Lift Trucks Take Center Stage

Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor

There seems to be a fundamental shift in how companies view lift trucks. The need for continuous, regular change in how fleets are configured and managed is primarily due to fundamental changes within facilities. These changes include how they work; their labor needs; and speed-to-market requirements to stay competitive.

The use of reach trucks and order-pickers that can raise operators on a platform with forks are on the rise (pun intended). The configuration of distribution centers, in particular, is also shifting. For example, the 30ft tall rack is being overshadowed by common use of 45ft rack. Customers are also making their racks less dense, or “de-densifying” them. Because of a combination of an increasing number of SKUs, but a lower inventory per SKU, users want less density but also want more selectivity.

Part of this shift is due to distribution itself. Many in the industry would agree that it changes so quickly it’s hard to keep up. No longer simply distributing pallet loads, distributors now must accommodate both eaches (an “each” is the term used for the base unit of any product’s packaging) and returns. At the same time, there is an increasingly rapid proliferation of SKUs—as well as a shorter duration of those SKUs within a facility. Add to this shorter product life-cycles, and you can see the difficulties facing those who try to keep up with shifting consumer interests and needs.

All of the above translates into a different distribution center layout, and at times new methods. In addition, as automation, including automated lift trucks, increases in facilities, all equipment should be viewed as part of a system.

Telemetrics Tells the Story 

Telemetry is another factor that is changing the game. The rapid proliferation of sensing technologies continues at an astounding rate. In the past decade, sensors now monitor nearly seven times more critical operating conditions than in the past. This means a modern lift truck has become like a rolling database. Telematics is also becoming essential to fleet replacement strategies, as well as decisions to expand or shrink fleets.

To answer this need, Yale Materials Handling Corporation recently added a new mobile app for its Yale Vision telemetry solution. The company says it is the first and only telemetry-focused app available from a lift truck manufacturer. The app works as a companion to the existing desktop portal, bringing data-driven insights and management functionality to the warehouse floor for easier, more efficient fleet management. Such technology can put actionable insights at users’ fingertips—and in a format that moves as fast as the business might demand.

Smart dashboards make large data sets and information more manageable via smartphones, eliminating the need to get to a laptop or work station for critical information and site analysis. Users can view fleet-utilization metrics in near-real time and receive notifications from the app when events occur, like impacts or errors on pre-shift safety checklists.

“The adoption of connected IoT solutions continues to grow, as does the need to access instant insights while on the move,” says Steven LaFevers, Vice President of Motive Power and Telematics for Yale.  Extensive features like these give operations the tools they need for smart, data-driven fleet management.

Your Trucks, Your Way

Another thing to consider are automated lift trucks and their interaction with other automation, including automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots. Customers who invest in robotic lift trucks also increase their workforce flexibility, and it changes their labor needs.

These shifting needs and flexibility also translate to more customization from lift truck manufacturers. There are many custom features that can be standardized on lift trucks to meet specific customer requirements, ranging from mast configuration to USB ports. Even the choice of power systems, such as hydrogen fuel cells and lithium ion batteries, are now part of the customization process.

The power source for electrics is changing, as well. The leading contenders to replace lead-acid batteries are hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. Lithium ion seems to be on the cutting edge, as it  enables operations to use only one battery per truck; eliminates acid spills and charging rooms; can cut charging time in half; and provides at least twice the lifetime of lead acid batteries.

Reach for the Skies—Safely

For handling lighter loads, particularly in busy areas of production plants or warehouses, many operations increasingly favor pedestrian trucks. Such vehicles are generally considered safer than ride-on forklifts in areas where pedestrian traffic is high or where lanes are narrow. Combilift recently launched the Combi-WR Walkie Reach stacker in response to customer feedback indicating a demand for this compact and cost-effective unit.

Safety was high on the agenda in the development stages, and the design incorporates features to ensure safety not only for the operators, but also for other personnel, as well as members of the public who may also be in the vicinity. Combilift says the Combi-WR is the first purpose-built pedestrian reach stacker with the ability to operate in a VNA aisle of just 2.1m.

With a lift capacity of 1,450kg, its good ergonomics make it easy to operate; it also has a patented, multi-position tiller which enables push-button rotation of the rear wheel parallel to the chassis and back. This allows the operator to remain in the safest possible position when placing and picking in narrow aisles—at the side of the unit rather than between the truck and the racking. This feature improves forward visibility while it also reduces the risk of incidents in tight confines.

Safety in all lift truck decisions is continuously front-and-center for most operations. Such features as obstacle detection and pedestrian-awareness innovations are just two areas DC centers are incorporating into their lift truck needs.

Staying ahead of the curve when planning your lift truck operations means staying on top of the changes in processes, technologies and methodologies. WMHS