Earth Mover

Macon, Ga.-based Huber Engineered Materials (www.hubermaterial.com), part of J.M. Huber Corp., is known around the globe for its kaolin clay. The specialty mineral is used as a glossing agent for paper goods, as a coating for rubber, paints, and wire, and for other applications.

A kaolinite mine is a few miles down the road from the Huber facility in Macon. The mineral is dug out of the ground and transported to the plant. "It goes through several different processes," says Dwayne Outlaw, purchasing manager for the Macon kaolin operation, "and then we put it in any type of container our customers want: rail cars, containers for shipping overseas, bulk bags, 50-lb. bags, drums or whatever is specified. Most of our overseas customers buy it in super sacks that go out in containers."

Depending on customer demand, Huber will run three or four shifts. With the variety of containers handled and their bulk, having the right material handling equipment is critical to the company's success. For years the Macon operation ran nothing but diesel- or gasoline-powered forklifts, and it owned all of them.

"Three or four years ago we decided to begin leasing the forklifts," he recalls. "Then we had propane-powered trucks. At the end of the lease you can re-evaluate what you have, then release them or see what new technology is available. That's what we did. We found the technology had changed drastically for electric lifts in the last few years."

The company's maintenance personnel and project engineers help determine the company's exact equipment needs. Outlaw then handles negotiations with vendors in order to secure the best terms and conditions. In this case, after managers decided to go with an electric model, the company evaluated several equivalent lift trucks from different manufacturers. Huber eventually leased 15 new vehicles from Toyota Material Handing U.S.A., Inc. (www.toyotaforklift.com).

The primary reason that Huber managers chose these forklifts is safety. Outlaw says the company is very safety conscious. "A second factor in the choice," he says, "is that in the long term there will be savings in fuel and maintenance costs. There's a hidden factor, as well. Propane cylinders weigh about 55 lbs and have to be mounted in operation about every two or three shifts per lift. So we've eliminated the possibility of someone becoming injured picking up and loading a cylinder."

Huber installed stations that can re-charge batteries to full capacity within hours, and also placed several fast charge systems throughout its facility. "If operators get off for lunch or a break," says Outlaw, "they can plug that battery in. If the battery has dropped down to 50%, within an hour or so it will be back up to 75% capacity."

Huber has a service agreement with Southern States Toyotalift (Macon, Ga., www.sstlift.com) that "insures that when the lifts come off the lease they have been well maintained to their standards," says Outlaw. "It also gets the maintenance aspect off our plate. When the new trucks arrived, Toyota people came on site and gave training to 50 or 60 employees who could then train other people. We view this more as a partnership with Toyota more than a purchase or lease."

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