Will Automotive Fuel Cells Generate Momentum for Lift Trucks?

June 1, 2004
If you think fuel-cell-powered lift trucks are just a pipe dream, its time for a wake-up call. True, technologists have been talking about fuel cell applications

If you think fuel-cell-powered lift trucks are just a pipe dream, it’s time for a wake-up call. True, technologists have been talking about fuel cell applications being “around the corner” for decades, but this technology has never had the momentum of money and research that it does today.

That’s especially evident in Canada, where Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) announced two separate contributions to fund fuel cell research in lift trucks. $2 million (CDN) has been leveraged by $7 million (CDN) from a consortium that is led by Cellex Power to support a development and demonstration project that will use hydrogen fuel cells to power Class 3 lift trucks (rider pallet trucks). This project will run until September 30, 2005.

For the other project, SDTC made another contribution of $1.56 million (CDN) leveraged by a $1.98 million (CDN) funding commitment from a consortium led by Hydrogenics for a development and demonstration project of fuel-cell-powered lift trucks. This project will include Class 1 sit-down rider lift trucks and incorporate hydrogen storage and a refueling station. Consortium members on this project include Deere & Company, FedEx Canada, General Motors of Canada, NACCO Materials Handling Group and the Canadian Transportation Fuel Cell Alliance.

The funding also supports the provision of a hydrogen refueling station. This refueler is designed and built around Hydrogenics’ proprietary PEM (proton exchange membrane) technology. Demonstrations of the lift trucks and refueler will take place at GM and FedEx operations within the Greater Toronto area, and potentially other locations, throughout the fall and winter of 2004/2005.

In the U.S., where industrial battery manufacturers have a major stake in the lift truck industry, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Nuvera Fuel Cells has decided on a market strategy that includes these manufacturers as potential partners.

“We are talking about the creation of a battery/fuel cell hybrid system so that the fuel cell is charging the battery on board rather than having a need for swapping and charging batteries,” says Gus Block, director of business development for Nuvera. “Aside from this being a good use for both technologies, it also creates a wonderful alliance between the fuel cell industry and the battery industry, so we’re no longer at odds with each other.”

Nuvera already has a relationship with FIAMM S.p.A., manufacturers of lead acid batteries. They’ve developed a 7 kW-class hybrid battery/fuel cell power pack for industrial material handling vehicles. The companies intend to beta test the hydrogen-fueled, zero-emission power packs next year, then market them the following year.

Block says advances in the automotive world, and his own company’s diverse markets, will help open up material handling applications and make them more affordable.

“We focus on industrial systems and vehicles both on a small scale and a very large scale,” he told MHM. “By large, I mean megawatts and higher. By developing systems for industrial hydrogen recovery with fuel cells over a megawatt, these can take hydrogen produced as a chemical byproduct and make electricity to be used on-site. One of the benefits of that is that early on we are generating sales volumes in terms of the active area of our stack. We couldn’t achieve this in any other way except with high-volume production. By being able to do that, we can get much lower prices from our suppliers; therefore, fuel cells across the board, no matter the product line, will be reduced in cost.”

Daniel O’Connell, head of product engineering for the General Motors Fuel Cell Program, agrees. MHM caught up with him while he was in Boston, keynoting the fourth annual Materials Integrity Management Symposium. At this conference,

O’Connell outlined GM’s path to the hydrogen future. “The big advantage we have with fuel cells today versus years ago is the advancement in material technology,” he told MHM. “We could make fuel cells work 40 years ago, and we used them in the space program, but getting them into the cost arena that’s necessary to displace batteries and small IC engines, you need a product that will offer new features and functions. In the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen the automotive companies get on board and spend the kind of money necessary to move the technology forward. We’re approaching the automotive cost curve, which is $50 per kilowatt. When I started seven years ago a 5 kW stack was as big as a small refrigerator. Today 50 kW is the size of a couple computers. That’s enormous progress in a short time. With so many suppliers and OEMs putting the money into it to drive the material, that will really ensure that fuel cells will be in our future.” — Tom Andel, chief editor

For more information on fuel cell technology developments, visit the following Web sites:


www.fsdtc.ca (Sustainable Development Technology Canada)




The Business Logistics System — 2003

During 2003, the cost of the business logistics system increased to $936 billion, or the equivalent of 8.5 percent of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Once again the largest share of the increase can be accounted for by rising transportation costs, particularly trucking, which represents more than 50 percent of total logistics costs.

Inventory carrying costs remained almost flat because of low interest rates. The average investment in all business inventories was $1.49 trillion, a record high. Inventory investment during 2003 was $49 billion higher than 2002. This reverses the significant drop in 2002 and restores inventories to the levels held since 2000. The 9/11 terrorist attacks exacerbated the problems of an already deteriorating insurance market. Since then, premium increases of 20 percent to 50 percent have been common, but industry experts feel that the outlook for 2004 is much better and do not anticipate similar jumps.

