Tour of Lift Truck Duty

A lift truck’s a commodity — until you need it to go above and beyond the call of duty. If you haven’t been outside your own industry to see the variety of things lift trucks have been equipped to do lately, it may be time to take a tour. We’ll give you a brief one here. By the time you’re finished reading this, you may be inspired to book an industry tour of your own. When you get back, you’ll never think of lift trucks as commodities again.

• Let’s start with retail. You have lift trucks operating around pedestrians in congested areas. One of the recent trends in this environment has been the adoption of a vehicle speed control that governs the lift truck’s travel speed without affecting hydraulic lift and lower performance.

• Lift truck OEMs serving the beverage bottling industry have added the “bottler’s tilt” feature to their trucks, making it easier for operators to access side-loaded trailers. This added tilt helps get the forks under the load, which is tilted toward the center of the trailer. To enable this, lift truck manufacturers install different tilt cylinders so the vehicle can provide 10-degree forward and five-degree backward tilt (standard operation is five-degree forward and 10-degree backward).

• In the pulp and paper industry, where rolls of paper are commonly transported via railcar, getting these rolls in and out of the railcar without contacting other paper rolls is key. Lift trucks designed with shorter, taller counterweights enable a tighter turning radius for such close-proximity maneuvers and are commonly referred to as “box car special” models.

• In that same industry, where lift truck operators drive in reverse for better visibility due to large loads, OEMs are designing vehicles to a customer’s specific request, which may include swivel seats and rear-mounted horn buttons to make driving backward more ergonomic. Also, hydraulic accumulators installed in the hydraulic lines of the vehicles act as shock absorbers for the mast and attachment to keep the load stable and help prevent paper roll damage.

• In mail-handling operations, where lift trucks are used in the same environment as overhead conveyors, lift truck OEMs have been asked to lower the overhead guard of their vehicles so operators could drive underneath the conveyors. To stay faithful to the ANSI B56 safety standard that calls for approximately 39 inches between the seat and the overhead guard, an OEM helped accommodate this user by providing a more compact seat.

• In food and grocery, where cold and freezer storage is common, lift trucks are protected from condensation with the addition of stainless steel fasteners, tilt cylinders with rubber covers, water-resistant switches, and hydraulic systems designed for cold operations.

• In chemical and petroleum plants, UL EE-rated lift trucks have sealed compartments, enclosed motors and special heat-resistant wiring. Engine-powered trucks rated LPS, GS or DS have sealed starters and alternators and different wiring harnesses to reduce the potential for sparks.

• In pharmaceutical and food plants, nonmarking tires leave no trace of carbon, which is found in traditional black tires, in these atmospheres. And where quiet office areas are located next to busy manufacturing and distribution operations, lift trucks, at the customer’s request, can be equipped with smart backup alarms that automatically adjust their volume to the ambient noise level.

If you review industry trends with Brett Wood, national product development, strategic planning and marketing manager for Toyota Material Handling USA, he’ll emphasize the collaboration that went into their development. The mistake of thinking of lift trucks as commodities is easy to overcome. Mistakes that result from the misapplication of lift trucks are a bit more costly.

“There are so many instances of end users modifying lift trucks themselves,” he says. “This voids warranties and may, in fact, be dangerous. Any modification needs OEM approval. We’re willing to come in and work with the customers and offer solutions to their unique material handling needs.”

As an example, Wood cites the time Toyota worked with PPG to jointly design a glass pack handler lift truck. In PPG’s glass factory, large pieces of glass are moved between production and shipping areas. PPG teamed with Toyota and Hydraux to design a solution that puts the lift truck operator on a mast-supported platform from which he can both operate the lift truck and maintain a clear view of the glass being moved.

“If you’re controlling this load from the seat of the lift truck you lose a part of your visibility because of the load,” Wood explains. “They’ve been using this attachment successfully for more than two years.”

Remember the operator

Of course, a lift truck is only as effective as its operator, and lift truck fleet managers in all these industries are spending more time training their people to be safe, knowledgeable and productive. With these new capabilities come new responsibilities to understand how lift trucks will behave in a variety of situations. This will aid the specification process when it’s time for new equipment.

