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Powered Vehicles: Lift Trucks Aid Disaster Recovery

Dec. 1, 2008
A lift truck dealer helps Houston recuperate.

In our fast-paced existence, news hits airwaves, newspapers and television screens as soon as it happens. The downside of that instant-information gratification, however, is that we tend to forget important news within days, if not minutes. News ages faster than the time it takes to push a button on the remote control.

Such is the case with the unusually severe hurricane season this year. As other stories broke, headlines focusing on storms seemed to fade. But, for Gulf Coast residents, the news is still breaking, even today.

Although the Gulf Coast region, spanning the coastal area from Texas to Florida, is no stranger to hurricane seasons, which run from July through October each year, the 2008 season packed a one-two punch. Hurricane Gustav and Ike both barreled through the Louisiana and Texas coastlines almost back to back.

Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast on Sept. 1 as a Category Two storm. Twelve days later, in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, Hurricane Ike made landfall at Galveston, Texas, also as a Category Two storm. It then took aim at Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. [Editor’s note: There are five categories of hurricanes. Category One has winds of 74 to 95 mph. Category Two has winds of 96 to 100 mph. Category Three has winds of 111 to 130 mph. Category Four has winds of 131 to 155 mph. Finally, Category Five has winds of 156 mph and upwards.

Long before the start of the 2008 hurricane season, Houston energy company CenterPoint Energy, which provides service to more than six million residents and businesses, made preparations for potentially destructive hurricanes along the Texas border. In 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left their paths of destruction in the Gulf Coast region, CenterPoint approached Adobe Equipment, a Houston-based Cat lift truck dealer, to create a first-responder partnership that would allow the utility to use the dealer’s equipment and services in the wake of natural disasters, such as
hurricanes. Specifically, Adobe’s Cat lift trucks would be used to lift and move heavy transformers and supplies throughout the region.

“CenterPoint had been a customer of ours for quite a while in terms of buying equipment, such as lift trucks,” explains Terry Foster, territory manager for Adobe Equipment. About three and a half years ago, after a hurricane came through, the buyer at CenterPoint and Foster talked about ways to prepare for future hurricanes. They came up with the idea of having lift trucks available on short notice. The two companies signed a three-year contract for the service, which is up for renewal at the end of 2008.

Under the terms of the agreement, in instances where a Category Two or stronger hurricane was predicted to hit the Houston area, Adobe would partner with the utility company to mobilize resources and bring Cat lift trucks to designated locations within 72 hours after being contacted.

As a first responder, Adobe delivered Cat lift trucks to a predetermined location several days before Hurricane Ike made landfall. Since it was unclear which areas of the region would be hit the hardest, CenterPoint waited until after the storm to assess the damage before requesting additional lift trucks.

The storm reached land packing 110-mile-per-hour winds and 15-foot waves, smashing houses, flooding thousands of homes, blowing out windows in Houston’s skyscrapers and initially cutting off power to more than three million people.

As the last remnants of the storm passed, Adobe employees began the process of coordinating lift truck deliveries, while CenterPoint assessed the damage in its service territory and pinpointed distribution sites. CenterPoint ultimately determined that approximately two-thirds of its customers (four million) were without power, the result of snapped power lines and fallen transformers.

Within three days after the storm, Adobe delivered more than 30 Cat lift trucks to specified locations in the region. These ranged from 3,000-pound, pneumatic trucks to 11,000-pound, diesel trucks. Within five days, Adobe provided an additional 15 Cat trucks to nine locations across Houston, for a total of 45. Adobe Equipment has six locations in the Houston area, but all of the lift trucks came from the company's main location.

Over the following four weeks, the lift trucks worked 16-hour shifts and performed more than 100 hours each week without any mechanical downtime. They helped offload supplies, reload trucks and move transformers, pallets of wires and supplies for reconnecting electrical poles. They also helped supply ice, food and pallets of water for first-responder partners and the utility company’s employees.

“The utility used its own employees to operate the lift trucks,” says Foster. In addition, it hired a number of additional operators from temporary agencies. “All of them, of course, were OSHA certified,” adds Foster. The utility also provided supervisors to oversee the operators.

After nearly four weeks, power had been restored to more than 95% of the Greater Houston area. By the end of October, Adobe still had 25 lift trucks in operation at four sites working to assist in restoring power to Houston residents as well as the hardest-hit areas of Galveston and outlying counties around Houston.

Fortunately, there have not been any other occasions requiring the lift truck service, at least not yet.

“The arrangement worked very well, though, so we expect to sign another three-year contract with CenterPoint,” says Foster.

Weighing the Options
A busy LTL carrier saves money by using en-route weighing systems.

Roseville, Minn.-based LTL carrier Lakeville Motor Express weighs all freight before billing its shipper customers to ensure they pay only for the exact amount of freight transported. In the past, the process was somewhat of a guessing game.

