Creative handling

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When it comes to the lift truck fleet, reliability – or up-time – is what concerns the logistics manager the most (after safety, that is). Keeping goods on the move is a prerequisite in the supply chain and therefore, service agreements/ maintenance contracts are considered the most essential elements to get right in any fleet purchasing decision. Of course, the lifetime cost of the truck is an important part of the overall equation, but ‘cost per pallet moved’ is really what counts when looking at operational efficiency and ultimately, value forthe end customer and shareholders.

Many in logistics management now look for a closer relationship with their service providers, with more flexible arrangements for fleet usage and specialist needs regarded as essential. Bill Windsor, engineering manager at Medway Ports, which has just acquired a fleet of over 150 Linde fork lift trucks for its Port of Sheerness operation, commented that the relationship with Linde is more than just a simple supplier-customer arrangement. ‘It is a long-term business partnership because for us reliable and responsive service support is absolutely vital, so we need to work with an organisation who can provide us with the quality levels and commitment we require.’

The two companies worked closely together throughout the decision-making process to ensure that the new fleet would enhance the efficiency of all the current handling processes at the port as well as coping with increases in volume as the business grows further.

This is the second contract that Medway Ports has awarded Linde – the first consisted of 65 lift trucks and the creation of a fully equipped workshop for on-site maintenance and repair.

The new contract will see the on-site workshop treble in size and the shifts increase to cover seven days a week with 11 Linde staff managing the maintenance of the equipment, changing attachments and allocating lift trucks to operators. This requires precise scheduling to ensure the right handling equipment meets the ships at the right time and with the right attachments to handle the cargo.

Flexible offer
An interesting solution put forward by Linde for meeting peak demand periods was to offer the flexibility of providing part of the new fleet on a ‘pay as you use’ basis, enabling Medway Ports to have immediate access to trucks only when required.

These are the sorts of arrangements that are driving sales in the lift truck sector. A greater understanding of customer needs. And it’s in the warehouse equipment market – the long-term high growth sector – that this approach counts the most.

‘Warehouse equipment represents almost 50 per cent of all lift trucks sold in the UK,’ says Richard Mckenzie, marketing manager at Barloworld Handling, ‘Within the last six months, sales in this category have dropped by approximately 20 per cent, possibly reflecting the current pressures in the retail sector.’ By comparison, Mckenzie confirms that the counterbalance sector is maintaining a buoyant sales profile overall.

In the Dutch and Belgian markets, there is a much greater ratio of warehouse equipment to counterbalance trucks. There, approximately two thirds of the market is now made up of warehouse product.

‘Holland is seeing a greater shift away from i.c engined counterbalance trucks towards electric trucks,’ says Mckenzie. ‘This is something which has been brought about by environmental restrictions on the use of engine driven trucks working indoors.”

‘Purchasers in Europe are generally demanding greater flexibility within the terms of their contracts as well as bringing increased focus on reducing overall lifetime costs of their fleets’ he continues. In the Dutch market Barloworld has recently launched an new fleet management programme entitled Fleetflex which addresses the entire fleet optimisation requirement of truck operators.

Although service is the preferred weapon of combat in the lift truck sector, product innovation still plays an important part. Perhaps one of the boldest moves based on product design came when earth moving specialist JCB muscled its way into the forklift truck market in 1997 with the launch of the Teletruk.

The Teletruk differs from traditional counterbalanced forklifts in that, instead of the usual vertical mast, it is equipped with a telescopic boom.

While the absence of a mast brings a number of advantages – for example, unrestricted forward visibility – the real bonus of the boom is its ability to lift and place palletised loads quickly and easily in a wide range of situations.

‘The Teletruk can be used to handle almost all palletised loads,’ says Bernard Molloy, managing director of 3B Net-Works and a commentator on the forklift industry.

‘The Teletruk’s design enables lorries and trailers to be loaded and unloaded from only one side, meaning that time and space can be saved immediately in the distribution yard,’ explains Molloy.

