Reach truck sales have bounced back in recent months, and designers have been coming up with innovative ways of boosting reach and visibility. Malory Davies reports.
There is a renewed sense of confidence in the reach truck market. Not only have sales been bouncing back, there are new technologies to be scrutinised.
Figures from the British Industrial Truck Association show that orders for electric-powered rider warehouse equipment, dominated by reach trucks, were up 29 per cent last year.
This is well above the 24 per cent average rise for the forklift market as a whole – itself the first annual rise for three years.
Atlet managing director Paul Forster says: “Reach trucks have been around a long time now and the development of ergonomics to improve driver efficiency has reached a very high level. The focus has moved to low energy consumption and reduction of whole life costs through the latest technology in truck software, electronics in and, of course, batteries.
“Watch this space over the next few years on batteries – there will be some major changes in the provision of energy for trucks.”
Bill Goodwin, sales director of Jungheinrich, highlights the importance of the mast: “Because reach trucks are lifting to greater heights, the strength and integrity of the mast is paramount. When working at height, forklift truck masts sway back and forth and truck operators have to wait for the swaying to stop before attempting to deliver the pallet into the racking. Jungheinrich uses a mast damping system to reduce this effect which can have a significant impact on productivity.
“Of course, reliability reduces truck running costs, so we are always looking for ways of making our trucks more reliable, says Goodwin, highlighting the use of AC technology for drive, lifting and steering functions.
Manufacturers have also been looking at some of the fundamentals of reach truck design. Linde took the lead a few years ago with a design that moved the battery from the normal position between the driver and the mast and placed it under the driver – increasing the space available for the driver.
At the same time, a new mast design, involving a traversing fork, allows more space between the mast uprights for better visibility.
And last month, Crown launched the RM 6000 which it reckons is the first ever single mast reach truck. The truck can reach almost 43 feet (13m) with a load of almost half a tonne. Crown says the mono-mast design addresses issues of mast sway and twisting when managing heavier loads at high heights as well as visibility. The mast is offset seven inches to the left of the operator and narrows the higher it goes. In addition, Crown reshaped the reach carriage to create a larger window at eye level to give the operator a better view of fork tips and load.
Crown product manager Maria Schwieterman said: “The Crown RM 6000 changes everything at a time when our customers are looking to maximise existing space. Warehouse managers can gain 15 per cent more pallet positions simply by filling open slots at the top of racks.”
The truck is available in the US, and the company is working on its plans for Europe. Crown has also updated its ESR 5000 Series with the Optimised Cornering Speed (OCS) system, an increased top speed and an extended lift height of 13 metres. The OCS is designed to ensure the truck runs smoothly and safely without slowing drivers down unnecessarily. A top speed of 14 km/h is available and the truck now has a residual capacity of 800 kg at a lifting height of 13 metres.
Working with the mast at full extension is challenging at the best of times and CCTV is one option to make life easier for the operator. However, Goodwin points out that a cost effective alternative to on-board CCTV systems is a mast marking kit using high visibility stickers. These are applied to the mast to alert the operator to the point when the mast is extended to a certain height.
“For example if, at its highest point the mast has to be extended to 11.34 metres the mast marking kit can be set to allow the operator to see at a glance precisely when the mast has reached 11.34 metres,” he says.
One of the advantages of going over to a reach truck based warehouse operation is the opportunity to increase capacity by using narrower aisles. However, John Maguire, sales and marketing director, Flexi Narrow Aisle, warns against making aisles too narrow. “In my view, modern warehouse designers and some forklift truck manufacturers now place too much emphasis on achieving the narrowest aisleways and, as a result, safety and productivity can be compromised.
“Although I would be the first to acknowledge that the accepted wisdom when it comes to restricting aisle widths has certainly benefited articulated forklift truck sales, narrowing the aisles has become something of an obsession and 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.
“Quite simply, narrowing the aisleways restricts the speeds at which a forklift can travel between picking locations. In applications where high throughputs need to be achieved, faster travel speeds are required. If there is insufficient clearance in the aisleway, then the speed at which the truck can be safely operated will be reduced.”
Cost of ownership and return on investment are critical issues for operators.
Paul Forster argues that suppliers have a key role to play. “Firstly they must understand the demands that will be put on the trucks before installation and then the costs (particularly out of contract cost) must be reported regularly and followed up with suggestions and ideas on how to reduce them.
“Information on all aspects of performance is the basis of good decision making and the supplier has a responsibility to provide customers with accurate and relevant figures. A partnership approach will then result in keeping costs down,” he says.
Bill Goodwin agrees: “Users will only be able to derive maximum cost and efficiency gains with measurable values from fleet management systems if they have an effective communication strategy with their truck supplier and then users need to be sure that their truck supplier actually has the desire to deliver results that might appear counterproductive to their profit stream.
He points out that a truck audit will often recommend reducing the fleet size which, on the face of it, is not in the supplier’s best interests. “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 and users should look to source trucks from organisation that can clearly demonstrate that they have the infrastructure in place to be able to guarantee the highest levels of service.”
Case Study – Caffeine boost for United Coffe with 56pc more storage capacity
United Coffee UK has increased storage capacity by 56 per cent by reconfiguring racking and introducing Atlet Forte reach trucks. Storage and handling operations have been optimised at the company’s Milton Keynes distribution centre to meet the requirements of its dramatic business growth.
“We store more and we are more efficient because we found the right trucks and rearranged the warehouse,” says Ray Holland, supply chain and distribution manager at United Coffee.
United Coffee considered a number of options before presenting its business case and taking the decision to change. Turning the racking through 90 degrees offered the prospect of getting more locations into the same space, while narrowing the aisles from 3.2 to 2.5m allowed additional rows of racking to be installed.
Atlet proposed two of its Forte reach trucks which could operate in 2.5m aisles and handle 1,400kg loads to the maximum 6.3m of the highest proposed racking beam.
Working one section at a time the team completed the work in just three weeks when it had originally expected to take six. The racking was repositioned and the beams set to new vertical spacings matched to the height of the palletised loads to optimise space and volume utilisation. Overhead lighting was repositioned to remain in line with the new aisles. The overall result was a 56 per cent increase in capacity from 1,000 to 1,560 locations.
United Coffee’s logistics manager Darren Wilcox says: “This was well above our original target and is now a complete warehouse.”
The warehouse operates from 7.30am to 6pm five days a week. Storage locations are zoned by supplier and product to simplify the operations. Incoming pallets are checked before being authorised for putaway using one of the Forte reach trucks. Picking takes place simultaneously, with the trucks retrieving palletised loads as directed by the warehouse management system. Picked items are handled to the front of the warehouse to await loading onto one of United Coffee UK’s own delivery vehicles. Smaller orders and individual items can also be delivered by third party carrier service, enabling the company to meet its delivery commitments to customers throughout the UK & Ireland.
“With the new operation every racking position has a purpose. We have freed up floor space and each handling movement is easier which means we can fulfil more orders more quickly,” says Wilcox. “It’s become a selling point for the business to have an efficient warehouse and we like to show our customers around.”
The two new Forte trucks were supplied by Atlet with weather cabs so that they could, when needed, operate outside to supplement a counterbalance used for vehicle loading. Although the primary reason for selecting Atlet was the manufacturer’s ability to supply trucks that could meet the precise operational requirement, a number of other factors – including training and support – were important to United Coffee UK.
Quite simply, narrowing the aisleways restricts the speeds at which a forklift can travel between picking locations.