck is driven has a great impact on the fuel efficiency that can be expected. Considerate driving can help to reduce fuel consumption by approximately ten per cent.”
However, he points out that reductions in fuel consumption of up to 30 per cent can be achieved by the use of technology to control functions including truck speed, engine revs, lifting and lowering. Toyota uses a system called Optimax to achieve this. Similarly, on electric forklifts, focusing on energy management inside the truck’s drive electronics offer the possibility to tune the truck’s performance to the requirement of the end-user, says René Eenhoorn of Nissan Forklift Europe.
Bob Hine, technical consultant to the British Industrial Truck Association, points out that among the most cost effective technologies available today are high frequency battery chargers, which use less mains energy than conventional chargers and permit time-efficient opportunity charging over lunch and tea breaks.
He also highlights the impact that bio-hydraulic oils can have on truck maintenance and waste disposal costs. “These oils offer typically double the life of mineral oils, extending oil-changing intervals from 3,000 hours to 6,000 hours and longer, and this significantly reduces environmental and monetary waste disposal costs.”
The right operating environment can make a big difference too. Dave Rylance recommends that companies optimise the site to minimise the length and number of journeys the trucks take. “This is particularly effective if it allows the overall number of trucks to be reduced. Drive in a manner appropriate for the operation: operators often drive the truck with maximum acceleration and lift speed, even when they are not under time pressure.”
In a similar vein, Hine says: “On-board fleet management equipment is useful for monitoring truck activity which can then be matched to the logistics demands and ‘tuned’ to prevent unnecessary truck movements and double handling. The additional benefits that analysis of fleet management data can bring include ‘just in time’ efficiency savings.
“Additionally, the all-too-often overlooked discipline of maintaining trucks regularly and at the required intervals helps to ensure peak performance to optimise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Careful programming of electric trucks can also achieve considerable fuel consumption cuts, extend the life of the battery and ensure the truck works at a high performance level for
longer. Finally, truck operators of engine powered trucks should remember to shut down the engine in between work tasks rather than leave it running.”
Training is also important to ensure that correct procedures are used, says David Bowen. “This includes, for instance, driving no faster than is needed (obviously also a safety issue), turning off engine trucks when they are not being used and correctly charging batteries so they last as long as possible.”
For the manufacturer, designing a forklift truck to be more environmentally-friendly is a complex task. Just deciding on the starting point is not trivial. Bob Hine puts the focus firmly on fuel and energy consumption, exhaust emissions, noise minimisation and waste disposal.
“When evaluating the best power source to use, there is a need to consider fitness-for-purpose: electrical power is quiet, reliable and emissions are easier to control. But internal combustion, using diesel or LPG, has its advantages where the weather and terrain are key factors.
“To tackle exhaust emissions, after-treatments are increasingly being used to complement well established fundamental technologies related to catalysts and diesel particulate filters. Engine management systems can also play a significant part in ensuring optimum engine performance while reducing fuel consumption and emissions,” says Hine.
For the environmentally conscious forklift manufacturer, the energy requirements of the design, development, production, maintenance and disposal processes of the truck all have to be considered, says Bill Goodwin, sales and marketing director of Jungheinrich. “When it comes to a forklift’s fuel source, an evaluation of the fuel exploration methods, production, transport and
distribution will become increasingly necessary to fully assess the full environmental impact of the truck.” Toyota takes a total lifecycle approach, says Rylance, “addressing environmental impact during the manufacture, use and ultimately the disposal of the truck.”
You need to think ahead when designing the forklift and selecting an engine, says Bowen. “It is not just about the requirements and regulations in force when the product is brought to market in a year or two’s time, it is making sure that the truck can easily be changed to comply with regulations throughout its design life. Even if the technology or precise mechanism is not available
now, you have to build in an upgrade path to make sure the truck can be adapted as necessary.
“The materials used in the construction of the forklifts will make a difference – for instance, the use of recycled plastic and steel, and making sure that there are no heavy metals in the electronics.
“Fuel choice is traditionally DC battery, diesel or LPG, and compressed natural gas (CNG) has also been introduced. It is not just emissions created by using and fuelling the truck that should be considered.
Reducing the consumption of spare parts and consumables during the truck’s operating life is also important, says Bowen.