Lift Trucks in Action

June 1, 2004
Our Editorial Advisory Board discusses the role of industrial trucks in their operations.

The theme of this issue is industrial trucks. We asked our Editorial Advisory Board to discuss the role of industrial trucks in their operations by addressing any or all of these questions:

o What are your key concerns about lift trucks and how do you address them (i.e., product damage, operator training, safety, when to get rid of them, etc.)?

o Do you work with an outside firm to do lift truck fleet management/maintenance? If so, has that paid off?

o How do lift trucks fit into your logistics information data stream? (Are they equipped with RF devices? Do operators communicate with a WMS? Do they have monitoring devices?)

o Electric or IC? Are you considering a change of equipment? Why/Why not?

o Are lift trucks overpriced/overfeatured/overhyped?

David Lockman, L.L. Bean: We use a myriad of lift truck technologies including orderpickers, reach trucks, turret trucks, fork lifts, transtackers, etc. We have a superb maintenance program in house, but we do rely on outside service for issues like warranty. Most of our trucks are equipped with RF devices for transaction purposes and this technology has been used in our facilities for a number of years. Except for a small number of trucks used for specific purposes, all our trucks are electric. L.L. Bean is an environmentally friendly company and the environmental issues (both for Mom Earth and inside our facilities) associated with propane or gas were one of the drivers moving us to electric. For guidance purposes, we use both rail and wire guidance systems. As far as pricing goes, we find that there is little difference in price for "commodity" trucks. Custom trucks are a different story, but I do not believe we are being gouged for customization.

David Rogers, Rockwell Automation: The primary concern when it comes to lift trucks is safety. Second would be product damage. There are a lot of incidents with vehicles bumping racks or dropping product, particularly with new operators. We have had only a couple true "vehicle accidents" over the years, but the possibility of a serious injury obviously exists. For service, we use a Hyster distributor that has the capability to work on other manufacturer's lift trucks. In addition to good response on the service we need, they are helping us manage the fleet, including the repair cost on each vehicle, summary invoicing, servicing by hours of operation on the truck vs. calendar days (not all trucks get used as much), etc. We will be pulling some routine PMs back in-house with the addition of a new maintenance tech, but will still use the distributor's expertise and its service for major repairs.

Our lift trucks are equipped with radio frequency devices and are electric powered to eliminate concern over fumes and environmental issues.

Lift trucks are expensive, but no more so than other equipment. The benefits of high-bay storage more than offset the cost and concerns.

Finally, my advice is to train/certify a small group of lift truck operators. We have seen a significant reduction in the number of incidents since we set up the smaller equipment groups. By reducing the number of operators to people who want to be on the equipment and are on frequently enough to be proficient, safety has improved.

Tan Miller, Pfizer: A very quick answer is that we certainly find that having RF-equipped lift trucks tied directly to a WMS to be a very valuable investment. The ability to measure the productivity of operations, the improvement in accuracy of operations, and so on, make this investment quite important.

Gregg Schwerdt, Procter & Gamble: If we had a wish list of things I'd like from an electric vehicle, I'd like everything to go to one standard battery. I'd also like to go to quicker charging batteries, which is one of the things we are exploring. This should allow us to eliminate battery changing stations and improve our safety within our sites.

Why are we not standardized to one make of truck? An individual brand doesn't always give us the flexibility to meet all our requirements. Inside our warehouses we have various types of equipment needs that range from each pick all the way up to multiple pallet movements utilizing single and double pallet jacks, stand-ups, reach trucks to counterbalance lift trucks, and this is just within my Greensboro warehouse. Although one vendor might have products to meet our needs, it doesn't always have a unit that meets exactly what we're trying to do.

We own all our equipment and do most maintenance in-house. This lets us get more life out of the units. I can't remember the last time we actually just threw away a lift truck. We depreciate lift trucks fully and then break them down for parts. We'll also move them to smaller operations where their life can be extended further. We also hard wire these trucks for our RF equipment and add weigh scales to our reach trucks.

Laurie Nauman, Ace Hardware: Our key concern is safety. Although we have not experienced a power equipment accident involving serious injury at our location, we are aware of the importance of keeping hands, arms and feet inside the operator's compartment at all times. We believe that a comprehensive training program is the most important component of power equipment safety, and that a good maintenance/PM program and appropriate sanctions for unsafe operation run a very close second.

At our facility we go through the operator recertification process each year, even though it is required by OSHA guidelines every three years. We feel the annual training helps emphasize our commitment to safe operation of power equipment at our location.

Additionally we have a proactive retraining program that involves both the individual's supervisor and members of management. As part of the discussion process, the individual involved in the power equipment incident identifies three or four goals that will ensure that a similar incident will not take place in the future. These goals are documented and form the basis for ongoing dialogue between the supervisor and power equipment operator.

We have more than 100 units of power equipment in operation at our facility. Two units are Hyster, two units are Raymond, and the rest are Crown. We have an agreement with the local Crown dealership to maintain a stock of consignment parts at our facility. All repairs are done with in-house resources. We are a 24/7 operation, 362 days per year. We have three Crown-certified mechanics (one per shift) to maintain our fleet of equipment. Our current fleet has an average of 3,500 hours per unit with a weighted maintenance cost of less than $0.70 per hour. We feel we can minimize downtime and have a higher level of consistent PM's by utilizing in-house resources.

We use a Crown software program called "Fleet Keeper." This program allows us to maintain a detailed history of each unit and to print those reports (fleet cost per hour, usage hours, model type, PM history, etc.) that we need for a particular requirement.

We use electric for quieter operation and no concern over fumes, environmental, etc.

For the most part you get what you pay for. The European community has power equipment that is better designed and more efficient than the equipment used in the U.S. We would expect that more ergonomic features, now standard on European equipment, will show up in the U.S. in the next few years.

Roger Huff, Ford Motor Co.: Our key concern is safety, with the following emphasis:

o Equipment enhancements: paint color, IVECS, quick charge battery (in work zone vs. travel to centralized battery rooms);

o Training: operator training, pedestrian training, shift start-up check list, two-foot rule, horn usage, etc.;

o Maintenance procedures reinforced;

o Reinforcement: pedestrian safety program (floor markings, training, etc. ).

Second concern is utilization/optimization of equipment:

o Where possible separate people flow from equipment utilization;

o Minimize lift truck operations -- reduced travel distance, pickups/putdowns, rebalance installation points of major commodities.

In some plants around the globe we do leverage outside maintenance arrangements. In most plants, lift trucks are maintained by Ford employees.

We are in the process of migrating to MRT-equipped lift trucks to provide "call" triggering to the operators to optimize the material flow operation and eliminate waste.

Both types of equipment are leveraged but primarily electric trucks are used for the majority of our fleet.

Lift trucks are still an integral part of our material flow solution. We focus on standardization of equipment to leverage price and efficiency.

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