Trucking costs increased by $20 billion compared to 2002. After a slow start, many carriers reported strong end-of- year results as capacity problems led to higher rates. Most trucking companies were able to raise freight rates to recoup the rising fuel costs and cover increases in overall operating costs. The increased demand for their services allowed larger companies to be more selective in the freight they were carrying, opting not to carry the less profitable freight, and to push through rate increases. The skyrocketing growth in operating costs slowed greatly in 2003, with the rise in insurance premiums slackening off and equipment prices abating.

Costs of transportation by rail were up slightly. Revenues for Class I railroads rose 3.8 percent, but expenses increased more, leaving the industry with a drop of more than 15 percent in net income in 2003. Rising fuel costs, offset partially by fuel surcharges, and substantial wage increases resulting from contract settlements eroded the gains in revenue. The outlook for 2004 is similar with the industry report increasing prices for material and supplies, and even some instances of steel surcharges. — Rosalyn Wilson, 15th Annual State of Logistics Report

And the Winner Is ...

Clyde Witt, executive editor of Material Handling Management, received gold and silver awards at the recent American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) awards banquet. Clyde won in the regular column, staff-written category for publications with more than 80,000 circulation. Clyde writes the monthly Transport Packaging column. His winning entries for 2003 were March and December (gold) and February and June (silver).

The banquet for the Central-Southeast Region of ASBPE was held at the City Club of Cleveland. The region is composed of Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, as well was Washington, D.C.

Congratulations, Clyde, for a job well done.

CLM First Coast Roundtable Selects Officers

The First Coast Roundtable of the Council of Logistics Management announced its officers for 2004-2005.

Easwaran Sundaram of PSS World Medical will serve as president; Terry Haber of TNT Logistics North America will serve as vice president and program chair, Alex Randall of Visual Solutions will serve as secretary, and Ann Middleton of Landstar Logistics will serve as treasurer.

CLM First Coast Roundtable is a non-profit professional business organization consisting of individuals throughout Northeast Florida who have interests or responsibilities in supply chain management and the related functions that make up the logistics profession. It provides educational opportunities and relevant information through a variety of programs, services and activities.

Flexible Material Handling at Ford

Ford Motor Company’s “Year of the Car” shifted into high gear with the recent reopening of its Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1. The automaker literally raised the roof of this 53-year-old plant four feet to accommodate state-of-the-art material handling and production technologies, including new gantries. All this technology will be applied to produce the new Duratec V-6 engine for the 2005 Ford 500 and Mercury Montego sedans, and the Ford Freestyle.

Production at this plant is projected to be 325,000 engines per year. More than 800 employees now work at the plant, the level before the facility was closed in 2000. With the reopening, the Cleveland manufacturing site’s engine facilities at plants No. 1 and No. 2 have combined capacity to produce more than 1 million engines a year.

Material Handling Management toured Plant No. 1 shortly after its reopening and interviewed two of the Ford project’s key players: Adrian Price, manufacturing manager, and Steve Orr, material planning and logistics superintendent. Those interviews can be accessed at the Breaking News section of www.MHMonline.com (Flexible Material Handling at Ford).

HK Provides AS/RS for Grocery Chain

HK Systems, a leading automated material handling and supply chain software total solutions provider, has been selected by Stop & Shop Grocers, an Ahold USA Company, to provide an automated storage and retrieval system for its new East Coast distribution center in Freetown, Massachusetts. HK will manufacture and integrate 77 HK-3000/RF rotating fork automated storage and retrieval machines (SRMs) in the Stop & Shop 1.3 million-square-foot facility to handle both perishable and grocery products.

This facility will be one of the nation’s largest and most advanced automated grocery store distribution centers, storing more than 64,000 pallets of product. The facility will supply 350 stores and will be operational 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The AS/RS system is scheduled to go live in fall 2004.

The HK3000/RF machines will each have access to more than 11,500 pick slots serviced by 90 pick aisles. The machines move in two directions: horizontally along the 300-foot tracks bolted to the floors and vertically where the machine’s fork can support up to one-and-one-half tons.

The HK3000/RF replaces the practice of manually retrieving and lowering pallets from storage for picking. The AS/RS interfaces to the facility’s WMS and its voice recognition system. Once a selector reports an empty slot in his headset, the crane will pull the proper pallet and replenish the SKU.

Since the system employs both automation and human pickers, safety features in the new system are a priority. The machines each have three sets of three infrared sensors that monitor the area 30 feet around the SRM, and if they detect anything in their path, the machine automatically shuts down.