“Shippers can do their best to estimate the weight of the freight we’re picking up, but it’s hard. They could guess 1,000 pounds when it actually weighs 1,300 pounds,” says Pete Roberts, weighing and inspection coordinator at Lakeville Motor Express.

When the carrier purchased some lift trucks at an auction, company managers noticed the trucks were equipped with lift truck scales from Avery Weigh- Tronix. Roberts says managers suspected there might be value in adding en-route weighing to their operations.

“Our old system of using a floor scale took significantly more time, since the process included bringing the freight to the scale, stopping and setting it on the scale, weighing the freight and picking it up again,” Roberts says. “Plus, with our old lift truck scales, we had to hand write the weights.”

Full Speed Ahead
Lakeville Motor Express decided to try out FLSC scales from Avery Weigh- Tronix to see how they would work with Class II lift trucks.

“We started with three scales and now use about 100 in our operations,” Roberts says. “The scales were durable and accurate, and they provided us with a good return on investment.”

The scale’s carriage contains two metal plates combined with Weigh Bar electronic weight sensors. The design has no flexures, hydraulics or springs, allowing it to deliver legal-for-trade weights to 5,000 pounds, even while the truck’s mast is tilted.

“Obtaining precise, legal-for-trade weights for all our loads—which range from 500 to 1,500 pounds—is extremely important, and we often need to weigh things at a slightly lowered or raised angle, so this is a helpful feature,” Roberts says. The FLSC also has a Clear View vision window, allowing the operator to monitor fork tips at all times.

By weighing materials en route, Lakeville Motor Express saves valuable labor time.
Wi-Fi capability allows the in-cab instrument to transfer data wirelessly to the company’s server.

After the FLSC electronically measures the load and conveys the collected data to an embedded summing box, the information is transmitted to an FLI 425 in-cab instrument equipped with a seven-inch, TFT color LCD display.

Lakeville Motor Express gained further efficiencies by connecting barcode scanners to the instruments. Operators scan packages and input information within seconds.

The LTL carrier also added Wi-Fi capability to the instrument so that it could collect weights and diagnostics and transfer the data wirelessly to the company’s server. “Wireless really makes the whole process seamless—from the time the instrument scans the bill number to when all the information is transmitted to our computer,” Roberts says.

“We’ve kept running totals of the differences in actual costs versus estimations over the course of a year,” Roberts says, “and with Avery Weigh-Tronix’s weighing system, we’ve saved in excess of a million dollars.”

5 Reasons to Consider a VMS

As the workhorses of material handling, powered industrial trucks are crucial yet commonly tough to manage. And, mismanaging a lift truck fleet can lead to excessive labor time, which represents the largest cost component of material handling operations. Safety is also a critical component of a responsible fleet management program. Vehicle management technologies can help control labor costs and prevent safety, productivity and damage problems.

1. A vehicle management system (VMS) begins with access control. To start a vehicle, an operator presents a badge ID to a card reader on the truck. The system is linked to the vehicle’s ignition, and the vehicle will only start if the operator is authorized. Once started, the system monitors and tracks exactly how that vehicle is used. Data is collected automatically, in real time, to provide critical visibility into lift truck operations.

In addition to addressing this fundamental need for access control, VMSs also address the five following requirements of most material handling operations.

Operators are paid for three to four times more hours than actual materialmovement time. Across multiple industries, initial VMS data reveals a similar and startling pattern. For example, an operator is typically paid for eight hours. Say that operator logs in to the truck for four hours, but the truck is in motion for only two hours. And, only one hour is spent moving a load. The result is one hour of product moved for every eight hours paid.

2. Supervisors and managers are doing the best they can with what they have. When you walk around the facility, do you see empty trucks not being used? Yet, at the same time, are there also requests to acquire more trucks? This problem is often caused by unauthorized drivers borrowing trucks without returning them or authorized operators borrowing trucks from their assigned area and failing to return them. You may have invested in WMS, barcoding, RFID or voice, but none of these technologies can be optimized if the trucks are not in service or in their assigned locations. Using a VMS, supervisors can identify work performed by each driver and match it against peak work flows. By reviewing this data, daily assignments can be fine tuned to match actual needs with perceived needs.

3. Every day, you are asked to do more with less. Do you find that certain areas of your facility need more lift trucks and overtime? Do you rent, or consider renting, vehicles for peak periods? How many vehicles are out of service in maintenance at any time? What if those vehicles had less downtime? VMSs help evaluate how current vehicles are being used and if there are opportunities to better allocate them.

4. You want to keep your employees as safe as possible. Making the workplace safe for employees is important to all businesses. No one wants injuries or fatalities, and no one wants to be the supervisor on duty when an accident happens.