‘When loading and unloading curtainsided vehicles, for example, only one curtain needs to be opened. Flatbed lorries can be parked against a wall – instead of in the middle of the yard – while the need to shunt HGVs in and around the yard to find the most space-efficient position becomes a thing of the past when Teletruks are on site.’

Interestingly, despite its unique design, the various models in the JCB Teletruk range are as compact and manoeuvrable as conventional counterbalance trucks – they also have equivalent turning circles when the boom is retracted.

Genuine innovation
‘The launch of the Teletruk represented one of the few real genuine innovations in forklift design,’ adds Molloy. ‘The JCB Teletruk is unique in its ability to combine the traditional values of small working footprint with very high load carrying capacity. But it also brings new ways of improving materials handling in many industrial applications.’

Another notable innovative design is the Flexi. The ability to load like a counterbalance machine combined with a capacity to work in very narrow aisles without the need for guidance, has made the Flexi articulated forklift a popular choice with truck specifiers both in the UK and the United States. Although in continental Europe the advantages of the articulated design are less well understood, there are clear indications that  this is changing.

‘We have identified some new and growing regional markets that we believe offer tremendous opportunities,’ says John Maguire, sales and marketing director at Narrow Aisle Flexi.

In recent weeks the company has picked up orders from, among other places, Azerbaijan, Rumania, Slovenia and Greece. ‘The emerging markets of the Baltic States and what President George Bush might refer to as the “New Europe” offer real potential,’ says Maguire.

Establishing a foothold in some of these fledgling sales territories has involved a considerable amount of what Maguire refers to as ‘pioneering work.’

‘We have to sell the concept first,’ he explains. ‘It has been demonstrated time and again that, by using articulated forklift trucks, warehouse operators can increase pallet storage capacity at their existing facilities by anything between 30 and 50 per cent without having to worry about upgrading floors. We have to develop an awareness of these facts while, at the same time, promoting our brand. However, we have now established good business relationships with well established Material Handling Distributors who can provide service support to our new customers in all these countries.’

Significantly, the more traditional European sales territories also appear ready to embrace articulated truck technology: Narrow Aisle Flexi has enjoyed notable success in France where a sizable fleet is already being operated by the DIY chain Castorama (part of the Kingfisher Group).

Increasingly, lift truck makers are being forced to compete on service. Ergonomic design, quality of manufactured product, along with a lift truck’s ability to do the job efficiently over long shifts are all ‘givens’, which means manufacturers are having to look to creative outsourcing solutions to maintain product quality so that the company can focus on brand issues such as marketing, design innovation and service.

One of the most critical components of a stacker is the mast. Tough demands from a discounter like Aldi means that the quality of the mast profile is decisive to the efficiency of the stacker. If the mast is to work perfectly in high rise racking at a height of more than 10 metres and under maximum load, then the margin for twisting and dimensional tolerances is extremely low.

Atlet decided to start outsourcing production of its mast profiles to specialist manufacturer, Mannstaedt, at the beginning of the 80’s, now more than 80 per cent of the profiles for its lift trucks and all profiles for its reach trucks come from Mannstaedt. Atlet was always very particular about the production process, instead of using cutting torches, milling was used because it doesn’t generate any heat and doesn’t have a negative effect on the material and its dimensional stability.

When Atlet decided in favour of outsourcing its profile processing many factors had to be taken into consideration. The entire bandwidth of the Atlet equipment had to be supplied, which meant constantly changing demand. In addition, the processes at Mannstaedt had to be matched in detail to the elaborate production planning of Atlet, which minimises the inventories in Sweden and guarantees that each order will be completed in exactly two weeks. Starting from the just-in-time delivery that was already practised between Mannstaedt and Atlet, there were only three days available for the additional processing of the profiles. For Mannstaedt, this resulted in a special requirements profile: high-precision and simultaneously extremely flexible and very prompt production and delivery.