W.A. Schmidt Provides Platforms for National Conventions

W.A. Schmidt Inc., a manufacturer of structural mezzanines, will provide major mezzanine installations this summer for the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Boston.

Schmidt’s project team proposed innovative designs, which led to the award of both projects. In the case of the RNC at Madison Square Garden, Schmidt’s 30,000-square-foot mezzanine expands the existing floor space over the ice rink by 30 percent; additional smaller platforms that protrude through the main mezzanine provide camera staging and are isolated by a special vibration buffer.

For the DNC at the Fleet Center, Schmidt’s 49,000-square-foot design, which will be used in a temporary outdoor structure, is engineered to be installed and dismantled quickly, and will be used again in different modular configurations at other locations.

Everything You Need To Know About 3PLs

The 12th edition of Who’s Who In Logistics? is now available in two volumes. The set includes industry statistics such as:

• U.S. 3PL/Contract Logistics Market Gross Revenue Growth 1996- 2003;

• Major 3PL market segments defined;

• U.S. 3PL/Contract Logistics Market Estimates for 2003 with Segment Detail.

3PLs are profiled using the following criteria:

• Analysis of overall capabilities;

• Asset information;

• Customers/markets;

• Editor’s comments;

• Financial information;

• Information systems;

• Key personnel;

• Latest case studies and news.

The 648-page set also offers in-depth research and analysis of 146 3PLs, including their latest gross and net revenues, overall capabilities, editorial comments detailing strengths and weaknesses, and IT capabilities ratings. For more information, contact Armstrong & Associates Inc., 608-873-8929, www.3plogistics.com.

Managers Making News

The Board of Directors of FKI plc has named Stephen Ackerman president of FKI Logistex North America, the FKI material handling division serving the North American markets, to succeed David Martin.

Rob E. Hilborn, president of Darcor, announced the appointment of Dan Carnegie as vice president. Carnegie will be based at the Toronto, Ont., home office. He had served as a consultant on Darcor corporate matters.

Stephen Ache has joined AeroVironment Inc. as national sales director of the PosiCharge industrial fast charger division. Ache has 15 years of motive power experience and held senior management positions at EnerSys, GNB Technologies and Yuasa.

Dennis Raymond, national sales manager of Shockwatch, announced the appointment of Scot Hemann as regional manager responsible for the company’s new Cincinnati sales office. The new office oversees sales of Shockwatch’s Shockswitch ID product line.

Chris C. Richardson, who retired in May as president and CEO of the Schneider Electric North American Operating Div., has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Schneider Electric.

Orion Packaging Systems Inc. has appointed Paul McCarthy as Northeast regional manager. His area covers from New York state and north to the Canadian border.

Kaman Industrial Technologies appointed Michael J. Pastore vice president, purchasing. He will report to Carlos Ingram, vice president, business systems and logistics. Pastore is responsible for the management of all procurement and inventory planning functions for five distribution centers, and will serve as a member of the company’s executive management team.

Wisconsin Lift Truck Corp. has appointed Pat Ryan as field sales and manager and corporate accounts representatives for its southern region. He has held positions as branch manager and parts and service representative.

Magline Inc. has promoted Art Burnham to the position of manufacturing manager of its Standish, Mich., plant. Burnham’s experience includes supervising production, purchasing material, project management and new product launches.

Schneider National Inc. has promoted Mike Hoes to regional sales vice president for its Southeastern sales team. He will work at the company’s new operating facility in Atlanta.

Patrick M. Huesing has joined Linpac Materials Handling as beverage specialist in the food and beverage sales group. He is based in Gainesville, Georgia, and will serve customers nationwide.

Michael W. Blankenship has been named service director of Remstar International Inc., a provider of automated storage and retrieval systems throughout North and South America.

Harrington Hoists Inc. named Edward (Ned) Hunter as president and CEO, effective May 3. The company also recognized Brett Kunin as sales representative of the year and Randy Landgrebe as manufacturer’s representative of the year.

Real Time Solutions, an FKI Logistex member company, has hired Jeff Runnion as Midwest regional sales manager. Runnion will manage Real Time Solutions sales in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. He reports to Bill Hubacek, vice president of sales and marketing.

Ohio Governor Awards Grant for RFID Training

Ohio Governor Bob Taft presented a $63,000 check from the Ohio Department of Development’s Ohio Investment in Training Program to The Kennedy Group. The grant will be used to train Kennedy Group employees on new RFID equipment and solutions. Taft presented the check in conjunction with the opening of the Kennedy Group’s RFID testing facility on the grounds of its 30-acre campus in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, Ohio. The Kennedy Group’s state-of-the-art Customer Solution Center is fully equipped to help companies meet stringent EPC-compliance requirements established by the largest retailers, Department of Defense and FDA for tagging products at the case and pallet levels.

