Reaching beyond the warehouse

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Reach trucks may have gone as high as they can go, but now the challenge is the great outdoors.

Mark Peters, warehouse product manager at Toyota Material Handling UK, recalls the massive tail off in reach truck demand in 2008 as companies running distribution centres held off extending contracts. But things have improved: “The industry has seen the UK market recover with mean average sales over the last 12 months of 2,600 units, based on orders going into BITA [British Industrial Truck Association]. The 12 months prior to that it was 2,100 units,” he says.

Most demand for reach trucks comes from retail distribution centres, where they are used in combination with order picking trucks and powered pallet trucks, and it is here where the upper limits of lift are being pushed ever higher. The “new extreme” is now 13 metres.

According to Chris Bates, national sales manager at Atlet: “There has been a steady trend for a number of years to free-roaming trucks that can lift higher and higher. Ten years ago a lift height of 10.2 metres was thought of as groundbreaking, whereas now 10.8 metres makes up pretty much the core of our short term hire fleet.

“Based on demand from the grocery sector we now take 1.250 kilos to 12.1 metres and a tonne can go up to 13 metres,” he says. “For a long time the very tall warehouses had to go down the very narrow aisle route because trucks couldn’t take pallets that high, but now there is greater choice for storage solutions.”

Peters says: “There are a lot of distribution centres operating at 12 metres which has always been perceived as the upper limit really. When you start getting to those heights, visibility is reduced and the risk of damage is increased. You can fit cameras to the forks or alternatively, we have a tilting cab which activates after a certain height to allow the operator to see the fork tips without straining their neck – which helps with productivity and helps with driver fatigue. You have to be careful at those heights so visibility is absolutely key.”

Robert O’Donoghue, warehouse product strategy leader at Yale, concurs: “Visibility is obviously important in looking at the load, looking to your right hand side and putting the load away at height. There may be a need for cameras and height indicators but the more experienced the driver the less they seem to use them. However, in the 3PL market there tends to be a high turnover of drivers so any guides we can offer have to be useful,” he says.

O’Donoghue explains that “once you get above 12 metres you have to look hard at the efficiency of the operation and the cycle-time to put a load away at that height – it’s a skilled operation and takes quite a long time.” Warehouse management systems can be set to ensure the slowest moving items are placed at the very top of the racking, but it can still bring operational problems.

Jonathan Morris, sales director at Jungheinrich UK points to the inherent problems with working at such heights. “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,” he says. Jungheinrich reach trucks are fitted with a mast damping system which reduces this swaying effect considerably – “it’s a feature which is proving very popular with customers,” he adds.

“When it comes to maximising the productivity of the reach truck operation, a simple and highly cost effective alternative to on-board CCTV systems for applications where trucks are lifting to the greatest heights is a mast marking kit,” says Morris.

“In simple terms, the kit involves the use of highly visible stickers which 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. Mast marking kits are simple and they work – we offer them as standard.”

So with reach heights going up, what aisle widths do reach trucks now need to operate comfortably? Bates of Atlet explains that the aisle width is governed by how deep the load goes into the rack, but he says: “If we assume a 1,000mm deep load, if you are using a truck that can lift to 10 metres then you would want a 2.9 metre aisle and if you are going up to 13 metres then you would be talking about 3.2 metres.” These are wide aisles.

However, he points out that if there are people working in the aisles and they need to pass one another then wide aisles will be required anyway. An important question to ask is: Do I need more than one piece of equipment in the aisle at the same time?

Avoiding bottlenecks is critical. “If your business is very consistent then narrow aisle is extremely good,” Bates says. However, he observes that, generally, levels of inventory are coming down, which puts throughput up, “so with more stock turns you have to be fast moving and flexible which means wide aisles are needed rather than narrow aisles.”

Reliability is essential in a reach truck and Morris believes AC technology is an important technology to exploit. Jungheinrich reach trucks use AC technology for drive, lifting and steering functions – offering high acceleration and top speed performance. He says: “There are fewer wearing parts which makes the trucks service-friendly with less downtime and lower running costs.”

