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Increasingly, technologies developed in the motor industry are finding their way into the forklift market. Malory Davies looks at some of the latest developments.

Eat your heart out, Jeremy Clarkson. It looks like four wheel drifts and power slides could be a thing of the past as traction control comes to the forklift truck market. While traction control is widely used in the car industry, it has not really made an impact in the forklift truck market. However, Linde believes it has a role in snow, ice and slippery surfaces by redistributing power and torque between the wheels for optimum traction whatever the weather.

Linde is using the system on its new E20-E50 series of electric counterbalance trucks. The 2 to 3.5 tonne lift capacity series will launch in early 2011, followed by the 3.5 to 5 tonne lift capacity series later in the year. And it is just one of a series of innovations that the new trucks will include.

Alex Jones, product marketing manager at Linde, points out that recent advances in counterbalance trucks have been focused on improved operator comfort and safety, enhanced energy efficiency and reduced truck downtime for maximum productivity.

The new E20-E50 series trucks are fitted with an Ecomode setting which offers a choice of three operating modes – Performance, Economy and Efficiency – allowing the user to strike the right balance between performance and energy consumption.

“Battery charging requirements have also been addressed with an intelligent on-board driver display. This shows the remaining driving time in minutes, to allow the truck to be driven right up to its next battery change or recharging cycle, putting the user fully in control of energy management,” says Jones.

Improving the stability of trucks is also high on the agenda at Jungheinrich and marketing manager Craig Johnson points out that the recently launched Jungheinrich 3-Series of counterbalance trucks has been designed with the counterweight virtually underneath the operator’s seating position. By lowering the counterweight and positioning it further forward, Jungheinrich’s engineers have effectively changed the truck’s centre of gravity. In doing so they have made the trucks inherently stable.

“Industry studies of lift truck accidents have shown that forklift trucks that tip over while attempting to take a corner too quickly is one of the most frequent causes of fatal injuries to truck operators, so this enhancement brings real benefits to the user,” says Johnson.

To improve stability further, electronic and engine powered counterbalance trucks in the Jungheinrich range are fitted with Curve Control, which automatically reduces the truck’s drive speed as it enters a corner. It does this by monitoring the truck’s speed, wheel position and steering angle.

At the heart of the Curve Control system is a continuously working sensing unit that monitors the truck’s steering angle, and reduces the drive speed when an excessive steering angle is sensed.

Toyota, of course, has developed its system of active stability (SAS) and operations director Tony Wallis says: “Further enhancements to the SAS, which is fitted to the majority of Toyota forklift trucks to reduce the risk of tip over, means it remains at the leading edge of forklift safety technology.”

Another key development on the Toyota Tonero is the Optimax system, which maximises performance of the engine and transmission. Toyota has added a package of special options including: automatic lifting control, a preset speed reduction (13km/h), low rolling resistance tyres, and safety+ display incorporating Optimax controls.

Linde is also showcasing some of these technologies on a 10 to 18 tonne diesel engine counterbalance series to service the heavier end of the market. The new H100-H180 is being built at Linde’s Heavy Truck Division in Merthyr Tydfil and, says Jones, it uses a hydrostatic drive to provide optimal speed and precision.

In the current business climate, it is not just important to decide what equipment to acquire, it is also important to consider how to acquire it.

Phil Pearson, head of marketing at Linde, points out that customers are looking to conserve cash and manage costs tightly and this is being reflected in the growing trend for truck acquisition through finance packages, particularly contract hire.

“Contract hire can provide an additional source of funding without the need for customers to draw on existing cash reserves or banking facilities. It also offers the added benefits of fixed finance costs for the term of the agreement with the flexibility to structure rental profiles to suit the cash flow needs of the customer, such as low start options and seasonal payments,” he says.

Pre-owned equipment can also be a good alternative to new equipment. However Tony Wallis points out that companies need to consider the application and usage. Pre-owned equipment is ideal for companies who are looking for a truck to meet an occasional need, low usage or as a back-up to their existing fleets.

And, says Wallis, while pre-owned or refurbished trucks are an alternative to new trucks in the right application and usage, to minimise risk it is important that companies choose their supplier and the brand of the trucks carefully.

Neil Warren, Jungheinrich’s used equipment and short term rental director, argues that many users prefer to acquire used trucks from a top European manufacturer than invest in new forklift models cheaply imported from the Far East.

“We would contend that 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 says.

Warren also believes that the profile of the typical used forklift buyer has changed. “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,” he says.

“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… There is now no difference in the type of company that buys new trucks and used trucks.”

Mark Sullivan, head of short term rental and used trucks at Linde, also sees a growing trend in the demand for mixed fleet purchases of new and used trucks. “We have just expanded our network of refurbishment centres with a new used truck facility in Bristol to serve South Wales and the South of England.”

So far, the growth of alternative fuels has had little impact in the forklift market, though of course battery and gas powered vehicles have been used for years.

Craig Johnson says that at the moment the technology isn’t sufficiently developed to allow a manufacturer to offer a reliable alternative to electric, diesel or LPG-powered trucks.

“Of the fuels that are being spoken about as an alternative forklift power source, lithium-ion batteries will soon be available with the benefits of rapid charging, long running times and compact dimensions. While many experts are suggesting that methanol fuel cells will be available as another power source in the coming years. However, although some manufacturers have been hyping the use of hydrogen fuel cells within forklifts, the reality is that hydrogen-powered forklifts will not be seen in any significant numbers in Europe for a number of years.”

Linde’s Alex Jones argues that given the current state of technological advance, electric motors for forklift trucks remain the most accessible eco-friendly drive system on the market. “Linde is researching practical fuel cell solutions for the market. However, the initial cost of fuel cell-powered trucks and current lack of hydrogen filling station infrastructure, will remain a barrier to mass commercialisation of this technology for the forklift truck market.”

Crown has launched an IC-powered counterbalance forklift truck – the C-5, which it says addresses some of the issues with IC-engine lift trucks including short service intervals and performance issues arising from overheating – particularly LPG trucks. The truck comes in capacities from 2 to 3.2 tonnes. Crown collaborated with John Deere to co-develop a 2.4-litre LPG industrial engine designed to meet the needs of arduous applications.

Case study – Selco expands fleet
Builders Merchant Selco has taken delivery of an additional 25 Hyster forklift trucks from Barloworld Handling to cover the needs of its expanding branch network.

The fleet includes Hyster H3.0FT Fortens diesel counterbalance trucks and Hyster R2.0 Matrix electric reach trucks for the handling and storage of a wide range of materials provided through Selco Builders Warehouse outlets. Of the trucks, 16 have been earmarked for new Selco branches.

Selco operations director Chris Cunliffe says: “Good after-sales service is vital to ensure that we always have our trucks up and running when we need them and Barloworld help us to ensure our customers’ demands are met.”

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