“Now customers are looking for more capacity at height,” says James Malvaso, president and CEO of The Raymond Corp. “Replenishment is moving from ABC stocking to right over the pick slot. You want to be able to put 2,500 pounds up at 400 inches and drop it right down to replenish the pick slot. That’s why there’s high interest in AC and energy utilization. With AC they’re running down to 10 percent to 20 percent capacity before they have to change the battery. This is because they can run full out without noticing a change in performance. So if they ran through three batteries a shift with DC, with AC they might use two. That’s a cost of ownership issue.”

In honoring the request for reaching new heights, lift truck OEMs must balance several factors, including battery capacity, hydraulic capacity and lifting capacity. That’s especially the case in two- and three-shift operations.

“Today customers are using cylinders, pumps and the rollers in the mast assembly on a continuous basis,” says Joe Ritter, director of marketing and product management for Crown Equipment Corp. “Before, these components would get a rest while you were transporting.”


When you dedicate reach trucks to rack aisles full time, you must also consider the ergonomic challenges of high-level storage and retrieval..

“When the truck is used more as an elevator than a transporter,” Ritter continues, “the operator doesn’t get as many opportunities to change his body positions. At higher lift heights your neck, shoulders and back are doing things more continuously than ever, so the lift truck OEM has to address that in the design of the operator compartment.”

Fast charging

Let’s revisit food and grocery for a moment, where Darrell Elwell is building system supervisor for Nestle USA. He’s also responsible for material handling fleet management. In his 16 years at Nestle, Elwell has come to understand how longer run time translates into lower ownership cost. He also understands how adding new product lines with multiple SKUs and differing handling requirements can tax the run times of electric lift trucks. Water is a perfect example.

Since Nestle added bottled water to its product family, lift truck operators have been wrestling with loads in a variety of ways.

“Because of the weight, and to speed production, some of our operators push product around on the floor, so we had an amp-draw issue where they pull more amps out of these batteries than you would in a normal environment,” Elwell explains. “We have needed a spare lift truck sitting around for the guys to use as they increase the opportunity to return amps back into the batteries. That’s why we looked at internal combustion [IC] units for a while. Now we’re looking at the AC technology on new electric lift trucks as opposed to DC. They seem to have a longer run time. Our next purchase will have those. It will help us with the run time on the battery as well as result in easier maintenance due to brushless motors.”

In the meantime, Elwell has gone to fast charging as another means to increase run time.

The addition of new product lines like drinking water caused this Nestle operation to go from 30 percent racking to 80 percent. That meant higher storage and more vehicles — and more battery handling.

“As we added equipment, the battery handling equipment was starting to break down pretty frequently,” Elwell continues. “We saw fast charging in the automotive industry and started to pursue it, starting with tests. We ran five trucks on a prototype [supplied by Edison Minit-Charger] for six months. At that point we decided to go with a full retrofit. We have nine chargers with six stations each and two chargers with five.”

This is where the importance of operator training is really made clear.

“Our people were used to driving up to a changing station and taking an additional break to wait for a battery change,” Elwell explains. “Fast charging requires more of an effort on the operator’s part to keep his lift truck plugged in and charged up. Initially, everybody took breaks at the same time. We discovered we needed to stagger breaks and lunch times so we didn’t have everyone in at the same time. Because fast charging is opportunity charging, you put six trucks on a line and each charges about seven to eight minutes, then the system will sequence through and grab the next lift truck that is at the next lowest state of charge. Now that we stagger the breaks, the operators spread themselves out across the charging stations to create as much opportunity for a charge.”

Elwell says he was able to shave 15 percent off the costs associated with the old battery changing scenario.

“Fast charging has also reduced our energy consumption,” he concludes. “We went from having 60 chargers out there all plugged in and running at peak times of the day to having 11 chargers, which, while they may be drawing a little more amperage, don’t cost as much as the 60 chargers.”

Peter Michalski, director of Edison Minit-Charger, adds that fast charging is making electric lift trucks more competitive with IC trucks in some applications.

