The past few years have seen manufacturing moving offshore and a corresponding growth in warehousing – a move that has been good for the warehouse truck market generally and the reach truck market in particular.
Reach trucks have also seen some of the most radical developments in the forklift market – for example, Linde’s X range with its wider forks and larger driver space.
Suppliers are increasingly being asked to provide reach trucks that can work in 12 metre racking as warehouses get taller.
Craig Johnson, marketing manager, Jungheinrich UK, says: “The dramatic increase in land values – both in the UK and throughout most of mainland Europe – has resulted in a significant upsurge in demand for reach trucks that can lift safely and economically to ever greater heights.
“At Jungheinrich we are supplying reach trucks capable of lifting to 12 metres and above to more and more clients. In fact last year alone, a large retailer ordered more than one hundred 12 metre reach trucks while a major player in the 3PL sector took delivery of more than forty 12.5 metre machines from us.
“With the trend for higher lifting reach trucks Jungheinrich has introduced a number of new design functions that not only increase throughput and productivity but also have a significant effect on safety within the warehouse or distribution centre.
“For example, one of the most dangerous accidents within a warehouse can occur when the forks of a truck catch the underside of a pallet, forcing it into the racking cube. If another, perhaps lighter pallet is being stored on the other side of the rack face, the force of the pallet being pushed into it could be enough to nudge it out of its place in the racking and down onto the floor and the workers below. To counter this potentially serious problem – which is clearly exacerbated the higher a pallet is stored – Jungheinrich has introduced optional fork-tilt levelling on its reach trucks. The tilt levelling switch adjusts the angle of the truck’s forks so that they are flat – not tipped backwards – when entering the pallet position within the racking thereby making accidents significantly less likely,” says Johnson.
The growing popularity of 12 metre high racking has also led Hyster to launch a taller and stronger mast for its Matrix reach truck.
Gaining more room without increasing floor space, helps to achieve greater efficiencies and better working practices for distribution networks, particularly in the FMCG sector. Extra height means extra pallet positions, however, it also means that pallets are lifted even higher.
Robert O’Donoghue, general manager for warehouse products at Hyster, says: “The increasing cost of land at strategically important sites has led to a growing trend towards taller warehouses. This has led to an increase in the demand for higher and stronger warehouse equipment. As a response to this growing market need, we launched the new VNA range in 2006. Now, in 2007 we have also introduced new mast options for our reach trucks.”
The taller mast option provides the stability and control required for placing heavy pallets at heights of up to 12m, allowing major customers to manage the warehouse in a more uniform way.
O’Donoghue says: “With the taller trucks, we have always had to overcome gravity, visibility issues and apply strict safety features particularly relating to stability. Some of the technology and findings from the development of Hyster’s new VNA series have been applied to the Matrix stronger and taller mast option. It means customers do not have to worry about where goods are placed. Heavier items can be safely lifted to any pallet location with a Hyster Reach truck.”
There are nine models in Hyster’s Matrix Reach truck range (up to 2500kg), all designed to achieve maximum efficiency and productivity from the operator through comfort (suspension seating/adjustable steering), performance (programmable) and simple, precise controls (fingertip).
Jungheinrich has developed a patented reach truck mast damping system which speeds lifting cycles by up to ten seconds. Johnson says: “Essentially when working at great height, forklift truck masts sway back and forth. For health and safety reasons it is important for truck operators to wait for the swaying to stop before attempting to deliver the pallet into the racking. Tests have shown that Jungheinrich’s reach trucks fitted with the mast damping system take up to ten seconds fewer for an elevated load to stop swaying than some competitive models. This has important productivity and safety benefits.
“In fact, the strength and reliability of the mast should be a key consideration for anyone specifying reach trucks. Users should ensure that their reach truck mast offers good forward visibility while manufacturing quality should also be checked to ensure that all of the mast’s sections are produced to the highest standards,” says Johnson.
“Of course, environmental concerns influence most capital expenditure purchases these days and reach trucks are no exception. All Jungheinrich reach trucks across the range are fitted with third Generation AC technology as standard. The introduction of AC technology in the early 1990s enabled truck manufacturers to offer higher performance than had previously been possible with traditional DC machines but the trucks were not energy efficient. The arrival of second generation technology offered higher energy efficiency but now third generation AC technology enables the highest standards of energy efficiency, enhanced performance and reliability,” says Johnson.
Paul Forster, joint managing director of Atlet, says: “There’s been a tremendous shift in the industry over the past ten years to ergonomically sound trucks,” pointing out that Atlet pioneered this development twenty years ago, when it conducted research to quantify the problems and put estimates on the cost of days lost through repetitive strain injury.
“Ergonomic design is still a key factor for us. High levels of driver comfort and morale are essential for an efficient warehouse. Lift truck development is more evolution than revolution. Each successive model in the range introduces new features, technologies and functions that ensure better performance for the end user.
Forster says: “On-board computer systems now provide much more information and in greater detail to the service engineer, so that problems can be rectified more quickly and in some cases before they’re apparent to the user. Predictive maintenance is becoming a key part of fleet management strategy.
“The ongoing management information supplied by on-board computers allows single truck and fleet operators to analyse and understand more fully truck use and performance. This means, for example, that in large fleets the trucks can be allocated and used more evenly so that usage is balanced to reduce the number of unscheduled outages that might have occurred in the past when ‘favourite trucks’ were over-used at the expense of others.
“Another area where on-board systems have advanced in recent years is configurability. Trucks can now be programmed to operate and perform in many different ways depending on the operator, location in the warehouse, and task being performed. For example, the Atlet S3 stability system which is widely used on its reach truck models, manages how the truck turns and lifts to keep operations within safe parameters at all times. PIN controlled access allows different performance characteristics to be programmed for each driver, for example to ensure new drivers operate at slower speeds until they have safely completed a number of hours on their truck.”
Forster also points out that efficient battery charging and battery management is becoming an important environmental consideration and this is going hand-in-hand with development in battery change areas to eliminate manual handling. Manual methods using traditional hoists are being replaced by powered systems.
“Lifecycle costs are one of the most important considerations in the selection of trucks. You have to factor in the cost of the driver – which can be as much as 70 per cent of the lifecycle cost of a truck. So sound ergonomic design with the ability to personalise the trucks both for the driver and the task means sustained driver productivity and well-being as well as safe operation. The truck’s high performance guarantees high productivity, with minimal downtime, and its advanced computer system offers full and detailed accountability, says Forster.
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, says John Maguire, sales and marketing director of West Midlands-based Narrow Aisle Flexi, in recent years, more and more fleet operators have been converted to the articulated approach – at the expense, it appears, of the reach truck.
“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,” says Maguire.
“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,” he adds.
“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,” says Maguire.
Short term rental trucks can provide a flexible and economically viable warehouse fleet solution, often in as little as 24 hours’ notice.
“Our larger customers, such as the electrical retailers and food companies, actually take up to 30 per cent of their fleet on short term rental,” says Allan Parsons, head of short term rental at Briggs Equipment. “Reach trucks are a key factor in helping them manage demand in their warehouses. One customer, an electrical retailer, takes 130 Cat trucks from us to cope with the Christmas period.
“We were able to work with them to provide custom modifications to their STR fleet, kitting out over 70 trucks with automated carton clamps, preventing slippage and making block stacking easier. Combined with ten trucks with 11m masts for the high racking we assisted in significantly reducing damage and made the handling of goods more efficient.”