Nowadays a straightforward truck just doesn’t cut the mustard – customers want materials handling with all the trimmings, including the most efficient power solution, guaranteed safety and customised add-ons. Alexandra Leonards explores the latest technologies in the counterbalance forklift truck market.
The customer, of course, has always been right. But we are now living in an age of personalisation, where the customer is even more influential in the development of products and services. Materials handling is a prime example of a market adapting itself to meet specific customer demands and ideas.
Warehouse operators have always sought simple solutions that improve processes without any disruption to the warehouse. But now they’re also looking for equipment that is customised to their unique environment. With the materials handling market experiencing growing demand and diversity in its operations, it is no longer enough to simply design a truck for the masses. The forklift truck market has responded by developing a myriad of customised solutions and add-ons; making the purchase of a truck a much more personalised experience.
“Increasingly customers need specific solutions that meet their particular application or industry requirements,” says Matthew Allen, product manager EMEA, Hyster-Yale Europe. And according to Brian Grady, sales & marketing director at Doosan Industrial Vehicles UK, the latest technologies are now designed with safety rather than speed in mind. “Speed limiters, access control and fleet management systems are the new ‘must haves’ for buyers, replacing the traditional focus on performance statistics,” says Grady.
Pedestrian Awareness Lights are one add-on designed to improve safety in a warehouse environment. These lights alert pedestrians of an approaching vehicle in a building with blind intersections or high noise levels. According to Hyster-Yale’s Matthew Allen, these lights can be fitted to the front of the forklift, its rear, or both. These lights are automatically activated when a truck moves – one option projects a blue beam of light on the floor indicating presence and travel direction of the truck. The solution also includes additional options such as red zoning lights on either side of the truck to help indicate to pedestrians the distance they should keep from the truck.
Hyster trucks has also introduced hi-vis intelligent seatbelts for its H2-3.5FT trucks. This solution is designed to ensure managers are able to check operators are using the seatbelts, but also for the benefit of visibility for pedestrians.
“For multi-shift operations with a large number of drivers, and operations that require drivers to frequently mount and dismount their forklifts, it is important to keep track of who is using which vehicle,” says Matthew Allen. With this in mind, the company has designed an operator password function for its H2 0-3.5FT range. This helps to ensure truck use is restricted to only trained or designated operators – avoiding any unauthorised operation in the warehouse. This technology works hand in hand with the company’s telematics system, which supports operator access control and provides better truck utilisation and cost monitoring.
The specialist division of Briggs Equipment, Briggs Defence, has recently provided customised trucks for the Ministry of Defence. Specialised industries require specialised equipment. And so, Briggs supplied the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and sister ship HMS Prince of Wales with specially modified materials handling equipment. The forklifts were specifically modified with special ‘tie-down’ fittings and the twin drive provides additional traction in difficult operating conditions.
Other add-on technology from Hyster includes a roof detection system designed to improve and enhance “in/out” operations in areas where variable speed limits apply. The Hyster system is able to identify when the vehicle is under a ceiling and thus limits the truck’s movement to a pre-determined travel speed.
Operator visibility is also another important consideration for truck manufacturers. Linde Material Handling has recently launched a hydraulic fork positioner that improves visibility when handling loads. This technology enables the operator to move the fork spread for each load without having to leave their seat.
Powering vehicles is also no longer a one-size-fits-all affair for buyers. In the past, diesel trucks were considered the best and often only power source available. But recently the market has expanded dramatically, with warehouse operators needing to consider environmental factors as well as safety and speed when it comes to choosing power sources.
“Emissions regulation is the hot topic,” says Brian Grady, Doosan. “The long-term trend is definitely towards electric powered counterbalance trucks, but in the meantime, engine trucks will continue to be hugely important. That means the engines themselves will need to deliver clean power efficiently and effectively.”
Now that legislation is pushing manufacturers to reduce emissions, many companies are fitting diesel particulate filters. But these require regeneration cycles roughly every 25 hours – a cost in downtime and fuel. “But there are forklifts on the market with diesel engines that do not require diesel particulate filters,” says Grady. “We developed our own specially designed engine, the G2, which is ‘DPF-free’ – cutting out the need for a regeneration cycle and at the same time lowering fuel consumption and maintenance requirements.”
But are the days numbered for diesel powered trucks? “The writing is on the wall for diesel and petrol cars, and there can be little doubt that this trend will be reflected across industry too as traditional users of diesel forklift trucks move to electric powered vehicles,” adds Grady. “The shift will be gradual and there will be applications where the sheer power of diesel will still be required, but electric counterbalance trucks are already fully capable of working outside, eight hours a day in dirty and dusty environments, such as builder’s yards and industrial sites.”