“There’s been such a wall between electric and LPG trucks in distribution centers that their service areas were clear,” he says. “I’m not getting that so much any more. It seems more managers want to shift to electric because the trucks can be more carefully monitored and controlled with respect to speed, and if keeping charge in the truck is made easy through fast charging, there’s a clear line to electric trucks.”

He does admit there is some higher upfront capital cost involved, but over the long run, lower maintenance costs bring the two sides into closer parity.

Brian Moll, logistics manager for the Home Depot Store Support Center in Atlanta, says there’s a place for both electrics and IC throughout this chain. Home Depot uses fast-charging electric trucks at its 10 import DCs across the country.

“We wanted to get away from taking batteries out of the trucks,” he explains. “We didn’t see any reason why we should be messing around with 2,000- and 3,000-pound batteries. We don’t have a maintenance staff and we didn’t want a staff devoted to equipment, and we didn’t want to assign a staff to changing batteries.”

At the facilities where Home Depot handles bulk goods and lumber, they’re running 10,000- to 12,000-pound-capacity IC trucks. Moll, however decided that its import DCs would do well with 5,000-pound-capacity electric lift trucks.

“We figured, at worst, fast charging would be a break even between not having to purchase extra batteries, not having to devote space to a battery room and not having to staff the room, balanced against the increased cost for the chargers and the electrical work for the fast charge system,” Moll says. “We project more than $100,000 savings per DC, if all the productivity we anticipated is realized. It’s easy to show electric bill savings and other hard savings; the soft savings are harder.”

Edison’s Peter Michalski says the leading industrial battery manufacturers offer fast-charge-modified batteries that include double cabling, two connectors and doubled-up intercell connectors. That allows for a larger pathway in and out of the battery, he explains, adding that payback is typically about 10 percent of the cost of the battery, or about $300.

AeroVironment, which offers the PosiCharge system of fast charging, says that while the leading industrial battery manufacturers offer limited three-year “fast charge ready” warranties, AeroVironment goes a step further by saying PosiCharge will actually increase a battery’s useful life. The company’s test data show that after 1,500 cycles on its system, a standard industrial battery still tested at 90 percent capacity. This is attributed to an automated equalization process and an algorithm that protects the battery from heat.

Apps for internal combustion trucks

Jefferson Southern Corp. is a tier 1 supplier to Honda Automotive. Scott Brooks oversees sales and purchasing for this company, and he’s sold on the power and performance that liquid propane (LP) gas-powered lift trucks deliver in his 260,000-square-foot plant. This fleet of 13 Komatsu lift trucks and the operation’s Just-In-Time inventory system keep Jefferson Southern competitive.

“We’ve run our lift trucks 16 hours a day five days a week for the last three years,” Brooks says. “We’ve always used LP gas because we’re very tight on space and we don’t want to dedicate space to battery management. We like the convenience and cleanliness of the tanks and the gas.”

Material handlers here move heavy loads such as rolled steel from which blanks are cut in preparation to stamp parts.

“That’s why we require lift trucks up to 10,000-pound capacity that can also get into narrow spaces to load the blanks into the press machines,” he continues. “Komatsu streamlined these lift trucks while maintaining their ability to do heavy loading and unloading. Our press lines are located close to each other, so these vehicles need to maneuver in tight spaces. The lift trucks also run parts to the lines and take completed parts to the service side for staging and shipping to Honda.”

Honda is pushing Jefferson Southern and its other tier-one suppliers to become ISO 14001 certified, in compliance with its green program. The goal of this mandate is to guarantee that suppliers have processes and procedures in place aimed at ensuring cleaner operations, continued environmental improvement, assessment of future risks and commitment to further voluntary initiatives. That may include the adoption of a cleaner fuel such as compressed natural gas (CNG).

“They haven’t mandated that yet because it’s more expensive,” Brooks adds. Right now he’s busy with other projects for Honda.

“We just completed a 100,000-square-foot expansion so we can provide pilot product to Honda. We’ll be adding six lift trucks to our fleet. That will be sufficient to meet our needs for another two or three years.”

