Reach for the sky

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With the X range, Linde started by relocating the battery unit, which normally sits between the operator and the mast, to under the driver’s seat, creating more space within the cab and unlocking potential space. Linde says all other redesigns within the unit have stemmed from this initial move. “Instead of the whole mast unit moving forward and back across the load legs, a traversing fork carriage performs the load reach and tilt functions.”

Upright sections were set wide apart, giving a better view in front of the load, which Linde says resulted in a 73 per cent fewer reach motions.

The mast was fixed to the chassis in what would be the reached-back position on a conventional truck with all side shift, forward/back reach and tilt motions being controlled exclusively with the fork carriage.

This makes reach travel shorter and quicker and allows the unit to operate while using less of the battery’s power, which in turn means it needs to be changed less often. The extra space inside the cab has also allowed Linde to fit an extra-wide and comfortable seat fitted with extra wide and adjustable armrests on both sides.

The operator has also been made safer by moving the seat well inside the body of the truck. Linde had, it said “turned the conventional reach truck design on its head”.

During the design of the X range reach truck, Linde consulted with customer focus groups as well as running operational and durability trials in the UK and overseas during the industrial prototype stage. This gave it enough insight to take the product direct to market without the need for a design change.

Linde says since the redesign the number of reach trucks it has sold has significantly increased and the RX14-17 is selling into the thousands.

Other manufacturers have been responding with radical redesigns of their own. Last year, Mitsubishi launched the RBN series.

It concentrated on the seat design and position and worked outwards in the redesign. It reckons that the 1.4 tonne RBN model now has an equivalent or better residual capacity than most of its competitors’ 1.6 tonne machines. The range consists of ten models in the series, all fitted with AC drive and hydraulic motors and lifting capacities of 1.4, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.5 tonnes. The range also includes a redesigned masthead called the “Visionmast” which allows more space in the operator’s cab, not from moving the battery but from slimming down the mast.

A hot extrusion process, allows for a construction process in which the hydraulic cylinders are enclosed within the profile of the mast’s first stage. Mitsubishi says this adds extra stiffness to the mast, as well as clearing and thus increasing the view for the driver. The structure of the mast is stiffer, lighter and more compact than that of a traditional reach truck mast. The result is that the mast sways less and has a higher residual capacity of around 40 per cent more than a conventional mast. The fork carriage has also been reorganised to allow for better driver view.

Hyundai has launched five reach trucks marking entry into the sector. The load capacities of the HBR14-7, HBR15-7, HBR18-7, HBR20-7 and HBR25-7 models range from 1.35 tonne to 2.5 tonnes. The combination of a special mast structure and an open protective roof design gives the operator an unobstructed view of the working area, even overhead. The battery is housed in a slide-out box to provide fast, convenient access for charging and maintenance. The Hyundai provides a standing position for the operator, which saves additional length. The operator can leave or return to his position quickly when the job requires manual order picking. Other models with a seated operator position are presently in the design stage.

In 2005, Atlet launched the Forte UNS Tergo, which was made stronger but also quieter than it’s predecessors and fitted with an on-board computer system developed to aid diagnostics and allow the driver to customise the cab.

The Forte S3 has been made even more rugged and robust but has the same compact dimensions as its predecessor with the higher load handling rating achieved by installing a heavier counterweight. The Forte is fitted with Atlet’s S3 stability support system that automatically reduces the speed of truck in proportion to the height lifted and overrides unsafe manoeuvres and reduces jerkiness in the manipulation of the controls, a factor that complements the smoothly-damped mast.

The Forte UNS Tergo is available with lift capacities of 1400, 1600 and 2000 kg and standard lift heights to 10.8m. The cab itself was redesigned to offer easier access for the driver with a fully customisable seat. The free-floating armrest and mini steering wheel helps reduce strain on the shoulders and arms, while a tilting seat gives the driver a clear upward view when stacking. The controls are ergonomically grouped for easy fingertip operation and can be adjusted to suit the driver.

Nissan has also sought to increase the stability of the reach truck and released its Mk 4 UNS which also uses a stability support automatically to match the truck’s performance by governing speed and acceleration and creating an interface between speed and steering sensitivity. The system automatically reduces the speed of the truck’s functions in proportion to the height lifted. Nissan says the Mk 4 UNS has been engineered specifically for high productivity warehouse operations and is available with lift capacities of 1400, 1600 and 2000 kg at lift heights to 10.8 metres.

Nissan believes it has the fastest acceleration for a reach truck in the market, with top speeds of 14 kph and specially developed extra quiet motors taking lift speeds to 0.7 metres per second.

The stability support system is governed through the reach truck’s ATC computer, which also enables driving parameters to be programmed to suit the operator. Up to 350 individual operator profiles can be stored in the ATC memory, with PIN codes to prevent unauthorised use.


Steve Ridgeway, Yale Europe’s strategic marketing manager points out that: “In recent years Yale has invested heavily in the development of technology that, we believe, marks our products out as being among the most intelligent materials handling equipment on the market”.

However he warns against technology for technology’s sake: “We never set out to blind the operator or, for that matter, the warehouse or distribution centre manager, with science: all the technology that we add to a product is designed to make the user’s life easier – not more difficult.”

He points to the CANbus system that is a feature of the company’s MR Reach truck. By applying CANbus technology Yale has not only reduced point-to-point wiring but also enhanced data transmission reliability. The CANbus technology allows service technicians to access any of the controllers or the system computer via a single terminal with a handset or laptop to view the truck’s alarm history, run diagnostics or, if required, adjust performance settings.

“This is usable technology that brings real and tangible benefits to any logistics operation,” says Ridgeway.

