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Nacco Materials Handling Group (NMHG) designs, engineers and manufactures materials handling equipment for every market niche. Marketed under the Hyster, Yale or sumitomo-Yale brand names, NMHG trucks are distributed globally and has a turnover of $1.9Bn.

US-based NMHG operates out of five plants in Europe. Like any company with such a broad operating base, getting the product to its customers on time is an essential yet costly part of its operations. Servicing a worldwide market for lift trucks, NMHG’s manufacturing plants are, for the most part locked into a traditional pattern of land transport to ports where container ships do the rest.

At its plant in Nijmegen, the Netherlands however, a pilot project has been implemented using the natural resources of the country in a way that is both cost-effective and environmentally-friendly, in order to maintain its market supply chain.

Nijmegen, near the German border, occupies an area of 63,600sq m and employs 570 people in assembly, engineering, marketing and after market functions. NMHG forklift trucks over 8 tonnes and up to 52 are manufactured at Nijmegen under the brand names Hyster and Yale. The plant also produces reach stackers and empty and laden container handlers.

Traditionally, the Nijmegen plant has relied on a network of land-based step-deck trailers which transport the finished product to port. From there they are shipped on to NMHG’s dealer networks across Europe, Middle East & Africa, and in to the US and Asian-Pacific markets.

The cost of the operation was high, there were also logistical problems associated with maintaining and servicing the trucks needed to maintain the supply chain. An additional issue for NMHG was the operation’s growing environmental costs. As a company, NMHG was increasingly conscious of the impact of their operations on the environment having worked hard to gain ISO14001 accreditation at three of its plants in the Netherlands, Craigavon, Northern Ireland and Masate, Italy.

The Nijmegen pilot scheme, replacing the traditional step-deck trailer with specially-developed barges, was tried for the first time in March this year. If successful, the scheme will save NMHG around euro 150,000 a year.

Each barge, capable of transporting up to 660 tonnes will transport completed trucks from Nijmegen to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium. From there they will be transferred to ro-ro transporters and shipped to NMHG markets throughout EMEA, US and Asia Pacific.

With a direct waterway network to the sea, Nijmegen managers have been fortunate enough to use the natural resources available to them. Good management has seized upon an opportunity and developed it into an example of proficient 21st century business practice.

Based on average costs per unit, the savings incurred by switching from road to canal transport from May to July 2005 have been just over 20%, with an average 4.5% reduction in monthly transport costs.

While initial results appear positive, the pilot is at an early stage. All aspects of the transport process from completion of each unit through to final destination will be evaluated against equivalent costings, time factors and logistics.

If the pilot – it runs for a year – continues to show such positive results, NMHG proposes to construct a purpose-built loading facility at the Nijmegen plant to facilitate a permanent change over to barge transport.

Pieter Jan van Rijnbach, plant manager believes adopting the new system will bring several advantages to NMHG: “We benefit from some of the best waterway systems in the world here in Holland, so this is an ideal option for us. We believe the logistics involved in transporting units in much greater numbers on these barges speak for themselves.

The benefit of using barges in this way is not only financial, it is also a further display of our commitment to the environment as it makes us much less reliant on road transport which as we know can have a major impact on the environment.”

If the pilot scheme proves successful, then NMHG hopes to transport 700 to 800 trucks per year in this way.

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