A question of balance

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What are buyers really looking for when it comes to the counterbalance truck fleet. Malory Davies investigates.

Everyone loves a bargain but when it comes to forklift trucks, reliability is the number one concern. A Logistics Manager survey of truck buyers put purchase price well down the list of decisive factors in choosing a the right truck. It came out  behind reliability, safety, and – particularly important for trucks used for yard operations – robustness.

Almost 40 per cent of the truck buyers in the survey said they planned to increase their forklift fleets over the coming year, while only 11 per cent expected a decrease.

Money is important, but it’s total cost of ownership that matters to most of Logistics Manager’s truck buyers – not initial purchase price.  These factors are not lost on the major suppliers. Craig Johnson, Jungheinrich’s marketing manager highlights a number of key factors: “Reliability, safety, productivity, energy efficiency and delivering the lowest cost of ownership.”

He points out that these considerations were at work in the design of Jungheinrich’s TFG counterbalance range. These trucks have the counterweight partially underneath the operator’s seat rather than stuck out at the back.

“Lowering the counterweight and positioning it further forward, changes the truck’s centre of gravity and makes the machine ultra-stable,” he says. The fact that it is inherently stable – without the need for additional electronic stability systems – made it particularly attractive.”

But that doesn’t mean that technology is unimportant. Craig Johnson says: “Operators are looking for sophisticated products featuring complex electronic and hydraulic systems and an attention to ergonomic design that ensures that high levels of productivity, safety and operator comfort are achieved.”

Hyster points out that fleet management is increasingly important to many businesses. It recently launched a wireless access monitoring system, Hyster Tracker, which is designed to enhance productivity by monitoring and reporting on the performance and use of forklift trucks in operation. It can also control operator access and helps to verify that the operator pre-shift checklist has been completed before operation.

Crown recently moved its InfoLink fleet management system to the cloud to offer a two-tier platform that will allow the software to be easily scaled.  “We are seeing the forklift quickly become the most advanced piece of equipment that touches every part of the warehouse. More advanced on-board technology is improving operator productivity and enabling connectivity that helps to provide greater visibility into the warehouse environment, operator productivity and product movement,” says Jim Gaskell, director of global Crown Insite products.

“The new two-tier platform makes it easier for organisations to get started with operator and fleet management. For instance, depending on a customer’s needs, they may be able to enjoy fleet management capabilities for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee per day, per forklift.”

Battery technology is also developing rapidly. High frequency battery charging is now firmly established. And Hawker’s XFC technology is being more wide adopted by operators of larger lift trucks.

John Lawton, director of marketing
at Enersys Motive Power
EMEA, says: “The batteries combine advanced performance and high efficiency with lower overall cost of ownership and are suitable for applications including counterbalance trucks.

“The charging profile of the XFC technology allows a rapid recharge in less than four hours from 60 per cent depth of discharge and opportunity charging as often as needed without damaging the batteries.”


Leasing is a critical part of the market. Almost 59 per cent of the buyers in our survey said they leased their forklifts. Terry Kendrew, managing director of Impact Handling, which handles Cat trucks, highlights some of the benefits: “We are essentially a self-funding business as we own every piece of kit we hire to a customer, allowing us to off-hire it whenever we want, rather than being at the mercy of a financial institution.

“This gives customers the comfort in knowing that if they change their application, we will work with them and adjust their materials handling requirement accordingly. ”

Short-term rental is a growing factor as companies seek to optimise their fleets. Neil Warren, Jungheinrich’s used equipment and short term rental director, says: “Jungheinrich has recently invested over £6 million in its short term rental fleet to keep pace with demand. We now have in excess of 4,000 units available for short term rental and the average age of the trucks is less than two years old.

“But companies that supplement their forklift fleets with trucks on short term rental deals should always check the age profile of their supplier’s fleet before putting pen to paper on the contract.

“Some companies offering short term hire solutions operate what are, in effect, two-tier rental fleets. These comprise a mix of reasonably new equipment and very old trucks that have already seen many years of service.”

The older models simply aren’t as efficient as they should be, he points out.

Andrew Carter, Impact Handling’s group asset manager, agrees that short-term rental is growing. “We have a combined short-term hire and used stock fleet of around 1,500 trucks spread across our nine locations, and there’s a growing trend in operators selecting short term rental over the industry-standard five year fixed term.”

Case study: Retail rentals

Food retailer, Morrisons, is making use of Linde’s Forklift Hire in its nationwide distribution and retail businesses.

The retailer has more than 490 stores and sources and processes most of the fresh food it sells through its own manufacturing facilities.

It uses a fleet of 2,500 Linde trucks across its logistics operations from field right through to supermarket. John Ward, head of VMU, points out that Morrison’s has been working with Linde for more than 20 years now “[We] heavily rely on them to ensure the smooth running of our business. Over the years we have experienced a vast amount of growth and Linde has been able to adapt and grow with us”.

Linde Forklift Truck Hire has more than10,000 trucks available to be hired for periods ranging from one day to as long as required.

Logistics Manager Survey

1. Over the coming year do you expect to increase your forklift fleet?
– Large increase 4.1% 
– Small increase 34.7%
– No change 48.0% 
– Small decrease 11.2%
– Large decrease 2.0%

2. How much influence do your drivers have on forklift selection?
– Significant 32.7% 
– Small 50.0% 
– None 17.3%

3. What is the basis on which your company buys forklift trucks?
– For the whole fleet right    across the organisation 19.4% 
– On a per site basis 62.2% 
– On a per project basis 12.2% 
– Other 6.1%

4. What do you look for in forklifts for use in the yard?
– Reliability 78.7% 
– Safety features 66.7% 
– Robustness / heavy duty operations 62.7% 
– Low total cost of ownership 46.7% 
– Low operating costs 41.3% 
– Relationship with dealer/distributor 40.0% 
– Driver preferences 38.7% 
– Ease of maintenance 36.0% 
– Productivity 32.0% 
– Reputation of manufacturer 29.3% 
– Environmental performance 21.3% 
– Low purchase price 17.3% 
– Technical sophistication of product 16.0% 
– Other 4.0%

5. Do you measure the productivity of your forklifts?
– Yes 53.1% 
– No  46.9%

Case study: Beaver upgrades

Beaver 84, the scaffolding supplier, has recently upgraded the lift trucks operating at the majority of its facilities with diesel-powered DFG 430 models from Jungheinrich’s ic-engine counterbalance truck range.

The trucks work outside shifting what commercial director Dave Critchell calls “ugly loads” – awkwardly shaped items such as scaffolding poles and temporary fencing panels, for example.

“Scaffolding tubes can be 21 feet long and arrive on flat bed lorries in small bundles – they’re not heavy but are awkward to manoeuvre. Temporary fencing panels – the type used to make construction sites secure – are 3.5 metres high x 2 metres deep and are equally tricky to pick up and transport around the site.”

To help make handling such products easier, the trucks have been supplied with fork extensions that are quickly and easily added or removed as and when required. And, to ensure that the operators remain comfortable in all weathers, the trucks are fitted with all-weather cabs.

Beaver 84, part of the Altrad Group, has ten depots across the UK. Each site holds a mix of new stock (which is for sale) and hire equipment. Most items are block stacked within the yard area, before they are picked and transferred by the forklifts to Beaver 84’s delivery vehicles or, if a client chooses to collect an order directly, to a customer’s own transport.

Because they’re particularly suited to applications where a lot of shuttling work is involved – such as lorry loading and unloading within and around a busy outside yard environment – the DFG 430 trucks were an ideal choice for Beaver 84.

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