Yale’s MR reach truck also has intelligent steering controls that has a speed reduction facility that automatically slows the truck when cornering, while a self-centring drive wheel ensures the vehicle is always set to travel in a straight line when it is first started. In addition, the MR series uses electronic fly-by-wire, progressive steering that can be adjusted to match every operator’s preference. The system automatically modifies steering sensitivity as travel speeds increase to enhance straight-line travel control, promote best driving practice and ensure optimum load control.

“All lift truck developments revolve around the need to meet the highest standards of both safety and efficiency. Europe-wide – particularly when it comes to bigger fleet deals – the buying decision is an increasingly complex process and within most large organisations everyone, from the forklift operator to the financial director, will have an opinion on which truck best serves the company’s needs,” says Ridgeway.

“Satisfying these often diverse requirements is never easy. On the same buying team you will have different people with different primary needs – safety, increased throughput, total cost of ownership, initial price – the list is endless.”

Hyster’s offering in this market is the tried and tested Matrix range of 1.4-2.5 tonne trucks which feature electronic fly-by-wire steering and Mosfet traction and pump control. The Matrix has a direction control indicator which tells operators when the wheels are correctly aligned, thus allowing the truck to drive out of a bay without damaging itself or the racking. It also offers a choice of operator controls in the form of the ergonomic single joystick as well as the traditional four levers.

The emergence of the articulated forklift truck concept is beginning to have an impact on reach truck sales both in the UK and overseas. The articulated truck has long been promoted as a viable alternative to the traditional combination of a counterbalanced truck to unload and a reach truck to put away palletised loads and, in recent years, more and more fleet operators have been converted to the articulated approach – at the expense, it appears, of the reach truck.

John Maguire, sales and marketing director of Narrow Aisle Flexi, says: “Until the articulated truck was introduced, companies had little alternative but to operate a two truck system with a counterbalanced machine working outside and feeding a reach truck inside the store or warehouse.”

“With the arrival of articulated machines users realised that they could eliminate this often costly and generally inefficient arrangement. Articulated trucks load and unload lorries and deliver pallets directly to the racking in a single operation. By doing so, they increase efficiency and productivity while abolishing double handling and the costs associated with running a bigger truck fleet than is necessary.”

Maguire argues that articulated forklift trucks – such as the Flexi G4 – can increase pallet storage capacity by anything between 30 and 50 per cent.

“The ability to load like a counterbalance machine combined with a capacity to work comfortably both inside and outside and within very narrow aisles, has established the articulated forklift as a popular choice with truck specifiers within a wide range of industries.”

“Having no Bendi would be like running a business without a phone”, says Stuart Spicer, managing director of GSG Cargo.

Translift Bendi has recently won a contract to supply GSG Cargo in Worthing, and reckons that a truck with an articulating mast typically allows operators to store 38 per cent more pallets than a reach truck and 50 per cent more than a counterbalanced forklift. Translift says safety is an important issue influencing Bendi buyers. “Drivers have a clearer view when interfacing the pallet load with racking beams, compared with reach and counterbalanced trucks.

Caterpillar’s N Reach Truck range has a chassis that is 40 per cent stiffer than on previous models, for better operating stability and greatly improved residual capacities. The NR14 -25N range uses the triplex poweRamic mast which allows the hydraulic cylinders to be embedded within the mast profile increasing driver’s visibility. It also has a redesigned fork backrest which improves the operator’s view of both fork tips and support legs for smooth and fast pallet entry, reducing the risk of damage to loads and racking.

The range also includes a second generation MicroCommand AC controller which has more than 500 settings available, allowing users to precisely adapt the trucks to different applications.

High throughput levels place heavy demands on reach trucks, and, says Crown, it is not enough to have “the fastest speed, best lift/lower speed or efficient energy consumption, you need the optimum combination of these performance factors.” Crown’s RR5200 reach truck uses a extending pantograph system which is a concertina backing attached to the mast head behind the forks and allows the reach truck to access double-deep racking.

Cable Management Products bought Crown’s RD5000 back in 2004 and is using four new Crown RD5000 pantograph reach trucks at its Coleshill site. Supply chain group leader

Vic Morris says: “Because of their extending pantograph forks, the RD trucks are capable of loading or unloading vehicles from just one side, which is extremely advantageous when operating in outdoor areas where space is restricted. Another advantage, owing to their compactness and manoeuvrability, is the ability to operate indoors in confined areas, such as in the WIP stores and moving goods in and around machining and production areas.”

The model includes a multiple-function control handle which helps simplify operations with one hand controlling direction, speed, raise, lower and horn. The chassis has a low-profile providing a lower centre of gravity, which results an in increased elevated capacity. Chassis configuration designed to provide maximum capacity at elevated heights without compromising right-angle stack.

Crown says the brake pedal design allows variable side-stance positions for increased comfort and productivity, and the brake pedal combined with a power pedal helps ensure that both feet remain within the cab.

Before Linde released it’s X range, BT Rolatruc had already made some fundamental differences in the design of its reach trucks, in particular to the driver’s position within the cab. In 2004, BT Rolatruc launched a version of its B-series reach trucks which sported one pivotal difference. The Reflex e-series incorporated a tilting cab which could move backwards to allow the operator a better view of the load at high levels as well as reduce neck and shoulder strain and allow for faster and more accurate fork positioning.

The designing and redesigning of materials handling equipment is an ongoing challenge, in the quest to be more efficient and more cost effective. A spokesperson for Linde says: “It is hard to say how manufacturers have reacted to the redesign…However, the design stage of forklift trucks can take up to three years and it could be some time before we see how the industry has reacted.”

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