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Lift truck technology is moving ahead at a remarkable pace, driving  lift heights higher and re-charging times lower – and at a fraction of what we have come to expect. By Nick Allen.

Lift trucks have been around for a long time and many cynics would say that nothing much has changed. But over the past fifty years or so there have been a multitude of technological innovations that have dramatically improved lift truck performance – pushing the boundaries of lift height, stability, durability, driver ergonomics, manoeuvrability, safety and productivity.

When it comes to innovation in the industry it’s interesting to see what the industry itself thinks is worthy of acclaim. The Fork Lift Truck Association recently gave its 2014 Innovation Award to Doosan Industrial Vehicle UK for its G2 diesel forklift engine. The G2 engine uses a new combustion system to comply with the latest emissions legislation while completely removing the need for a diesel particulate filter.

What’s more, its advanced fuel injection system is claimed to improve fuel efficiency by 33 per cent, reduce vibration by 33 per cent and cut noise levels by 10 per cent. The resulting clean burn engine, fitted to Doosan’s 2.0t to 3.5t forklift models, powers the EU’s first Euro IV-compliant trucks. Interestingly, instead of trying to modify an existing engine to comply with new regulations, the Korean manufacturer made a completely new engine which cuts operational downtime associated with filter clogging and so reduces costs for the user by minimising maintenance.

The award was determined through a public vote so it clearly struck a chord with those in the industry. Lithium ion batteries are gaining traction in the warehouse truck sector and may well be regarded as transformational technology, as recharging times are but a fraction of those required for the traditional lead acid battery that has powered industrial trucks for decades.

A number of lift truck manufacturers are introducing the new battery to their warehouse ranges, but the big issue that needs to be addressed is the cost. Lithium ion batteries are significantly more expensive than lead acid, however, there are compelling reasons for buyers to look very closely at what this technology can offer.

Mark Ogden, warehouse product manager at Toyota Material Handling UK, says that they are talking to several big customers at the moment about using lithium ion batteries. “A normal lead acid battery will have a life of about 1,800 charges, but with lithium ion you get 5,000 plus,” he says. Along with a much extended life, there are other advantages too.

Ogden says: “From 80 per cent discharge a lead acid battery takes about eight hours to charge, but with lithium ion it only takes about one hour from the same level of discharge”. So there’s a huge difference. “We expect the battery to last longer than the life of the truck,” says Ogden. “We’ve been testing [Lithium ion] for five years now, and we can predict that the battery will last about two truck lives – about ten years.”

Regarding the extra cost involved with Lithium ion, he says: “We have to be creative on the commercial offering. We may be able to put some residual in the battery, so paying for the battery over ten years rather than seven. Then the battery will have a further life on a different truck.” Toyota will be promoting Lithium ion heavily at CeMat.

Charger technologies

But for those sticking to the more conventional lead batteries to power their warehouse trucks it’s worth taking note of some of the new charger technologies. EnerSys has introduced its new EnForcer Impaq modular charger product line, a high-frequency range of chargers which, it reckons, offer intelligent charging to maintain peak efficiency at all times.

Basically, modules can be automatically switched on and off based on the charge cycle requirements, and should a module develop a minor fault, the charger bypasses the module and continues the charging process. Layer picking may have been around for a few years – especially in the United States – but it has involved large guided forklifts, automated robot arms and conveyors.

In the UK, layers tend to be picked manually, which is highly inefficient. However, John Maguire, sales and marketing director at Flexi Narrow Aisle, believes he knows why layer picking has been slow to get off the ground in Europe and suggests a way forward. “Many existing layer picking operations involve a varying degree of infrastructure and automation and the set up costs and inflexibility have proved prohibitive for many grocery retail operations,” he says. “Layer picking attachments have also been fitted to traditional counterbalance forklift trucks, but because these trucks have to turn at a 90 degree angle to the truck’s mast to execute the layer picking process, costly warehouse modification – often involving additional space – has been required in order to accommodate the systems.”

But Flexi Narrow Aisle has now launched the FlexiPick which he says allows users to take advantage of the layer quantity order picking concept without the need to invest in high fixed cost automation. Maguire explains in simple terms that when using the FlexiPick, full pallet loads of the most popular layer quantity product in the DC are arranged in an aisle format at ground level, with assembly stations positioned at the end of each aisle.