Instead of expanding its own production capacities, Atlet was able to invest in modernising assembly and in quality assurance due to the new concept. Atlet was able to lower its internal production time by 25 per cent.

And in addition: ‘The second decisive step was the fact that due to using Mannstaedt profiles, which were perfectly processed without any quality fluctuations, we were also able to considerably increase the production volumes of our stackers,’ emphasised Atlet’s logistics and purchasing manager, Göran Rudén.

Productivity lift

Trials of an advanced VNA truck delivers productivity gains for Pall-Ex

When Hyster set out to produce a new advanced VNA truck, the company approached one of it’s major customer’s Pall-Ex, a leading pallet network operator, to test the truck’s premise of dependability, productivity, ergonomics and low cost of ownership. Pall-Ex agreed to assess the first pre-production truck with the support of Barloworld, Hyster’s distribution partner in the UK, and liaise extensively with Hyster’s engineers to asses the performance of the pilot truck.

The new turret truck was delivered to Pall-Ex in April 2005. After almost a year of intensive trials with Pall-Ex, Hyster was able to launch the series to the market in March 2006. By this time it had already been through over 170,000 test cycles, including stress analysis, endurance, thermal and stability tests as well as field tests in customer applications, the most enduring of these being at Pall-Ex.

Pall-Ex has purpose built a state of the art, 267,000 sq ft, 48 bay distribution hub at Ellistown, in Leicestershire. The e18million hub is a massive overnight transshipment operation for the third party distribution of palletised freight. Consignments of freight are collected from and delivered throughout the UK by Pall-Ex’s 100 member depots whom, as a network operate a fleet of more than 6,500 trucks. At its expansive distribution facility, Pall-Ex employs 38 CNG powered Hyster fork lift trucks which transship over 9,000 pallets each night equating to 2,000,000 pallets each year.

Close to the Ellistown hub is Pall-Ex Warehousing and Distribution. Strategically located just two miles from the Pall-Ex hub, the secure Pall-Ex warehouse storage facility houses over 8,000 product lines and provides a rapid import to storage, to UK distribution, solution for a high profile Pall-Ex client. Over 300 pallets are order picked and sent out each day via the Pall-Ex network throughout the UK.

Intrinsic to the success of this operation is the latest Hyster VNA truck which runs for 10 hours each day. This includes over five hours of constant operation and an average of 106 lifts.

Commenting on the benefits the new truck has brought to the Pall-Ex warehouse operation, Paul Rathbone Warehouse Manager at Pall-Ex has vouched for a significant increase in productivity. This has been achieved through a combination of enhanced product performance, thanks to a host of innovative features, improved ease of driver operation and the dependability of the major components in such a complex product.

The new truck is fitted with a two stage mast that has a working height of 9240 mm and a maximum speed of 12 kmh. It moves twice as quickly as the previous VNA fork lift trucks Pall-Ex had worked with, which significantly increases the pick and put away rates. Importantly the truck selects the right speed and height appropriate to each load. Performance characteristics can also be selected to suit the ability and experience of each operator with PIN numbers, allocated for each driver before he can even start the truck. This means that the fastest productivity is achieved without unnecessary risk.

Pall-Ex were the first European distribution organisation to work with the new truck during its development stage. It is a testament to the success of this project that Pall-Ex also became the first European company to give the truck the thumbs up, taking a C.5 model on a five year full maintenance contract with Barloworld, Hyster’s exclusive UK distribution partner.

Pall-Ex recognizes the need for highly skilled operators, to be able to move the pallets around quickly and accurately. It is also important that these operators are comfortable with the trucks they work with, especially in specialised VNA applications working at height. The fully electronic controls can be operated in a standing or seated position and an infra red sensor, to detect operator presence, eliminates the need for continual pressure on a button. Simultaneous multiple functions, including raising the cab, travel and raising, lowering or rotating the forks permits different tasks to be performed at the same time. This allows the drivers to focus on accurate load positioning.

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