To make the operators safer and more productive, Brooks and his team implemented a Shockwatch system to monitor lift truck operation. Before doing this, the facility was experiencing significant structural damage.

“Columns were occasionally taken out and we were concerned about safety issues,” he says. “With this system, if you have such an incident it will stop the truck and an alarm will go off. A team leader will then reset the lift truck and data will be recorded. We’ve since had a dramatic decrease in property damage, going from four incidents a month down to one. Operators are now being more cautious.”

Safety and cost savings are the reasons Procter & Gamble’s health and beauty care distribution center in Cincinnati uses CNG-powered lift trucks. Distribution manager Gregg Schwerdt says although he also uses electric and LP lift trucks in his operations, there’s a growing reliance on CNG.

“Air quality and cost are the main reasons we went with natural gas vs. propane,” he says. “Most retailers still use propane. We were able to move to natural gas when we built our newest warehouse two years ago. We continue to be concerned about odor contamination imbedding into the corrugate and giving a false impression about the quality of the product. Natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel, it’s more available, and we were able to run a natural gas line directly into our site so we could do on-site filling rather than dealing with portable tanks. This change is safer and quicker.”

Heavyweight handling

From the world of retail, we go to intermodal operations to see how industrial lift trucks can play a role in reducing costs during transport and transload processes.

Ventura Transfer Co. (VTC), a nonrail port company, loads and unloads heavy intermodal containers and stores them for customers. VTC uses Taylor industrial heavy lift trucks, both 950 and 850 models, to handle these containers, which weigh up to 60,000 pounds.

These containers can be stored at a savings of 75 percent per day, compared to traditional fees charged for storing containers while on a chassis or in tank trailer, according to Brian Oken, president and CEO of VTC.

“When you have the capability to lift them off their chassis, thereby freeing the chassis and eliminating daily rental fees, you can reduce costs,” he adds.

Instead of coming in on railcars, requiring transloading and storage, VTC uses its heavy-duty lift trucks to help speed the plant turnaround process by storing its customers’ containers at its facilities for later transport and delivery to customer sites. This also saves the costs associated with maintaining large storage tanks, including cleaning and waste disposal.

Recognizing the growing trend for larger capacity IC cushion lift trucks in industries such as paper, aluminum and steel coil, rigging, die handling and machinery moving, Toyota Material Handling USA recently forged an alliance with Lowry Industrial Trucks Ltd. so it could expand its line from 15,500 pounds all the way up to 40,000 pounds. Lowry is a Toronto-based manufacturer of internal-combustion cushion-tire lift trucks.

“More and more end users are requesting Toyota cushion-tire lift trucks with capacities above 15,500 pounds,” says Dr. Shankar Basu, president and CEO of TMHU. “We felt Toyota’s active involvement in this growing market trend is a necessary strategy for strengthening our market position.”

Combilift, another lift truck OEM specializing in markets requiring heavy-duty handling, also helps building material dealers maneuver their loads through narrow aisles and doorways. For example, Bison Building Materials uses two 17,300-pound-capacity IC lift trucks from Combilift, one in its Houston facility and another at its facility in Dallas. These multidirectional, all-wheel-drive vehicles, handle long lengths of product between Bison’s outdoor, narrow-aisle storage areas through the confines of its production facilities. Two 20-foot-wide doors at each facility provide access. The trucks are equipped with a quick-disconnect spreader bar and 24-foot-wide forks to handle the 60- to 66-foot lengths of wood without deflection. Multidirectional steering allows the trucks to approach loads perpendicular to their length, but when the wheels are turned 90 degrees, they transport the loads horizontally with maximum maneuverability. The propane-fueled engines allow the vehicles to operate safely indoors.

Product support

If you’ve thought of lift trucks as commodities in the past, we hope this guided industrial tour has given you a new outlook. Lift truck OEMs are doing all they can to sell you on their cultures as well as their products.

“Our company is focusing on global account agreements because we’re in a global economy now,” says Robert Schafer, vice president of national accounts and fleet manager for Hyster Company. “One in four inquiries turns into a global agreement where we’re contracted to supply them with similar services across the world. We weren’t seeing that five years ago. Purchasing people are realizing there are cost savings there.”

