According to Phil Pearson, head of marketing at Linde Material Handling, the process of purchasing a counterbalance lift truck fleet has changed over the last eighteen months to two years. “The dynamic has changed to a greater commercial input into the purchasing decision, much more so than was the case two years ago when it was a logistics dominated decision,” he says. “It’s more balanced now – you have more stake holders involved in the process. However, it’s different for each company.”
Pearson stresses that buyers are looking for truck manufacturers to demonstrate that benefits claimed are reflected in the operational performance of the truck. Determining the right truck, power source, handling characteristics and rating for the application requires a comprehensive review of the requirements of the task. Linde Material Handling has a bespoke software programme called Stratos that is used to understand the full parameters of the warehouse layout and work application using client demand data and flow requirements. Various scenarios can be modelled to test the performance of the truck fleet and to ensure that an optimum number of appropriate machines are deployed.
“In some cases we will recommend a change in the warehouse layout which may reduce the number of trucks needed,” says Pearson. “We may be able to suggest one truck to do two jobs, whereas in the past they may have needed two trucks.” Using such modelling solutions allows for the best mix of trucks to be arrived at.
With fuel prices on the rise, those responsible for running a lift truck fleet need to be fully aware of the total cost of ownership. Steve Gerrard, head of UK sales for Still, believes that many managers using contract hire are only looking at the headline weekly cost of finance and maintenance: “They don’t consider the actual running costs of diesel, LP Gas or electricity,” he says. “As an example, take a typical application of 1,500 hours per year usage on a 2,500kg diesel counterbalance truck. The Still RX70, fitted with hybrid technology, uses only 2.5 litres of fuel per hour compared with one of the market leaders which uses approximately 4.4 litres of fuel per hour. Based on fuel costs of £1.15 per litre, the Still would cost approximately £4,300 per year to run compared to the competitor’s truck which would cost approximately £7,600 – a difference of £3,300 per year, or a weekly cost of over £60 per truck.”
“Nobody would buy a fleet of motor vehicles without considering the fuel consumption, so why should it be any different for forklift trucks?” points out Gerrard.
According to Jungheinrich, hydrostatic drive technology helps minimise fuel consumption. Earlier this year the forklift manufacturer launched the 3-Series which is described as an “ultra-high performance” counterbalance range, powered by a Volkswagen engine and featuring the same hydrostatic drive technology as used on the 4-series. The company’s tests indicate that over the course of 2,000 hours of typical operation, a 3- Series truck can save some £2,000 in fuel costs compared to a similar capacity counterbalance truck that uses torque converter technology.
Fuel efficiency is becoming increasingly important, particularly with respect to a rising corporate awareness of carbon footprints. Manufacturers such as Linde Material Handling and Yale, among others, have introduced “Eco buttons” that allow the operator to switch to a lower power usage – and hence, lower performance – in off-peak periods.
Of course, every lift truck manufacturer claims to have the most fuel efficient, robust and economic vehicle. So it’s important to remember that the biggest cost involved in running a forklift truck is the operator sitting in the cab. Attention to driver training is essential, not only for ensuring health and safety within the work space, but also for attaining “best practice” in operator performance.
Careful weighing up of the type of truck and just how many are needed for the job is central to running a cost-efficient operation and is a critical factor in calculating the cost-per-pallet moved. However, one of the most important aspects of any forklift contract is the supplier’s ability to ensure that truck downtime is kept to a minimum.
“Users should look to source forklift truck fleets from organisations that are not only capable of supplying a full line-up of products, from counterbalance to warehouse machines, but who can also demonstrate that they have the infrastructure in place to be able to guarantee the highest levels of service,” says Bill Goodwin, sales director of Jungheinrich UK.
“The things that differentiate a good supplier from the others are, firstly, the frequency between technical problems and then the ability of the supplier to have an engineer on site in the shortest possible time to put faults right when they occur,” he says. “Full service offers an easy-to-budget, steady cost stream with no surprises, but we would advise anyone entering a contract hire agreement to spend time carefully reading the contract they are offered,” says Goodwin. “Ask what is meant by ‘maintenance’? Does it include all repairs caused by wear and tear? Remember that what is left out of a contract is often as important as what is included.”
Forklift fleet up-time depends on good performance from your maintenance provider and to a great extent that is reliant on, not only servicing the vehicle at the right time, but having the appropriate parts available at the time of servicing. Predictive maintenance is now an essential part of the service offering.
Barloworld Handling has just launched a new fleet management system that captures live performance data from trucks for analysis via a web portal. “We have simplified the data capture process and improved the accuracy of reports by accessing data directly from the trucks,” explains Graham Jones, general manager for UK sales at Barloworld. “Our new fleet management system is fitted to forklift trucks very quickly, inexpensively and without downtime to customer operations.”
A telemetry device transmits data directly from each truck to Barloworld’s service management system. The system uses monitoring technology that integrates with the Canbus system on the latest forklift trucks, such as the Hyster Fortens engine counterbalance truck. The service system collects, analyses and reports on truck performance data such as daily run time, hour meter readings, impacts, maintenance completion and cost of ownership information.
Phil Pearson of Linde Material Handling also stresses the importance of remote reporting. “We use telemetry software to make sure we can do preventative maintenance to drive down costs and to drive up productivity and availability of the truck,” he says. “ We have a pilot running at the moment using sim cards and GPRS technology that is looking at remotely gathering data from the truck to see when a truck should be coming up to service, so we can schedule in parts for service and plan accordingly.”
Earlier this year, Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks introduced the Grendia, its latest generation of trucks in the key 1.5 to 5.5 tonne IC engine counterbalance sector. Mike Jones, general manager of the company’s UK operation explains that customers are looking for reliability. “We use highquality components for greater durability and we design systems that reduce wear. We also build in easy serviceability,” he says. “The result is minimal loss of productivity and minimal spending on replacement parts and servicing.”
Of course, safety has to be a top priority when selecting a counterbalance truck. The Grendia ES features Mitsubishi’s integrated presence system (IPS) which prevents all travel and mast movement if the driver is not seated.
Briggs Equipment, the Cat lift truck distributor, has just launched a new 4 – 5.5 tonne lift truck which it says has been designed to be the safest in its class. The DP/GP 40 – 55 incorporates a fully floating powertrain that creates less vibration and a quieter transmission, which, they say, increases operator comfort while protecting the truck from undue wear and tear.
Also recently introduced is Atlet’s Balance EH series which is claimed by the manufacturer to combine “car feeling” and reliability. The fingertip control and the steering synchroniser are ergonomic features that lend themselves to a relaxed driver position. There are four models in this four-wheel electric counterbalance truck range (80V) from 2.0 to 3.0 tonne. AC technology motors are used and energy regeneration functions are incorporated.