On the straight and narrow

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Innovation within the narrow aisle market is rife with a number of manufacturers launching new products. Flexi Narrow Aisle has unveiled the Flexi Euro VNA articulated forklift, a four-wheel electric powered truck designed to offer faster, safer work cycles with optimum stability in aisles as narrow as 1,600mm.

The new model can lift pallets to heights of up to 7.9 metres and is supplied with treaded cushion rubber tyres as standard which offer maximum traction in wet outdoor conditions. Twin front wheel drive means that the weight of the truck and the load is evenly divided between the front two tyres to further enhance traction and minimise tyre wear.

The truck features a compact axle design and instead of pivot steering, the Euro VNA uses a “true articulation” turning system meaning it requires minimal manoeuvring in the aisles, which results in faster pallet put-away and picking. Flexi claims that in a 1,600mm wide aisle, the Euro VNA only needs one articulation to put away a standard ISO or Chep pallet.

John Maguire, sales and marketing director at Flexi Narrow Aisle, reckons: “Some articulated trucks require the operator to perform a five-point turn in the aisleway before a pallet can be put away or picked. The Flexi Euro VNA, with its True Radius design requires one turn to enter or de-stack a pallet. This is hugely significant and results in very significant time savings. In any application involving articulated trucks the amount of time spent in the aisleway picking and putting away pallets has to be minimised if optimum operational efficiencies are to be achieved.”


Also on the innovation trail, Bendi has unveiled the Mini Bendi, a pedestrian-controlled articulated forklift, which it claims is an industry first.

Simon Brown, managing director of Translift Bendi, says: “There has been a significant call from the industry for a smaller, lighter machine that does not necessarily have the speed or reach of a normal Bendi but can still accommodate the UK-style perimeter-based pallets.”

The Mini Bendi has large, soft wheels for travelling over yards or roads, enabling deliveries to be unloaded and placed straight into storage. Bendi suggests that traditional machines in this sector have smaller wheels that struggle with these surfaces and either get stuck or spill their loads. The operator’s position is also twice as far away from pallets compared to a traditional pedestrian truck, and it has 220 degree load rotation for unobstructed visibility.

Brown says trials and subsequent modifications have now been completed with retailers including B&Q and Asda. To date more than 65 trucks have been ordered.

From mini to maxi, Hyster’s C1.5 VNA truck has a mast strong enough to handle a 3m long metal cage and a load of 800kg in any location on the platform, which was a key selling point for department store John Lewis.

The retailer had previously used aisle cranes in some of its operations but wanted a more flexible and cost effective system.

Ted Weager, senior project engineer at John Lewis, says: “Mattresses, washing machines, sofas and other large and heavy goods all have to be stored carefully while maximising the space available in our warehouses. We wanted to store products at heights of over 10m which is easily achieved for palletised goods, but not when large items need manual handling.”

John Lewis initially trialled the concept at its Park Royal facility in London where it now has three machines in operation. After speaking to Hyster distributor Barloworld, the retailer also opted for the C range when designing its combined service centre in Avonmouth, which now operates three machines in ten aisles.

Weager says: “We have maximised storage space in the new Avonmouth warehouse cube and spent only a quarter of what we would otherwise have invested on cranes,” adding that the life time costs are also greatly reduced.

When it comes to increasing safety, Crown’s TSP 6000 features the MoveControl seat, which can be vertically adjusted and rotated 110 degrees to provide better visibility and access to goods. It also has multi-task controls positioned in the armrests which allow multiple load handling tasks to be dealt with simultaneously.


Added to this, a compact three point suspension provides a short turning radius making it possible to combine picking, transporting and staging operations in one truck.

As with all areas of material handling equipment, the thing that drives development in narrow aisle and very narrow aisle technology is improving productivity and safety, and reducing overall cost.

Steve Richmond, general manager of Jungheinrich (UK)’s systems and projects division, says: “In traditional VNA operations, the operator’s skill and judgement are crucial factors in timing the approach to a pallet location and the driver needs to decide precisely when to begin lifting his cab as it travels horizontally along the aisle. Valuable time can be lost if the driver lifts too soon or too late. Tests have shown that for a medium-sized warehouse, on average six to eight seconds per cycle are lost through searching and re-adjusting.

“However Jungheinrich has introduced a navigation system that enables the entire operation to be performed automatically at the press of a button. This means that the truck driver no longer needs to concentrate on things such as the approach, searching for pallets or the ideal time to start lifting or lowering his cab while on the move in the aisle – the warehouse navigation system does all that for him by calculating the optimum diagonal path for each approach.”

Before investing in new equipment, Richmond highlights the importance of considering business drivers.

“If you need greater operational flexibility then a wider aisle scheme might best serve your needs. However, if your chief aim is to increase storage density available from your storage cube, then a VNA solution will probably be the better option.”

He says that as line items increase companies are increasingly looking for hybrid systems that involve both VNA and wider aisle storage served by a combination of automated, semi-automated and manual materials handling equipment. He advises that it is therefore essential that companies analyse their operational processes before committing to any investment to ensure the most appropriate equipment and system is specified.


However, John Maguire of Flexi Narrow Aisle says that in some cases modern warehouse designers and some forklift truck manufacturers place too much emphasis on achieving the narrowest aisles which can compromise safety and may not be the most efficient solution.

“In attempting to squeeze the highest number of racking runs into any given storage cube many companies are in danger of adversely affecting the efficiency and productivity of their forklift fleet,” says Maguire. “Quite simply, narrowing the aisleways too much restricts the speeds at which a forklift can travel between picking locations. When using an articulated forklift truck it might be technically feasible to pick up and turn pallets in aisles as narrow as 1.8 metres, but in applications where high throughputs need to be achieved, faster travel speeds are required.”

However, if there is insufficient clearance in the aisle, then the speed at which the truck can be safely operated could be reduced.

He says: “I recently visited a site where the articulated trucks in operation have no choice but to travel at less than half of their top speed within the aisles because the aisle widths are so narrow that there is very little margin for error on either side of the truck. This is clearly counter productive to any benefits the user may have derived by being able to add extra pallet positions by cutting the aisle dimensions.”

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