Keep those assets sweating

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It might be the best truck in the world but it is no use if it is not working. Keeping materials handling equipment running is a universal concern, but there’s no one solution, says Johanna Parsons.

Keeping kit in working order is of universal importance. But for forklift truck operators large or small, the strategies and approaches to avoiding downtime will vary. Depending of the type and scale of an operation, priorities and risk factors will apply.

Unfortunately, there’s no universal way to use a forklift. And even trucks in the same fleet are often used in different ways, from the shift patterns or types of work, to the degrees of exposure to weather and temperature controlled environments. This all affects what will need attention and when. The structure of the operation itself will also dictate attitudes to servicing.

“There is a difference between whether it is a small company (which usually looks after service and maintenance itself) and whether it’s a bigger company which usually outsources it to a materials handling provider,” said Gavin Wickham, operations director at Briggs Equipment.

He explains that for the smaller companies, costs, productivity and safety are probably the most important influencers. Whereas for larger companies it’s more about outsourcing to a provider that can add value to their bottom line, extending the lifetime of the fleet, so the company can focus on its core business, giving it a more competitive edge.

“It’s also about keeping the supply chain moving and sharing the risk where costs, productivity and wider safety solutions including KPI reporting are concerned,” says Wickham.

John Maguire of Flexi Narrow Aisle says that reliability is key in considering the real value of a truck. “The on-going costs of fleet maintenance should be a key consideration when assessing a truck’s whole life costs and it is important that a truck user chooses a supplier with properly organised after-sales service and parts support.”

And when this combines with a requirement to “sweat the assets”, taking care of equipment becomes even more crucial.

Phil Bird, aftersales director at Toyota Material Handling, says: “Due to the economic uncertainty of recent years many companies have chosen to extend materials handling equipment contracts. Working with older equipment has led to a greater demand of flexible service and maintenance regimes that keep equipment operating at high levels of operation for longer.”

Wickham for one has seen a trend for lengthening rental terms, doubling in many cases to six to ten year contracts.

This means an obligation to taking a proactive approach, spotting problems before they arise.

Paul Weir, head of service sales at Jungheinrich describes how Jungheinrich uses software called Visitour specifically to schedule its engineering resources to minimise disruption for customers.

And last month, the firm also opened a new spare parts centre in Germany, which cost some €35 million, to ensure its engineers always have the provisions they require as quickly as possible.

“This means Jungheinrich is setting a new standard in spare parts logistics, consolidating its competitive advantage in the spare parts business and expanding its spare parts availability rate to over 98 per cent for its globally active clients,” says Dirk Schulz, head of after-sales service for Jungheinrich.

However, even for the big operators, taking on a rental fleet with a comprehensive service cover doesn’t mean they have outsourced the issue entirely. Complacency can lead to costly problems, regardless of whose job it is to fix them.

Bird says that this means that all the players have to work together. “Operators play a vital role in making sure that equipment is maintained, but it needs both leaders and operators to work together and have processes in place to ensure that high standards are being met.”

Maguire singles out the main factor in achieving good performance, as being the integrity of the equipment in the first place. “The quality of the components has a major impact on the performance and life time running costs of any forklift truck, so always check that your forklift supplier sources reliable drive motors, axles, hydraulics.”

And he points to the particular rigours that certain trucks are expected to withstand as a differentiator, saying the right supporting equipment is essential. “For electric-powered forklift trucks operating in a cold store environment the quality of the battery is particularly important.”

Builders merchant Travis Perkins has forecast savings of some £1.8 million over the next decade with its deal with Hoppecke, which will supply “trak” air batteries, high frequency chargers, automated battery changing systems and “trak” monitor call forward and management systems – backed up by a strong preventive maintenance programme.

Graham Bellman, director fleet – service, at the Travis Perkins says: “Modern FLT batteries have surprisingly long shift life and power to weight ratio and also having fewer moving parts means that less maintenance and servicing is required.”

And EnerSys has introduced a Service Activity Report Management system, to support its range of Hawker batteries and chargers. The system collects data from every maintenance visit to build a complete history of the products, recording all actions taken by the service engineer.

The firm says engineers will be able to enter and access real time data directly from their laptops, and customers will automatically be informed by email when their equipment has been serviced.

On board diagnostics are now widely available for monitoring trucks on an on-going basis, while remote diagnostics systems are making remote visibility and support a reality.

For example, Weir says: “We also provide ISM Online, a web based fleet management and reporting system. ISM Online manages, analyses and optimises truck fleets irrespective of their size and complexity.”

This level of visibility, and connectivity is adding real value for many operators who have a better idea of the true condition of their trucks, and can react accordingly and more easily.

As with many aspects of the supply chain, data, it would seem, is the key. Using the maintenance procedure as a means of harvesting information makes the process itself a valuable one.

And whatever the size and organisation of a fleet, and whatever the treatment of trucks, the ability to use this extra knowledge to stay ahead of the game and avoid downtime is invaluable.

Case study: Special breed of service swings deal for Lakeland

Family-owned kitchenware firm Lakeland was established in the UK in the 1960s, and now has 64 stores nationwide as well as online international sales channels and many stores in the Middle East.

The firm’s distribution centre in Kendal, Cumbria processes online and catalogue driven orders as well as replenishing stock for Lakeland’s high street retail outlets.

A Jungheinrich service engineer is permanently on site at Lakeland’s distribution centre to ensure that truck downtime is minimised.

The retailer uses a fleet of some 60 forklift trucks within the Kendal site – almost all supplied by Jungheinrich UK. And at peak periods it also takes trucks from Jungheinrich’s short term rental fleet.

“We have a young fleet and, if anything does go wrong, our 500 nationwide service engineers are there to ensure that downtime is minimal,” says Neil Warren, Jungheinrich’s used equipment and short term rental director.

Lakeland sources products from around the world and incoming trailer loads of goods are unloaded using electric-powered Jungheinrich counterbalanced trucks.

Jungheinrich reach trucks are employed to deliver full pallet loads into the bulk store and to drop pallets to the ground and first tier level for order picking as required.

Case study: Service and support crucial in Heathrow lease deal

UCH Logistics has awarded a long term hire contract to Baoli dealer Neckar Forklifts to supply 18 counterbalanced forklifts to their two warehouse yards close to London Heathrow Airport, based on its services and support offerings.

“When we looked for a new truck supplier, we were interested in reliable products as well as fast and professional response in case of failure,” said Tim Begent, business development manager of UCH Logistics.

“Finally we decided for Baoli forklifts and services by Neckar Forklifts, because of their 24 hours, 7 days a week service coverage provided by experienced engineers.”

The firm services the airfreight industry offering next day and same day deliveries to their customers. Therefore the two locations close to Heathrow Airport are under 24 hour operation and reliable forklifts are critical for the business. Because of increasing down time, which had more and more negative impact on their operation, UCH Logistics decided to replace all their previous trucks with Baoli, also known as Jiangsu.

The contract includes 15 new Baoli gas and diesel trucks from 2.5 to 7 tonnes and three refurbished trucks, which replace the complete forklift fleet, as well as services and support.

Begent said: “We will also benefit from the fact that Neckar is based very close to our warehouses at Heathrow Airport. Their engineers have direct access to the spare parts centre of the UK Baoli distributor Maxim (GB), which is located just 15 miles from the airport. So in case a truck fails, we are convinced they will be able to get it up and running very quickly.”

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