The FlexiPick’s integrated hydraulic arms carefully grip single or multiple layers of product and deliver each individual layer picked to the assembly station where a load is made up of full layers. Additional pallets are used to secure each layer for easier separation of products at the DC or retail store. A major advantage of the FlexiPick system is its articulated chassis design which enables the truck to operate in an aisle of only two metres – dramatically reducing the floor space required.

Productivity rates are good too. Case pick rates of more than 1,000 outers per hour per operator are cited by the company. Of course, with CeMAT taking place in Hanover this month (19th – 23rd May), there are plenty of lift truck developments being tipped for public release at the show. Mark Ogden of Toyota explains that the company is about to launch a new powered pallet truck at CeMat.

“It’s is our biggest volume truck in the world – and within that, the focus is on durability and 1,000 hour servicing,” he says. “Doing 1,000 hour servicing rather than 500 hour reduces the total life cost of a truck.” So, does that mean more robust components are being used or perhaps components that don’t require oiling?

He says: “With the powered pallet truck, we have a gear box that doesn’t need the oil changing – it’s a self encompassed gear box – so no servicing of the gearbox is required. We had a plan to reduce parts in the powered pallet truck, so the less moving parts the better – driving out waste.” Jungheinrich is launching a completely re-designed generation of IC-engine powered counterbalanced trucks.

The new torque converter hydrodynamic drive trucks are available with a capacity of up 3.5 tonnes and a lift height of 7.5 m and are powered by Kubota engines. But in developing the new range the designers have incorporated significant innovations to the mast, chassis and steering axle. For example, the counterweight is now an integral part of the load-bearing chassis, while the steering axle has been integrated into the counterweight – making the truck’s centre of gravity extremely low.

The increased stability negates the need for costly electronic stability systems. The new model’s drive shaft features integrated maintenance free wet disc brakes which, the manufacturer claims, when compared with standard drum brakes, virtually eliminates service costs. Jonathan Morris, sales director for Jungheinrich UK, points out that the new truck’s build quality and design features make the range highly cost-efficient.

“These new ‘torque converter’ trucks are rugged machines. Our engineers have driven costs out of the manufacturing process and produced a range that is tough and easy to service,” he says. With regards lift heights, the industry is going higher and higher. Toyota’s Ogden says a 13 m lift is becoming common place. “We’re now getting requests to go up to 17m on a truck. So you’re pushing the boundaries to maximise the cube of a warehouse,” he says.


“If you look back ten years, people invested in crane systems that went to 17m, however, they are very inflexible and cost a lot of money to upkeep on software,” he says. “With a truck you’re driven by how good the floor is and how much clearance you’ve got. The mast always deflects – it deflects a bit more at 15 m than it does at five! Also it de-rates as it goes up. At 16m you’ve got to look at [a load of]800kg as opposed to a standard truck at 1200kg – so all these factors have to be taken into account.”

Hyster recently introduced a new reach truck, designed to lift loads up to 12.5m and features a new mast design and a modular operator compartment. Residual capacity is maintained to greater heights thanks to a new patented channel mast design and visibility has been improved through reduced total channel width. The new model offers faster lifting and lowering speeds and improved residual capacity with reduced friction between the mast stages.

According to David Rowell, product marketing manager at NACCO Material Handling, “Improvements were focused on the handling capability of the product, which enables our trucks to lift heavier loads higher – as a matter of routine, lifting a tonne to 12.5m without a huge amount of modification of the product, which is key,” he says. “For the operator we fitted the industry’s first touch screen display – enabling real-time information on truck positioning etc. The operator can see visual representations of what height his load is at and he can set his height of lift so that he can match it to his beam heights.”

Rowell continues, “Another feature on the new reach truck is laser positioning. Instead of a camera, we can now supply a laser positioning system. It fires a laser out in front of the truck in a horizontal line, which is visible from the operator position. The driver can then see when the forks are pointing at the pallet and he knows he can then safely engage the pallet. Alternatively, when he sees the laser sight is pointing at the cross beam he knows that he’s in the right position to place the pallet onto the beam.” “If you’ve got a guy looking up 12.5m above him with lateral perspective etc., it’s a big ask! This is where the laser technology comes in,” he says.

Originally printed in Logistics Manager 05/2014


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