Reaching perfection

LinkedIn +

Making the most of available storage space has for many years relied upon the capabilities of the Reach Truck. Significant improvements to design continue to push the boundaries of performance.

Reach trucks are the great workhorses of the warehouse – resilient, powerful and capable of reaching out to elevated racking positions some 12m above the warehouse floor. The reach truck is one of the best conventional means of maximising the storage cube and has been dutifully serving this purpose for the past 50 years. Over this period it has developed considerably and, although it has become a highly sophisticated piece of material handling technology, it is still undergoing significant refinement.

Alongside safety – speed and performance are critical considerations when it comes to reach truck design. Toyota has introduced a couple of interesting features to its BT Reflex range, such as shock sensors as standard and transitional lift control for improving load stability.

Damage to goods and racking from lift truck impacts are an all too common occurrence in the warehouse and can involve considerable expense or serious health and safety issues. To reduce such incidents, Toyota is to fit shock sensors to its reach truck range as standard, allowing any impact to a truck to be monitored, recorded and linked to drivers.

The threshold for impact can be preset and only impacts exceeding the threshold value will be registered. Toyota say that when a shock exceeds the threshold value, the truck will be limited to creep speed (2.5km/h) and a signal will sound every five seconds, until reset. The expectation is that shock sensors will have a positive effect on driver behaviour, leading to increased safety on site.

The second development involves the improvement of load stability while delivering fast, consistent lift and lowering speeds. For reach trucks this is particularly pertinent as speed and stability of lift is critical to operational performance, especially when lifting to several levels of racking, as is common in reach truck applications. In many respects, the lift and lowering speeds are as important as the travel speed.

Conventional lift systems rely upon hydraulic oil pressure to determine the sequence of movement during the lifting process. The consequence of this fully hydraulically controlled system is that there is – in most raw systems, no normal “cushioning” between the stages. Impacts between mast stages cause a shock-effect on the entire vehicle and in particular on the load.

Toyota has developed a system called Transitional Lift Control which is standard on all BT Reflex R-series and E-series reach trucks, as well as on BT Vector R-series VNA trucks. The flow of oil in the hydraulic system is controlled by valves, which in turn are activated by a cable-based altimeter that measures lift height. Valve control allows a smooth transition between stages and the use of narrower lift cylinders offer increased lift and lower speeds.

So what other innovations are driving the development of reach truck technology? Craig Johnson, marketing manager at Jungheinrich UK, says: “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.” To offset this effect, Jungheinrich reach trucks are fitted with a mast damping system which reduces swaying considerably. “It’s a feature which is proving very popular.”


Johnson offers an example of where tests are proving the point. At Tesco’s depot in Lichfield, Staffordshire, a fleet of 63 Jungheinrich ETV 3-Series reach trucks are used predominantly to put away pallets in the bulk store and replenish picking locations.

“The reach trucks used by Tesco lift to just over 12 metres and in tests we proved that it takes up to ten seconds less for an elevated load to stop swaying with the Jungheinrich trucks than it does for most competitive models. Over the course of a long shift this has brought notable productivity, as well as safety, benefits for Tesco,” says Johnson. He goes on to point out the importance of reliability in reducing truck running costs, highlighting the advantages of AC technology used on the company’s reach trucks for drive, lifting and steering functions. “Our latest generation AC motors offer high acceleration and top speed performance and there are fewer wearing parts which makes the trucks exceptionally service-friendly with less downtime and lower running costs as a result,” he says.

“Predictability” has been put forward by Mitsubishi as a key factor in improving productivity for reach truck operations. They say, research indicates that “if your reach truck consistently does exactly what your driver expects, your productivity will rise – and so will safety levels”.

In a “predictable” truck, they say, there is no discernible pause between the operation of the levers and the working of the mast functions. The same goes for accuracy of fork positioning. So predictably, Mitsubishi have designed its RBN series of 1.4 to 2.5 tonne reach trucks using advanced electronic systems to make fork movement, travel and manoeuvring quiet, smooth and precise. Among the features of the RBN is the Visionmast. “Hot extrusion” technology has been used to facilitate the enclosure of the hydraulic cylinders within the profile of the mast’s first stage. This adds extra stiffness to the mast, as well as providing a clearer view. The mast is claimed to have less sway and a 40 per cent higher residual capacity than a conventional mast.

A few months ago Hyster Europe introduced several new developments to its Matrix reach truck, the most notable of which has resulted in an increase in the maximum traction speed by eight per cent. AC technology on traction, pump and steer motors has helped to achieve faster cycle times, especially over long distances.

The company has also redesigned the overhead guard to improve visibility of the fork tips when putting away or retrieving pallets at height. “Visibility is a major factor influencing an operator’s attitude towards warehouse equipment and is repeatedly cited in our discussions with end users,” says Robert O’Donoghue, senior product strategy manager for Hyster warehouse equipment.

A new seat also features among the new additions, helping to reduce whole body vibration further, with very low profile mechanical suspension, a shock absorber and an integral lumbar support. Additional updates include reduced steer noise levels, antistatic traction and wet grip drive wheel and new 800mm and 1590mm forks for the tilting fork carriage with integral side shift.

Jana Vitkova, product manager at Linde, emphasises the reach truck’s importance in the warehouse – with reach trucks accounting for 17.4 per cent of warehouse trucks sold – and consequently, its prominence in their warehouse range as a core product.

