While limited warehouse space is a problem for the industry, articulated trucks can guarantee improved capacity. But, asks Alex Leonards, what about the alternatives?
Maximising warehouse space is a growing challenge for the UK logistics and supply chain industry. Industrial property is in short supply, and warehouse space is constantly adapted to comply with whatever the current trend is in either retail or manufacturing.
This is why Martin McVicar, managing director of Combilift and Aisle-Master, thinks that articulated trucks are becoming increasingly popular.
“Articulated trucks are replacing reach trucks more and more (as well as VNA trucks) due to their narrow aisle ability,” he says. “A recent specific requirement for articulated trucks is also for them to lift to greater heights compared to a few years ago, when 10m was considered to be adequate.”
At Aisle-Master there has been a palpable surge of interest in its 15m lift/picking height truck. This is the highest option in the company’s range – customers are so drawn to the machine because it enables them to make the most of their vertical space.
“Although articulated trucks were initially regarded as narrow aisle warehouse trucks, as the concept has become better known, many clients who operate smaller warehouses have chosen the Aisle-Master for its versatility and ability to fulfil all their general handling requirements: off-loading trailers in the yard and bringing pallets to the racking in the storage area,” says McVicar.
Tony Boynton, group product manager VNA, BCO & logistics analyser at UniCarriers, agrees that the growing popularity of articulated trucks is driven by their ability to improve storage capacity, as well as to provide 100 per cent access to pallets.
“If the stock profile is based on several pallets per product line, then 100 per cent access is not so important,” he says. “In this situation, it worth also considering a double deep reach truck.”
Pallet access is prompting pallet racking companies to recommend articulated trucks to their clients, which, says McVicar, is increasing sales numbers.
“Many of our customers – forklift dealerships for example – are receiving shorter length contracts from their customers and we have seen an increased demand for short term hire Aisle-Masters,” he says. “Many of our dealers carry short term hire units in their stock and we have increased the available number of units on the market to answer this demand.”
Of course customers are also looking out for leaner operations to reduce capital investment costs while preserving a high level of efficiency.
“Replacing a number of other types of forklifts with articulated trucks such as Aisle-Master can achieve this,” says McVicar. “But as fleets reduce in size, reliability is crucial as there are fewer if any back up machines.
“Reducing the number of forklift/pallet movements is a further goal as this enhances safety and reduces the risk of damage to racking and product. The “one truck” solution provided by Aisle-Master helps to achieve this.”
Some suppliers try to incorporate the best benefits of several forklifts in their design. Balancing out costs with efficiency advantages is something forklift suppliers are more and more focused on.
“The Flexi AC NANO TW/FW pedestrian operated VNA truck is offered as a low-cost alternative to companies in the warehouse and retail logistics sectors who want to achieve the space saving and storage efficiencies associated with Narrow Aisle’s top-selling Flexi articulated truck range but for whom a pedestrian-operated Flexi is the ideal solution,” says John Maguire, commercial director, Narrow Aisle.
The Flexi truck is available in two-way (TW) and four-way (FW) versions – the TW offers up multi-directional travel, while the FW truck delivers longitudinal and transverse travel.
“The Flexi AC NANO complements other Flexi articulated forklift models perfectly and will be popular with companies who want to maximise storage capacity but whose throughput requirements do not warrant an additional full size Flexi truck or when pedestrian operation is preferred,” says Maguire.
Articulated trucks are certainly growing in popularity, and paving the way to tackling the space problem. But do alternatives offer up better advantages?
According to Ron Farr, manager warehouse solutions at Hyster, for a larger facility, rather than having one articulated truck doing a number of tasks, it may be more efficient to use a VNA truck in a narrow aisle environment.
“A ride on pallet truck is also a better option for unloading the back of a trailer, as an articulated truck can be too wide for working in a staging area,” he says.
The type of forklift chosen for a warehouse environment can have a big impact on the entire operation, and so, it isn’t a light decision to make.
“The most important thing for efficiency in today’s logistics operations is to keep the lorries on the road,” says Farr. “This means staging the pallets at the dock, unloading all of the pallets in the area of the lorry to get it on the road again.
“On a curtain trailer, this could be achieved by a counterbalance truck with a double pallet handler, off-loading 2 pallets wide, 2 high in one move.
“Or on a dock, by using a double length fork rider pallet truck. The same is true also about loading the lorry.”
He says that with picking applications, for retail, grocery and online, it’s very common to use reach trucks with low-level order pickers in the same aisle.
“The width of two reach trucks passing each other in the aisle is what often sets the aisle dimension rather than the working aisle of the trucks itself,” he adds. “With the articulated trucks the rear axle is the widest point, so where two of them need to pass each other in a single aisle, a larger aisle dimension may be required.”
According to Aisle Master’s Martin McVicar, as well as a clear articulated truck trend, there is also a move towards pedestrian operated trucks wherever it is possible – taking into consideration the weight of loads.
“When forklifts are in operation in the vicinity of personnel or the general public this is preferable due to safety reasons (visibility, awareness of surroundings and load, slower speed etc.),” says McVicar. “In our experience, if customers can use a pedestrian truck that can operate in narrow aisle such as those suitable for an articulated truck they will go for this option.”
Aisle-Master has a Combi-WR pedestrian stacker truck which is able to offer the narrowest width for this type of machine.
“If articulated trucks are used in one or two truck applications, they then serve a useful purpose,” says UniCarriers’ Tony Boynton, “However, the publicity with regard to these machines openly talks about stacking aisles the same as VNA 1800 & 1600 mm and similar storage capacity improvements as VNA (25-30 per cent).”
This means that if these aisles are used, the driver has to drive very slowly to avoid damage.
Baker Foodservice goes articulated
MJ Baker Foodservice, an independent food service supplier based in the West Country, now has two Aisle-Master articulated forklift trucks.
Its newest edition has a cold store specification, designed with the delivery of ambient, chilled, frozen and confectionery products in mind.
Trucks are in use for 16 hours a day at the company’s site in Newton Abbot, where it supplies 3,500 product lines to schools, local authorities and outlets from Penzance to Gloucestershire.
A major factor in the decision to include Aisle-Masters in the company’s operation was reliability, as well as the vehicles’ ability to operate in very narrow aisles of 1800mm pallet to pallet.
“We got our first Aisle-Master three years ago after experiencing considerable problems with another articulated brand: constant downtime with this machine was impacting negatively on our customer service,” says Chris Bowden, operations manager, MJ Baker Foodservice. “We needed a back-up truck that could work in our pre-existing aisle widths and the racking height of 4.5m.”
The articulated trucks are both 2t capacity 20SE models with 630 Ah batteries designed for long periods of time in temperatures of -25oC.
“We appreciate the efficiency of the Aisle-Masters to keep our fast moving operations running smoothly, especially after the issues with our old truck,” says Bowden. “The drivers like them and find them easy to operate and the change in temperature from the freezer to the ambient area has no negative effects whatsoever on their performance.”