Morris suggests that the full work duties of the reach truck need to be taken into account, such as whether the truck is to be used outside. He says: “Although reach trucks are perceived as only being suitable for work inside the store, models are available that are equally at home outside. Our ETV C16/20 reach truck is suitable for work both inside and outside the warehouse or distribution centre during lorry loading and offloading.” Good ground clearance and puncture-proof super-elastic tyres make all the difference, and he points out “removes the need for double handling which means that for many applications it will be the only truck that users need.”

Toyota is to launch a new reach truck called the “O” series, for “Outside” use, at the IMHX exhibition in March. “It’s a multi function reach truck that can be used for traditional stacking and store inside a warehouse and then go outside and load the back of a wagon – the traditional role of a counterbalanced truck,” says Peters. He sees this combined role as a potential growth market.

The issue with reach trucks is that they are not really designed for imperfect flooring. But Peters explains the new model has wheels similar to a counterbalanced truck, “so you get all the functionality of a reach truck with 360 degree steering but it also allows you to take a pallet and put it on the back of a wagon. In the right environment you can reduce the number of trucks needed,” he says. In terms of lift height and capacity, Peters points out that the new model takes one tonne up to 7.5 metres which, he says, is more than adequate for the target market of smaller sites. The average pallet weight in the UK is between 600-800 kilos. Peters adds: “It uses AC motors and is technically the same as our other reach trucks.”

And what of the price? “The O series sits mid-range in price. But there are so many options with a reach truck,” he says. “We offer cameras, load weight indicators, speed reduction on cornering… and cold store specifications. Reach trucks are anywhere between £20,000 – £35,000 depending on the specification.”

According to O’Donoghue, Yale are working “very hard” at the moment on a new reach truck model, but he declined to offer a launch date. Pressed on the characteristics of the new model he emphasised the importance of driver comfort and accessibility: “people tend to underestimate how often drivers get on and off a truck,” he says. As might be expected, the ergonomics of the cab will be a primary focus.

He also predicts a future change with in-cab displays. “In ten years time the reach truck will look much the same, but the display will look completely different,” he says. “At the moment there tends to be three or four screens for the driver to look at– fleet management systems and warehouse management systems etc. But In the future all the information will be displayed in one place.”

John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Flexi Narrow Aisle, believes many companies are opting for articulated machines in place of reach trucks.

“Although articulated trucks were first introduced as an alternative to established guided very narrow aisle technology, the articulated truck concept is now regarded a highly credible alternative to reach trucks and articulated forklifts are proving more productive than reach trucks in many situations,” he says.

According to John Maguire, one of the key drivers of many companies’ decision to switch to articulated trucks is the speed at which an articulated truck can pick and put away palletised loads.

He says, “In simple terms, a reach truck uses either a pantograph type mast – which, with its scissors-like mechanism extends its forks forward from the mast to place or retrieve a pallet – or a moving-mast which rolls forward for pallet placement and retrieval into or out of the racking and to place a pallet on the floor. An articulated forklift on the other hand is designed to enter an aisle with the palletised load to the front. The Flexi truck then articulates through 95 degrees before placing the forks into the racking or collecting a pallet. In practice, users of the articulated truck concept know that this allows pallets to be picked and put away notably faster than with a reach truck.”

– Crown’s new ESR 5200 reach truck series come with OCS – Crown’s intelligent Optimised Cornering Speed system which detects whether the reach truck is driving into or out of a curve and adjusts speed and acceleration accordingly. The range includes the ESR 5220 and ESR 5240 which are optimised for smaller storage units. The ESR 5220 is 1120 mm wide so two trucks can pass in an aisle just 2.5 metres wide and is capable of lifting loads to a height of 7500 mm. The ESR 5240 reach truck is optimised for all applications with lift heights below 9.5 metres. The ESR 5260 and ESR 5280S are designed for heavy duty applications and have s lifting capacity up to two tonnes and a maximum lift height of 13 metres.

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