Forklift truck sales grew significantly last year. But how is the reach truck market adapting to keep customers satisfied? Alexandra Leonards explores some of the new technologies available.
For the third year in a row, forklift truck sales have grown considerably. Rising by 8.2 per cent last year, the British Industrial Truck Association described the market as one that can withstand short-term economic fluctuations. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is the market’s often great ability to adapt to customer needs.
At the heart of a successful intralogistics operation is innovation. That’s what Steve Richmond, director – logistics systems at Jungheinrich UK, says is the driving force for developments in the market.
These days, businesses have to remain competitive – especially in a continually adapting marketplace. From orders and customer service to deliveries and returns, companies must ensure all of their processes are optimised.
“The customer experience of purchasing a product or service is arguably just as important as the product itself and as such, businesses must ensure their supply chain is as efficient as possible,” says Richmond. “To achieve this, implementing innovative technology is critical for organisations to maintain their competitive advantage by refining their processes and reducing operating costs.”
Customers are now looking for a range of features in their intralogistics equipment that can help them achieve the most efficient processes.
Jan Callderyd, group product planning manager at UniCarriers Europe, identifies scientifically designed ergonomic features as one feature that customers are looking for. Particularly ergonomics that allow the driver to obtain a natural posture, where the operator is both safe and relaxed even in intense operations.
“Visibility for the operator is also ranked as very important,” he says. “UniCarriers ProVision concept is proven to be very successful with market leading visibility towards forks and load – facilitating both a high level of safety and quick load handling at all levels, but also excellent all-round vision for safe manoeuvring in narrow spaces.”
As well as this, the total cost of operation is constantly important for all reach truck customers. “Awareness of the driver as the significantly highest cost is common,” adds Callderyd. “Currently, cost of down time for battery change in multi shift operations or during maintenance is becoming more important.” The total throughput of pallets, alongside excellent drive and lift, and lowering speeds can be key to low cost per moved pallet.
“There is a constant demand for higher lift heights in the market,” adds Callderyd. “Today lift heights to 13 metres or more is not unusual and naturally this requires a product with solid strength in chassis and mast design.”
This also increases the need for sophisticated assistance systems to allow the operator to stack and retrieve pallets at high speed with maximum safety levels.
“As a result, UniCarriers new S3-Soft motion and MTC – Mast Tilt Control system is designed to optimise the speed of hydraulic functions enabling maximised stability and providing a stress-free load handling,” says Callderyd. “In addition to that, different camera and lift assistance systems add safety and comfort for the operator.”
Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond says that with the rising cost of land and short supply of warehouses, organisations are increasingly looking to identify cost effective measures to optimise existing space, over moving to new, larger, warehouses.
“One way of doing so is by creating narrower aisles, to fit more racks into the same surface area, requiring a reach truck that can operate accordingly,” he adds. “On the other hand, there is a growing trend for increased height of racking, whereby customers are looking to make use of vertical racking space to increase storage capacity.
“In this instance, traditional wide aisle reach truck applications are being used to their limits, as racking is increased to go as high as possible.”
Of course, in environments where both increased throughput and capacity are needed, organisations need enhanced efficiency and manoeuvrability that can achieve these objectives safely. “Equipment must be more compact, but with greater agility, improved ergonomics, perfect all-round visibility and more freedom of movement to maintain the utmost levels of safety at all times,” adds Richmond.
Hyster’s Ron Farr says that frozen cold stores are among the most challenging warehouse environments, mainly due to condensation and the need for driver comfort.
“Rugged Hyster products thrive in extreme conditions like this,” he says. “For cold store applications where the driver needs to be fully enclosed, Hyster Europe has developed a new fully insulated cab for the R1.4-2.5 Reach Truck series.
“To prevent condensation build up when entering different temperature zones and to maximise longevity, components have moisture protection with cold-resistant cables and bearings, hoses and chains are also specified for cold store operation. “These trucks are built for extreme temperatures and continue to perform at their peak when many other brands fail.
“Cold stores are often confined, high-density, high-lift operations, so we have also kept mast deflection to a minimum. This means that smaller capacity Hyster Reach Trucks can now be used to reach higher heights where larger, more expensive trucks would previously have been selected.”
Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond says that with the continuing need to extract ever-greater efficiency gains from the supply chain processes to meet customer demands and remain profitable, organisations are exploring a number of innovative technologies that can transform working practices.
Lithium ion batteries
Businesses are always looking for minimum downtime – especially with the pressure of 24/7-shift operations and flexible working. “New intralogistics thinking is needed to transform performance and efficiency, and one such area that has been under constant review is battery technology,” says Richmond.