Taft recognized The Kennedy Group as a leading example of Ohio’s Third Frontier Project. “This initiative is designed to assist and promote the state’s expanding high-tech research capabilities, promote start-up companies and create high-paying jobs for Ohio’s future. It also helps Ohio companies create and develop innovative new products and services,” said Taft.

The Kennedy Group’s 7,000-square-foot Customer Solution Center is designed to test an array of technology neutral (900 MHz and 13.56 MHz) smart labels and tags, readers, printers and printer applicators under actual working conditions. This helps customers determine their required frequencies along with the type of antenna necessary to read the customers’ smart label. In addition, the center provides customers with third-party verification for those mandated to meet EPC compliance. After testing is complete at the center, The Kennedy Group then tests systems at its customers’ facilities to further ensure accuracy and quality.

For more information on RFID products from The Kennedy Group, call 440-951-7660 or visit www.kennedygrp.com.

Companies Making News

Masuhiko Yazaki, president of Creform Corp., announced that with the finalization of a merger agreement, the previously independent Creform LogisTech Corp. is now officially included under the Creform Corp. name.

Manhattan Associates Inc. and Matrics Inc. have formed a strategic alliance to accelerate adoption of RFID technology throughout the consumer goods supply chain.

Kalmar will establish its own sales company in Belgium through the acquisition of BIA NV’s Material Handling Equipment Div., located in Antwerp.

Southeastern Freight Lines was recently recognized by Moen Inc. with its Partners in Quality award for 2003. This was the ninth consecutive partnership award for Southeastern. The company was also named the “LTL Carrier of the Year” by Springs Industries.

Shockwatch has opened a new technical support center in Graham, Texas, to serve the needs of its clientele. The new center and its staff will offer telephone support (800-466-0101) for the lifetime of the Shockswitch product line.

Alvey Systems, an FKI Logistex member company, was selected by Miller Brewing Co. as a “Partner in Excellence” in 2003. Alvey was recognized for quality, service, cost-competitiveness and innovation.

FastPic Systems and Remstar International have partnered with ADP to create a seamless interface between FastPic4 software, vertical carousels and Shuttle VLMs and the ADP Parts Inventory Management System.

Lowry Computer Products Inc. has entered into a value-added reseller agreement with SAMSys Technologies Inc. to sell, install and service RFID readers integrated into its total RFID solutions.

SICK Inc. has entered into distribution agreements with Madison Electric Co. and Standard Electric Co. for the distribution of its line of sensors, safety systems and auto ID products in Michigan.

New RFID Testing Ground

North American-based Tibbett & Britten Americas has strengthened its position in supply chain innovation by announcing a radio frequency identification (RFID) testing ground. T&B has signed a four-way partnership agreement with IconNicholson, Raymond Corp. and the Econorack Group of Companies to conduct an assessment of RFID and design and build a “living” lab at its Connect Logistics distribution warehouse in Edmonton, Alberta.

IconNicholson, Raymond and Econorack Group were engaged based on individual and combined experience in RFID implementations, their focus on innovation that delivers measurable business results, and strong project management skills.

FCC, China Commission Support 434 MHz Band

Recent international regulatory support for the 434 MHz radio-frequency band by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and China’s State Radio Regulatory Commission (SRRC) is a major milestone in advancing a global standard for real-time supply chain management and security using active RFID technologies. Both governmental regulatory bodies announced their support for devices operating at the 434 MHz radio frequency band.

SRRC issued a public decision to regulate devices operating within 314-316 MHz, 430-434.92 MHz, 787-797 MHz, and 868-868.9 MHz. In April, the FCC Order (FCC 94-98) ruled that the commission supported longer time periods for transmission of data over low-band radio frequencies to track shipments at intermodal facilities, such as ports, railheads and truck terminals.

Specifically, the FCC ruling increases the transmission period for RFID systems operating in the 433.5-434.5 MHz band to ensure that more reliable and greater volumes of data can be transferred, which brings the U.S. more in alignment with European and other global standards. This technical change now enables the transfer of greater volumes of data from “smart containers” with sensors about the integrity and conditions inside the container, as well as allows the electronic transference of the container’s manifest for compliance with Advance Manifest Rules required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Exel President Authors ‘Supply Chain Vector’ Book

Exel, a leader in supply chain management, announced the availability of Supply Chain Vector: Methods for Linking Execution of Global Business Models with Financial Performance, a book authored by Dan Gardner, Exel’s president in Latin America.

While the book emphasizes the role of individual departments, it defines supply chain management as the holistic blending of functional areas and the collective impact all areas have on the value proposition of the organization. Supply Chain Vector, which is published by J. Ross Publishing, may be purchased online at www.jrosspub.com. The current retail price is $54.95.

Latest from Powered Vehicles and Forklifts