And it seems that electric trucks, which often have a lower cost of ownership, are out-performing diesel powered vehicles. “Companies currently using IC Engine trucks in the 3.5T to 5.0T range should at least be looking at the possibility of switching to electric forklifts as a way of cutting their costs, increasing safety and reducing their carbon footprint,” he says. So an exodus from diesel to electric may well be on the cards in the near future.
Hyster-Yale’s Matthew Allen has already noticed a significant move towards electric. He says that over the past decade the landscape of the materials handling world has been changing, particularly in the most developed markets in Central and Western Europe. “Customers are increasingly being guided by the environmental impact of their choices, as well as the total cost of ownership, and as the capability of electric trucks increases with the introduction of new technology, customers are considering them in many more applications,”says Allen.
There have also been significant developments within the electric market itself – with a clear shift from lead-acid battery power to lithium-ion. A trend set to grow over the coming years.
For new warehouses lithium-ion battery technology is particularly attractive as it doesn’t require a specific charging room for the building. This means operators can save space – an important considerations for many businesses. “Due to fast charging speeds and the possibility for opportunity charging, plus up to three times the life of a lead-acid battery, lithium-ion batteries support efficiency in logistics operations and are particularly well suited for extended or multi-shift operations,” says Allen. “However, they are not for everyone, and lead-acid batteries will still best suit the needs of certain applications.”
The technology is also becoming more prevalent in logistics because it allows a business to streamline its energy requirements. According to Allen, a lithium-ion battery can offer savings of up to 30 per cent in energy costs compared to a lead-acid battery, and it produces zero emissions.
Likewise, “with no equalising, watering or cleaning required, lithium-ion batteries do not need the high levels of maintenance that their lead acid counterparts require,” explains Allen. “Lower maintenance helps to reduce cost and improve the reliability of battery life.”
Lithium-ion also has increased number of charging cycles. “Cost savings compared to LPG and diesel are significant; the efficiency of the lithium-ion battery and charger is considerably higher than lead acid batteries and when coupled with time savings for battery exchange and maintenance, lithium-ion can give lower overall operating cost than lead acid batteries in more intensive applications,” says Allen. Planned battery maintenance also means that breakdowns can be avoided.
Allen says that at Yale they are able to model the battery state of charge over the shift based on time available for opportunity charging. “This determines the applicability and payback of lithium-ion batteries for any specific application,” adds Allen. “At the same time, the modelling will show the power required at the charger to ensure that infrastructure in the site is suitable – a key check before lithium-ion is recommended.”
But there are some downsides to lithium-ion which put some companies off. Older warehouses might need to implement wiring changes in order to provide the power needs and charging locations for the technology. “Draw on the electric supply is another consideration,” adds Allen. “Lead acid batteries charge slowly over a long period while lithium-ion options charge quickly and need more power.”
Linde lighting solution
Linde has launched two new lighting products, Vertilight and LED Stripes, that can be retrofitted into trucks and new vehicles.
Vertilight is a semi-circle of LED lights to be mounted on the truck’s mast to provide safety while storing and retrieving goods on high-bay shelves. The light projects a wide-area, uniform and glare-free light for maximum illumination of the area. The 6,500 Kelvin colour temperature reduces operator fatigue.
Linde’s LED Stripes illuminate areas from close range and are to be attached to the front and rear overhead guard on counterbalanced trucks. One side radiates white light and the other red, so visibility is not impaired. The stripes emit 5,700 Kelvin to resemble natural light.
Both products are part of Linde’s safety concept to reduce accidents in the goods handling industry, ‘Vision Zero – Safety in your world’.
“Ensuring operator safety is a vital concern when we develop new trucks and products,” says David Bowen, warehouse product manager at Linde UK.
Mitsubishi expands electric truck range
Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks has launched the EDiA EM, the latest addition to its electric truck range.
The EDiA EM range of 1.4 to 2.0 tonne trucks comes with 48-volt electrics. Mitsubishi says it is an alternative to traditional internal combustion engine trucks.
The truck uses software examine and analyses real-use data – automatically adjusting the truck’s parameters for operations that are safe and productive.
It also uses Mitsubishi Sensitive Drive System that automatically smoothes start and stop movements, increases agility and adapts the truck’s performance to the speed of the driver’s foot movements – eliminating
The 3-wheel model of the EDiA EM series can be specified with 360-degree steering — as found in the Mitsubishi reach trucks.
New electric truck
This month, Doosan launches its new electric 7-Series four-wheel counterbalance forklift range in capacities 4.0 to 5.0 tonne, featuring the latest AC control systems for reliable power and performance, ergonomics for driver comfort and a comprehensive range of safety features. New sealed drive and pump motors rated to IP43 offer full protection against dust and water – and as motor brushes and commutators have been eliminated, the motors are completely maintenance free.
This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, February 2019