He says that less downtime requires faster, shorter interim charging times and zero maintenance. “One of the most important developments in the last ten years within the materials handling industry has therefore been lithium-ion technology,” adds Richmond.
Lithium-ion battery technology is something that has been around for a while, but is just starting to pick up in the market.
“Lithium-ion technology isn’t just the future, it’s the present,” says Steve Richmond. “Its impact on the market has already been significant, with customers recognising its potential to best complement 24/7 operations and shift work.”
Jungheinrich has seen an increased interest in the technology from its customers. “In 2017 alone, Jungheinrich sold 5,800 lithium-ion batteries, and completed the largest ever order of 1,000 li-ion powered trucks to one client internationally – demonstrating the technology’s increasing popularity in the market,” says Richmond.
The materials handling business already offers lithium-ion batteries as a feature on more than 90 per cent of its trucks. That’s because it says it is easy to convert conventional lead-acid battery trucks into lithium-ion technology. “Likewise, the recently launched ETV 216i – the first reach truck in the world with a permanently installed lithium-ion battery – was built upon a clear demand from customers for li-ion battery technology, developed directly from ideas and requests received from customers,” says Richmond.
According Matthew Allen, manager, cross platform solutions for Hyster Europe, lithium-ion batteries are becoming popular as they allow applications to streamline their energy requirements. “A lithium-ion battery can offer savings of up to 30 per cent in energy costs compared to a lead acid battery and produces zero emissions,” says Farr. “Due to fast charging speeds and the possibility for opportunity charging, plus up to the 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.”
However he still believes that they are not for everyone – and that lead acid batteries will still best suit the needs of many applications.
Lithium-ion often means zero maintenance and a long product life, which means that fleets can often be in operation continuously. “With no need to change batteries, there’s no need for organisations to keep reserve batteries or battery charging equipment on hand,” says Jungheinrich’s Richmond. “Greater depth of discharge and a constant voltage characteristic mean that even when the battery is running low, lithium-ion has more power available than lead-acid batteries.
“The batteries recover energy during braking, and a better overall efficiency rating enables them to save up to 20 per cent more energy. In addition, these intelligent batteries can communicate with both the vehicle and the charging equipment. The result is efficient and faster charging, automatic adjustment to the application in hand plus in-built protection from incorrect handling.”
It’s not in doubt that the technology provides great benefits. But whether or not these benefits are enough to make the power source a market leader is another matter altogether.
“Questions regarding lithium-ion batteries are quite common and there is a large interest from customers,” says Jan Callderyd, group product planning manager, UniCarriers Europe. “However, actual sales volumes still represent a very small share of the total volume.”
He says that one of the biggest problems is still the high investment compared to traditional battery technology. Although Jungheinrich predicts the price of lithium-ion will come down significantly in the next few years.
Lithium-ion technology also requires training and the deployment of charging points across a warehouse. It’s not necessarily a simple switchover if a company decides to move from lead acid to lithium-ion.
“It is quite difficult to get a positive ROI in one shift operations, but price levels are constantly dropping, attracting further interest, especially in new built warehouse operations,” adds Callderyd. “The most common problem switching to li-ion battery technology in existing operations is the existing infrastructure.
“Power supply for quick top up charging on bigger truck fleets is usually not available with heavy investments as a result.”
The technology also takes a lot more power to charge than a standard lead-acid battery. Operators must be sure that their warehouse actually has the electricity supply to support the high power levels needed. Otherwise they might have to spend even more money trying to reach those levels.
Unicarriers thinks li-ion technology is here to stay – but currently not for all reach-truck applications.
Expanding role for AGVs
Automation is becoming more and more important in the logistics space. “The supply chain has undergone substantial changes in recent years primarily due to the rapid growth in e-commerce,” says Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond. “As such, automation has become a growing focus within the industry as warehouses transition towards joined up intralogistics processes that unlock next level efficiency gains.
“Combined with rising land and labour costs, and in to generate greater storage capacity, more organisations are introducing Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to their warehouses.”
AGVs can provide a number of key benefits to a business. They can save significant time and money when used in routine operations, and of course can improve warehouse efficiencies, reliability, and safety. “AGVs enable loads to be safely transported on pre-determined routes and with complete accuracy due to recent innovation in guidance technology,” adds Richmond.
According to Jan Callderyd, UniCarriers, automated vehicles are more and more in demand. “AGV reach trucks are already available for market and in full scale operations,” says Callderyd. “As always, a deep understanding of possibilities and limitations is inevitable.