“We are always looking for ways of improving our reach truck range,” says Vitkova. “Customers want increased efficiency at reduced cost and we are constantly looking at how we can satisfy those needs. So we are always looking at the ergonomics of the truck to ensure that the operator is comfortable and happy, as this leads directly to productivity increases.”

“Ease of operation is very important,” she says. “Reducing the strain on the operator and of course health and safety requirements are top considerations – visibility through the mast and overhead guard protection being critical points.” Vitkova refers to the high visibility through the mast on Linde’s R14X – R17X (1.4 – 1.7 tonne capacity) reach truck range. “The mast construction gives greater visibility as it’s a lot wider than on traditional reach trucks,” she says, adding, “because of the increased visibility through the mast we have recorded reduced damage as a result.”

Manufacturers are conscious of the challenges presented to their customers in planning a warehouse, with all the issues around throughput, layout and design. Most offer advice in this regard.

Linde for one, offers consultancy on warehouse design, using a tool called Stratos. Vitkova says: “We can help customers analyse what type of trucks, and the number they need, in accordance to throughput, shift patterns, product lines etc. and we work closely with them on reaching a design. We don’t offer racking as part of our service but we do provide consultancy.”

The smooth operation of a reach truck depends greatly on the condition of the warehouse floor. With loads being raised up to 12m in many instances, floor flatness and condition are critical for both safety and performance. Dale Rudkin, managing director of flooring specialist Advanced Resin Technologies, says: “Owners of older buildings can increase storage space by raising racking heights and using reach trucks, but are often restricted by the condition of the floor. We can put in a super flat floor to SR1 level specification, which gives a maximum permissible departure from a two metre straight edge laid in contact with the floor of 3mm, enabling them to maximise available space.”

He also points out that old and deteriorating expansion joints in the floor can be a particular problem, especially considering the small hard wheels common on reach trucks. Jarring can result in unstable loads, damage to the truck and back injury claims from drivers – not to mention productivity issues.

When looking at reach truck applications, articulated trucks should also be considered. John Maguire, sales and marketing director at Narrow Aisle Flexi, believes the market is changing. “There is a growing realisation that rapidly increasing sales of articulated trucks are having an impact on the reach truck market, both in the UK and overseas,” he says.

“The articulated truck has long been promoted as a viable alternative to the traditional combination of a counterbalanced truck to unload and a reach truck to put away palletised loads and, in recent years, more and more fleet operators have been converted to the articulated approach – at the expense, it appears, of the reach truck,” says Maguire.

“Until the articulated truck was introduced, companies had little alternative but to operate a two truck system with a counterbalanced machine working outside and feeding a reach truck inside the store or warehouse,” he says. “With the arrival of articulated machines users realised that they could eliminate this often costly and generally inefficient arrangement. Articulated trucks load and unload lorries and delivers pallets directly to the racking in a single operation.” Maguire highlights the duel advantages of abolishing double handling and removing the costs associated with running a bigger truck fleet than is necessary.

Another articulated truck manufacturer, Bendi, has similar views when it comes to comparisons with reach trucks. Simon Brown, managing director of Bendi, says “There is a misconception that articulated trucks are harder and slower to drive but they can actually move an average of 35 pallets per hour versus the generally accepted industry norm of 25 pallets for a reach truck.

“When you look at the versatility of the Bendi, it is easy to understand why sales of articulated trucks are approaching 40 per cent of the total reach truck sales in the UK,” he says. “The Bendi can easily operate in a reach truck environment which could include order picking, but it can then go outside on loading duties or can operate in a typical VNA type bulk storage area with aisles as low as 1600mm. This offers the end user savings on the number of trucks required and the associated costs, number of operators, improvements in operational efficiencies etc.”

Aisle-Master, which is also an articulated truck, has introduced a cold store cab. The cab has been designed to offer comfortable operating conditions in extreme cold. Low temperatures can drain battery power quickly, but the 930 amp batteries fitted by Aisle-Master are suited to the task, enabling the truck to work in temperatures as low as -30 deg C.

Case study: Raising the spirits

The Port of Bristol is Britain’s most centrally located deep sea port. Plenty of major retailers and suppliers to the retail sector have chosen to establish national distribution centres near to the Port and one of the latest is leading wines and spirits importer Matthew Clark who recently moved into an 8,500 square metre storage unit within the Royal Portbury Dock – part of the dock estate.

The facility is operated on Matthew Clark’s behalf by the Bristol Port Company and offers over 10,000 pallet locations. While there is some block stacking at the site, the majority of the pallets are stored within pallet racking served by a fleet of three Jungheinrich reach trucks.

The reach trucks – Jungheinrich ETV 320 models with a 2-tonne capacity – were purchased outright by the Bristol Port Company. A significant influence on the Bristol Port Company’s decision to specify models from the Jungheinrich range was the fact that the trucks feature Jungheinrich’s patented mast dampening system.

When working at height, truck masts sway and truck operators have to wait for the swaying to stop before attempting to deliver the pallet into the racking. Jungheinrich’s mast damping system minimises elevated fork (laden or unladen) swaying time.

The pallet racking within Matthew Clark’s facility has been designed to maximize space available within the apex of the roof and, at its highest point, offers six beam levels. This means that the trucks lift to heights of over 11.5 metres and it was calculated that the Jungheinrich damping system saved 14 seconds per lift when compared to alternative makes of reach truck.

Share this story: