MM&D MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2011 PRINT EDITION: In tough economic times, no department or division in a business is left unaffected. All departments revisit their processes and systems to determine how to make them more efficient. This has never been truer for materials handling.
As DC managers look for ways to lower costs and move more product efficiently, they often look to their suppliers to provide solutions. And forklift truck manufacturers have taken heed. DC managers have asked for more automation, more electric options and more efficiency overall, and they’ve got it. Here’s a look at some of what’s now available.
Automation in the forklift truck industry has been the biggest trend in the last several years. And, according to Maria Schwieterman, “Automation is going to play a big role in the future of the lift truck industry as well.” Schwieterman, who is product marketing manager for Class II and Crown Insite, points to Crown Equipment Corporation’s new QuickPick Remote Advance system as an example. The company launched QuickPick Remote this year.
The system uses task-automating technologies to simplify workflow and improve the picking process. Users can press a button on a wireless transceiver glove and remotely advance the forklift to the next pick location. The technology can virtually eliminate the need to return to the operator’s compartment while picking. Crown says the technology can reduce by up to 70 percent the number of steps order selectors take on and off the platform.
At The Raymond Corporation, the company collaborated with Seegrid to develop an automated lift truck that uses vision guided technology by Seegrid. Frank Devlin, Raymond’s marketing manager, advanced technology, says while the automated vehicle hasn’t launched yet “It’s going to be a game changer for distribution and material handling.”
Devlin says there will be an automated forklift truck with a couple of models, such as an automated pallet jack and an automated tow tractor. The units will use Seegrid’s vision guided technology, but will be Raymond branded and supported. Devlin explains that DC managers had been asking for trucks that were operator-optional.
The automated forklift truck can be integrated into a warehouse or distribution centre quickly. When an operator drives it through a facility with the vision-guided system, the truck learns the individual steps of the operation it will be performing, such as transporting a pallet of goods from one location to another within a warehouse. Raymond says the automated forktruck can replace manned vehicles in various warehouse, distribution, manufacturing and process industries, automating repetitive tasks.
Another trend is the shift to electric forklift trucks. Kay Devlin, marketing manager for Cat Lift Trucks, says the shift has been an ongoing trend mainly to do with “the cost of running the truck, corporate social responsibility, government environmental requirements. Companies are looking at their emissions and looking at electric as an option.”
Devlin says Cat Lift offers an 80-volt Cat Electric Pneumatic EP which can lift from 3,000 to 10,000lb. Previously electric lift trucks could only lift up to 6,000lb. The trucks can also work inside and outside.
Devlin says the series of trucks also operate much like internal combustion (IC) lift trucks, which was a concern they heard from DC managers. “More of our customers needed electric trucks, but didn’t want to lose performance,” says Devlin. She adds Cat Lift’s 80-volt series is either equal to or better in performance than IC trucks.
Linde Material Handling North America Corporation offers electric forktrucks with a capacity of 3500 to 4000lb.
Mark Roessler, Linde’s general product manager, says the trucks have a new motive power concept. The drive axle includes the lift motor and all electrical power modules along with the standard twin drive motors, reduction gears and maintenance-free brakes. Combined with intelligent electronic controls, the system allows high-performance without the energy drain of long power cables. The trucks require maintenance every 1,000 hours and feature automation deceleration, dual independent control systems, quick battery change, fast acceleration and control levers built into the armrest.
DC managers have also been asking manufacturers for ways to reduce costs, increase return on investment and improve productivity. In response, manufacturers have released new tools and programs. At Crown, for instance, DC managers have the option of buying used forklift trucks through the company’s reNEWed lift trucks program.
Through Encore, Crown offers a line of trucks that are fully remanufactured and offer long-term performance. They can reuse materials and still maintain each truck’s original performance. DC managers can “improve their bottom lines without a lot of investment,” Schwieterman says.
Crown also offers its new RM 6000 forklift. What makes this truck unique, says Schwieterman, is it can reach up to 505in and deliver 1,000lb more capacity at height. The RM 6000 is also the industry’s first narrow-aisle reach truck with a MonoLift mast. For distribution centres, it means they can save money building up, rather than spending more to build out.
This year, Crown also launched the next generation of its forklift fleet management system, called InfoLink 3.0. This version comes with features designed to improve customer productivity and reduce costs. It’s equipped with six dashboards covering key areas of operator and fleet performance. It uses colour-coded opportunity indicators that provide managers with a look at whether their trucks meet established goals (green), require attention (yellow) or need immediate action (red).
The new productivity dashboard reports metrics such as average lift-travel time per log-in hour, average speed, average travel distances and operator log-in status. The system works with both electric and IC forklifts.
The Raymond Corporation offers its iWarehouse system and iBattery, which is a module for iWarehouse. iWarehouse is an enterprise fleet management solution for warehouse and DC managers. It allows them to collect and analyze real-time truck data to maximize fleet productivity and reduce costs.
Devlin says iWarehouse retrieves information from trucks and can send it to any desktop around the world.
“It brings a new clarity to what’s going on in the warehouse,” he says. Once users have the information, they can generate reports and benchmark lift truck and operator productivity, diagnose potential lift truck issues remotely and optimize lift truck capital and maintenance costs.
The iBattery module helps users maintain lift truck battery fleets. It can automatically notify managers of key battery statistics, such as charge/discharge cycles, high and low temperatures, and low battery water levels, all of which can prolong the life of the battery to its full cycle. This can lead to increased uptime and reduced cost.
Cat has launched a new lift truck cost calculator tool called Lift Truck Cost Comparison Tool. This is a free web resource that evaluates the total cost savings between electric alternating current (AC) and internal combustion (IC) lift trucks. The tool will factor in a lift truck’s total cost of ownership with return on investment to allow users to identify the most cost-efficient lift truck solution for their materials handling needs.
The tool is open to the public and allows for real-time graph updates as information changes.