OSHA requires drivers to inspect vehicles daily for unsafe conditions, and employers must ensure only licensed operators use lift trucks. VMSs can assist with OSHA compliance by enforcing daily safety checklists and tracking and authorizing access to vehicles.

5. VMS is becoming a workplace standard. Productivity tools are essential to maintaining a competitive edge. VMS can help optimize material flow.

This article is based on a recent white paper from I.D. Systems Inc. For more information, visit

Powered Vehicles News

Linde Previews 2009 Trucks

LONDON–Although full details of Linde’s new 2009 range of pedestrian pallet trucks and pallet stackers won’t be disclosed until the official launch in February, Linde provided select media outlets with a sneak preview.

“Sinergo, an innovative new operator/ truck interface, is the principal design feature that will differentiate the new range from the competition,” explains Mark Sullivan, product support and service director at Linde Material Handling U.K. “Sinergo creates a high level of synergy between the operator and the truck, which delivers improved safety, innovation and ergonomic benefits.

“Creating improved interaction between our products and their operators will continue to be a key focus for our designers,” Sullivan continues. “Sinergo is a further step in the direction to creating the perfect synergy between man and machine, and we look forward to releasing this exciting new range of pallet trucks and stackers into the market in early 2009.”

Fuel Cell Meets CE Directive
FREMONT, Calif.—Oorja Protonics says its OorjaPac methanol fuel cell now meets the CE directive for lowvoltage equipment. The company’s offering is an alcoholbased fuel cell that continuously charges batteries on material handling vehicles.

By eliminating battery swapping, the OorjaPac lets companies increase the productivity of their material handling fleets and reduce emissions.

The OorjaPac fuel cell was tested for compliance with European Union directives and standards. The tests for electrostatic discharge, conducted emissions, radiated emissions and conducted immunity were conducted by a CE-certified, independent testing laboratory.

JLG Rebrands Telehandlers
McCONNELLSBURG, Pa.—JLG Industries Inc. says by the end of 2008, Gradall-branded telehandlers will become part of an expanded JLG-branded telehandler family. “The Gradall name has been an icon in the telehandler industry for decades, with a reputation built on reliability and performance,” says Kirsten Skyba, vice president of JLG global marketing. “We’re maintaining all the finest qualities of the Gradall name and product, including the famous blue color, but will begin branding these models under the JLG name.”

JLG will continue to provide Ground Support, the company’s aftermarket service, parts, training and technical support services, for existing Gradall telehandlers.

This rebranding initiative marks the completion of a plan that began in 2006, when JLG sold the Gradall excavator line.

Lift Truck Competition Rewards Employees
LONDON, U.K.—The top 10 lift truck drivers for Arla Foods competed in the company’s first “Driver of the Year” competition. The drivers engaged in head-to-head competition to test skills and operational knowledge.

This is the first time Arla Foods has decided to sponsor such a competition for its drivers. Linde Material Handling hosted the event at its Basingstoke manufacturing facility in Leeds, U.K.

Andrew Ramsden, one of Arla Foods’ warehouse employees, says: “This year was a pilot. We opened up initial rounds of selection from our national distribution center in Leeds. Following a knowledge-and-driving test, we narrowed down the five top finalists from both the reach truck and low-level order picking categories.”

James Bridson, Arla Foods warehouse manager, says, “The aim of this competition was to reward our employees for all their hard work and dedication. We’re very grateful for the great job they do, and this is our way of saying thanks.”

Küsters Zima to Produce Generators
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Nuvera Fuel Cells, headquartered in Billerica, Mass., has teamed up with Spartanburg, S.C.- based Küsters Zima Corp. to manufacture Nuvera’s hydrogen generation product, PowerTap.

The generator, roughly 6 x 12 feet, converts natural gas into hydrogen. It will be installed on site at warehouses and distribution centers to generate hydrogen for fuel-cell-powered lift trucks.

The business services division at the South Carolina Department of Commerce led a partnership effort to connect Nuvera and Küsters Zima.

Associations Band Together for Disaster Relief

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), located at, was formed through the efforts of 11 industry organizations, including the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association, the Warehousing Education and Research Council and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

By accepting donations and channel resources, ALAN serves as a central organization that provides humanitarian relief agencies with a gateway to logistics and supply-chain industry expertise.

“ALAN was founded by the associations that make the supply chain efficiently operate on a daily basis,” says John Nofsinger, chief executive officer of MHIA. “When a disaster strikes, we believe that it is our unique responsibility to utilize these same resources and expertise to help ensure that the necessary aid gets where it is needed as quickly as possible.”

Other founding members of ALAN include the American Frozen Food Institute; America’s Second Harvest, the Nation’s Food Bank Network; Food Marketing Institute; Grocery Manufacturers Association; International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses; International Refrigerated Transportation Association; and World Food Logistics Organization.

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