“AGVs in mixed operations are usually not effective, either manual or automated operation is preferred.”
Automated reach trucks are very useful for inbound storage, replenishment and slotting during night shift.
“UniCarriers warehouse models offered as MAX AGVs are the stacker PSP160, a high lifting reach truck UHD200 and the VNA truck URS150,” says Callderyd. “The continuous operation of AGVs makes the 24/7 throughput very high without interruptions.
“As always deep analyses of the operation is crucial before implementation to achieve success.”
Tracy Brooks, industry solutions group manager, Hyster Europe, says that repetitive lift truck tasks can be unnecessarily expensive. “ New AGV solutions from Hyster Europe use reliable Hyster lift trucks at their core with the addition of AGV control systems to help improve accuracy, efficiency and reduce damage,” says Brooks. “The automation hardware neatly interfaces with the truck’s electronic systems allowing them to be used manually when required.
“Induction loops, camera systems, lasers, GPS, or a combination of several systems may be used depending on the application.”
Repetitive tasks can lead to human error, which may make damage or delays much more likely.
“ Automating these activities can help reduce these costs and offer a good return in the right applications,” she says. “There is potential to automate warehouses, where automated Hyster Reach Trucks or VNA can add value as part of the entire materials handling fleet.”
More flexible strategies
With changing consumer habits and demands, and the labour shortage, retailers and manufacturers are always looking for more flexibility in the warehouse. But how can a reach truck adapt and apply that flexibility to the warehouse?
“With the rapid rise in e-commerce, coupled with the current labour shortage, organisations are under pressure to adopt a 24/7 approach to business operations but with less resource to meet customer demand,” says Jungheinrich’s Steve Richmond. “Customers have an expectation that they can access products and services from anywhere and at any time, which has meant organisations must adapt at pace.
“Customers therefore require greater flexibility from all of their intralogistics processes and equipment, including reach trucks. As the launch of the Jungheinrich ETV 216i reach truck demonstrates, Jungheinrich is constantly adapting its equipment to meet evolving customer demand.”
He says that by narrowing aisles within the warehouse, businesses can increase the number of racks that can fit within an existing space. “As such, businesses require reach trucks to demonstrate their full capability to keep pace with rising demand,” he says. “With narrower aisles, businesses require compactness to navigate around the warehouse.
“Thanks to an enhanced design, Jungheinrich’s reach trucks easily achieve this while also offering very high acceleration as well as impressive lift and reach speeds, resulting in high levels of throughput performance.”
Jungheinrich launches first reach truck with built-in li-ion
Jungheinrich has launched the ETV 216i – the first ever reach truck with a standard built-in lithium-ion battery, according to the materials handling business.
The new truck has improved ergonomics, incorporating its customer’s ideas and requests into the design. It provides more freedom of movement and all-round visibility.
According to Jungheinrich, the new truck has short charge intervals that enable 24/7 operation, and is able to stack loads weighing up to 1600 kg to a lift height of 10.7 meters. The company says that, as well as providing enhanced user-friendliness and maximum safety, it also offers greater agility in the warehouse. This is further enhanced by the permanently installed lithium-ion battery, which features a longer service life, maintenance free operation and improved performance.
“The new ETV 216i is the latest demonstration of Jungheinrich’s innovative capability,” says Dr Lars Brzoska, member of the board of management at Jungheinrich AG. “We are the first manufacturer in the industry to consistently implement the advantages of lithium-ion technology already in the design of our trucks.
“The permanently installed lithium-ion battery makes the ETV 216i the most compact and best performing truck in its class. Jungheinrich customers will benefit from better ergonomics, easier manoeuvrability and greater efficiency.
“In the future we will also consistently use the advantages of lithium-ion technology in the design concept of other truck types, thereby creating a whole new generation of fork lift trucks.”
Li-ion for Fowler Welch
Fowler Welch has invested £5 million in a fleet of lithium-ion powered forklift trucks from Linde. Technical director Laurie Black said: ‘We have worked with Linde for over a decade and were impressed by this latest innovation which offers us improved energy efficiency and sustainability benefits. With quicker charging and no need to be changed, the Linde batteries bring with them space saving benefits as well as health and safety features including zero emissions, offering our depots a reliable and forward-thinking long-term solution.”
The fleet of 170 trucks will be used at the Spalding, Washington, Heywood, Teynham and Hilsea sites, helping in the distribution of fresh and chilled produce and ambient products. The trucks will be powered by varying sizes of Linde-branded lithium-ion batteries, and come with a management control system from Linde MH.
This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, April 2018