Jon Levine, vice president, counterbalanced sales, Yale Materials Handling Corp., adds that for lift truck OEMs to be competitive with their products, there can be no cookie-cutter approach.

“Every customer’s situation is different,” he says. “We refine our lift truck designs to meet the needs of the changing industry, as well as to customize trucks for specific applications — anything from outfitting an electric rider for use in and out of a freezer environment to building a pneumatic-tired truck with flotation tires and a modified mast to increase underclearance in a lumber yard. With the support of Yale Fleet Management, financing, maintenance and a comprehensive network of dealers, we help customers increase their productivity.”

Schafer agrees that the services provided through dealers and OEM management arms will be key to keeping the lift truck industry from being perceived as commodity peddlers.

“Our biggest interface with the customer is our dealer network,” he concludes. “The lift truck dealer has to be on call 24 hours a day to support the end user. We have a global accounts team to help our dealers and customers interface on a regular basis. The quicker our dealers can provide parts and service across the globe at contract pricing for customers, the better off we’ll be.” MHM

Resources

•AeroVironmentInc., www.posicharge.com

• Aisle-Master Lift Trucks, www.aisle-master.com

• Cascade Corp., www.cascorp.com

• Cat Lift Trucks, www.cat-lift.com

• Crown Equipment Corp., www.crown.com

• EaglePicher, www.epcompower.com

• East Penn Mfg. Co., www.dekabatteries.com

• Edison Minit-Charger, www.minit-charger.com

• Hawker, www.hawkerpowersource.com

• Hydraux Mfg., www.hydraux.com

• Hyster Co., www.hysterusa.com

• JLG Industries, www.jlg.com.

• Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp., www.jungheinrich.com

• Komatsu, www.komatsuforkliftusa.com

• Landoll Corp., www.landoll.com

• Lowry Industrial Trucks Ltd., www.lowryindlift.com

• Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks, www.mit-lift.com

• The Raymond Corp., www.raymondcorp.com

• Shockwatch, www.shockwatch.com

• The Taylor Group Inc., www.taylorbigred.com

• Toyota Material Handling USA, www.toyotaforklift.com

• Yale Materials Handling Corp., www.yale.com

Toyota and its customer, PPG, jointly designed a glass pack handler lift truck that puts the lift truck operator on a mast-supported platform from which he can both operate the lift truck and maintain a clear view of the glass being moved. This is an example of how collaboration between the lift truck OEM and the customer is changing the image of the industrial truck industry. Toyota Material Handling USA.

Leon Farmer & Co. is one of Georgia’s 17 Anheuser-Busch distributors. Its DCs are kept busy receiving and shipping product six days a week. The three-wheel electric counterbalance lift trucks (Model EFG-DF) it uses are built to bottler specifications, meaning the forks have a forward tilt so the vehicles can easily load the industry-standardized delivery trucks. The vehicles are designed with a patented steering system and five individually programmed operating modes, making them suitable for narrow aisles or confined spaces. Sensors “feel” the steering angle and then automatically adjust travel speed or activate the electronic brake to slow the vehicle and safely navigate turns. Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp.

Jefferson Southern Corp., a tier-1 automotive parts supplier to Honda, uses a fleet of 3,000- to 10,000-pound-capacity LP lift trucks from Komatsu. These vehicles are operated on a two-shift (15 hour) production schedule. Komatsu Forklift of Atlanta provides the preventive maintenance and the support needed to keep the fleet running. Komatsu.

Crown’s RR5200 Series reach trucks offer options like rack height select, allowing the truck to be programmed so the forks stop automatically at a selected height, and tilt position assist, a feature that lets the fork tilt to be set to a preprogrammed position. Crown Equipment Corp.

Ventura Transfer Co. uses Taylor’s model 850 and 950 heavy-duty lift trucks to take containers weighing up to 60,000 pounds off of truck chassis and transfer the containers to storage areas. This results in significant cost savings by freeing the chassis and eliminating daily rental fees. The Taylor Group Inc.

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