Chain of Thought

Sometimes We're More Carnac than Nostradamus

We recently posted an article from our archives on the high cost of free engineering. The fact that much of what this article stated about bad buyer behavior still exists 53 years after it first ran in Material Handling Engineering proves human nature is slow to change. Then again, so are attitudes about some of what material handlers buy—particularly lift trucks.

This magazine has never been bashful about predicting technology’s future. But in looking further into our archives from a half-century ago, maybe we should have been.

While we were in a nostalgic mood about good old MHE, I found another piece that ran in 1960 that made one of those bold predictions: Fuel Cells—Almost here,” the headline read. “The question about fuel cells is not whether they’ll work but when they’ll be ready for use,” the author stated. “They’re very close now.”

Well, if you read that article now—which you can, because I just posted that here too—it would finally be right. Fuel cells are finding applications in the appropriate situations. But the companies employing lift trucks powered by them—Walmart, BMW, United Natural Foods, even the military—are still considered pioneers.  The following headline was posted just this year on the site for Hydrogen Fuel News:

“Materials handling becomes a popular target for the fuel cell industry”

The author went on to enthuse that hydrogen fuel is gaining strong traction in material handling. “Fuel cell manufacturers have, for the past year or so, begun to focus more heavily on this sector due to poor performance in other areas,” he stated.

The past year? Try the past century. If you look at the article we just posted from 1960, you’ll see a fuel-cell-equipped forklift.

I don’t mean to come off as smug. I’ve made my share of bold but off-target predictions. Take this one from an article I wrote in 2001:

“Alternative fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG) have been talked about as possible solutions to the carbon monoxide emission problem, but until recently the infrastructure to support fueling stations was insufficient. That’s why companies like the Kingdom Group, headquartered in New York City, have dedicated themselves to providing an affordable, fast-fill CNG fueling infrastructure.”

I clicked on the link we put in that article for the Kingdom Group, and the entity carrying that name today at this site is talking about a much more combustible product than CNG: Medicare.

Yale Chase Equipment Services has a nice article on its site—from earlier this year—on why CNG is still not an easy sell to material handling buyers. I’ll let you take a look at it, then go ahead and judge me for how far off the mark I was.

That doesn’t mean carbon monoxide has stopped being a problem, though, as we proved in our last blog about a material handler who was asphyxiated by carbon monoxide while working inside a non-ventilated trailer. That trailer was being loaded by someone using an LPG-powered forklift.

Aside from the great emissions reductions lift truck OEMs have accomplished with their engine innovations, they can't make their equipment fool proof. That can only be done with the good old fashioned notion of site- and equipment-specific operator training.

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