Taking the floor

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A new European standard for warehouse floors is under discussion.Will the new standard enable warehouse operators to make more efficient use of their materials handling equipment or simply create an unwelcome expense for those considering using VNA equipment? John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Narrow Aisle Flexi, considers the arguments.

Traditionally British warehouse floors have been produced to the standards laid down in the Concrete Society’s Technical Report 34 (TR34). However, TR34 was recently upgraded and the changes have caused controversy and confusion in the flooring industry and among certain suppliers of very narrow aisle (VNA) lift trucks.

Based on a system that has been used in the United States since the 1970s and very similar to the one that the Germans have operated for over 20 years, the upgraded standard is designed to ensure that a warehouse floor’s impact on the stability and efficiency of a VNA truck is taken into account.

At the moment the revision to the TR34 standard on floor flatness is not mandatory – the requirement to consider the centre wheel ‘track’ when preparing warehouse floors for VNA machines, was introduced as an ‘alternative’ to the existing guidance.However, a new European Standard is now being drawn up and, if adopted, it will make attention to the rear wheel track compulsory. The wording of the new standard is due to be laid before various special interest groups in the coming weeks. Some parties – representatives from the forklift truck industry and the flooring sector in particular – are known to be trying to challenge the proposed changes.

Essentially, the new standard specifies that the floor area over which VNA trucks have to travel within an aisle should achieve a set level of flatness in the ‘tracks’ where both the outer (ie, the front) wheels and the inner (ie, the back) wheels of a truck travel. Previously the specification only recommended that the truck’s outer (or front) wheel ‘tracks’ had to meet the required flatness.

Of course, the majority of VNA trucks used in the UK and Europe are of three-wheel configuration and feature centrally positioned single or close-coupled rear wheels. Therefore, to comply with the new standard, most sites where VNA installations are being considered are likely to require some form of remedial floor grinding in the ‘tracks’ where the trucks’ central wheels will roll. If a VNA truck’s rear wheel travels over an uneven floor area the truck has a tendency to ‘nod’ as it moves along. Because, until now it has not been a requirement to consider the flatness of the ‘track’ on which a VNA truck’s rear wheel runs, some VNA users have had little choice but to operate their fleets at less than their top speed to counter this ‘nodding’ effect. Indeed, it is not uncommon for man-aloft VNA trucks to be down-rated – or ‘under-run’ – by as much as 40 per cent of their full operating speed.

While new floors can be built to meet the new requirements that do not require grinding, several leading VNA truck manufacturers are known to be concerned that the extra expense involved in remedial grinding of the ‘track’ for the rear wheal will make buying VNA machines less attractive. With around 1,000 VNA trucks – including ‘Combis’ and Order Pickers – sold in the UK every year, if the new flooring standard results in a dip in sales of, say, 10 per cent, the ramifications for the bottom line of some truck makers could be significant.

However, it is not just the truck makers who are seemingly a little twitchy about the changes. Some flooring contractors and surveyors have been critical about what they perceive as an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion that will change the way they operate and add to construction costs – which may not be recovered from clients. Greater care and attention to detail is needed to achieve the new flatness requirements in all ‘tracks’ and many surveyors will need to invest in new equipment.

It could be argued that, until now, the UK guidelines governing flatness of warehouse floors have been written with industrial floor engineers and truck sales people in mind – not the actual warehouse operator. The new guidelines should go some way towards redressing that balance. My concern is that costs involved in meeting the new standard are not passed on to the warehouse operator. Trucks such as our Flexi articulated VNA machine operate on uneven floors – in fact they are equally at home both inside a warehouse or outside in the yard.

In my view, the proposed European standard for warehouse floors will ensure that warehouse operators are able to make the most efficient use of their materials handling equipment and I believe it is important that the UK’s warehouse operators make their voices heard at the discussion stage of the new legislation.

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