For global trade, the dark clouds of the pandemic have begun to clear.
“COVID is not such a big issue anymore,” says Peter van Duyn, a maritime expert and director of the International Cargo Handling Co-ordination Association Australia (ICHCA Australia). “There are still sometimes shortages of skilled workers like truck drivers and so forth – and China is still struggling with a ‘no COVID’ policy that sometimes causes terminals to close – but those sorts of problems are on the decline.”
Citing the example of his own jurisdiction (Australia), where empty container parks continue to cause problems and delays for truck drivers, van Duyn acknowledges that the global container shortage has not yet been completely resolved. However, again he maintains that it is only a matter of time before things return completely to normal.
However, according to van Duyn, now is not the time to be overly optimistic, despite these positive signs, because it looks like one major problem (namely, the pandemic) is set to be replaced by another (global recession).
Comments in September by World Bank Group president David Malpass, stating that “Global growth is slowing sharply, with further slowing likely as more countries fall into recession”, suggest that van Duyn’s fears are well-founded.
Spooked by the prospect of economic downturn and reduced demand, particularly on the cross-Pacific routes from Malaysia to the US West Coast, shipping lines are talking about potentially laying up container ships.
“Shipping lines are trying to strike a balance between providing a service and ensuring that their ships are full,” says van Duyn, adding that “this is certainly an issue that is likely to continue for the next couple of years.”
Supply chain uncertainty
On top of this, as is the case in most other sectors, supply chain issues and the limited availability of some component parts are still making life difficult for manufacturers of forklifts and container handlers. The experiences of Konecranes, a leading supplier of cranes and lifting equipment, are a good example.
“We see a strong interest in our fully electric forklift, (the E-VER). The number of orders has been higher than we anticipated and that’s very encouraging for future developments on our electric road map,” says Patrik Lundbäck, vice president, sales and distribution, Konecranes Lift Trucks.
“However, when it comes to the current state of the shipping industry, added costs, and so on, there are disruptions in the supply chain that make it very hard to predict delays in delivery to our customers.”
Still, despite this issue, and the prospect of recession, Lundbäck remains upbeat. He sees the increased interest in electrification as grounds for optimism.
“For many businesses that operate forklifts with a capacity of 10 T or more, electrification has become a very attractive option. In fact, electric solutions have now developed to the point where it’s hard not to justify such a transition, especially if the goals are to reduce the carbon footprint and noise emissions while simultaneously lowering operating costs and improving the drivers’ work environment,” he says.
Importantly, the E-VER forklift leaves nothing to be desired in terms of performance. Combining durability and heavy-duty lifting capability with an all-electric drivetrain and the latest eco-efficient features, it is designed to help improve productivity while reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions, and operational costs.
Beyond such forklift innovation, Konecrane’s recently released offerings include Truconnect. A suite of remote digital services that collects and analyses data about the company’s lifting equipment, it is intended to simplify the task of tracking the condition and use of these assets in near-real time.
In addition, the company offers an online hub for all information related to its customers’ fleets of lifting machines. In this hub, customers are able to access data collected by Konecrane’s software and apps, documentation and manuals, as well as information about preventive and scheduled maintenance.
Fast delivery a key concern
Considering the current pressures, the emphasis for product development remains very much on ensuring that ports, and container handling operations in particular, can become as efficient and flexible as possible.
“Shipping lines are trying to strike a balance between providing a service and ensuring that their ships are full... this is certainly an issue that is likely to continue for the next couple of years.”
According to George Zhang, vice general manager of Hangcha, a manufacturer of a range of materials handling products including several that are designed specifically for container handling operations, the rapid development of logistics requires faster delivery.
“Added cost and longer delivery time of shipments (due to COVID-19) have a great impact on customer demand,” he says. For this reason, customers are actively seeking out faster shipping and lower costs.
“Hangcha offers many solutions to handle containers such as our X series empty container handlers and our 45t X series reachstackers,” says Zhang.
Suitable for the loading, handling and stacking of empty 20 ft. and 40 ft. ISO containers, X series platforms are the result of the manufacturer’s 60-plus years of materials handling expertise. They feature advanced technology, including high-definition colour screens that display truck status in real time and a fault alarm to alert staff of the need for maintenance and facilitate it as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The platforms’ wide-open hoods, large-space electric control boxes and multiple hydraulic inspection points help make the maintenance process as simple as possible. In addition, they include easy access to the oil and water during inspection, as well as built-in diagnostic and query functions for the smart instruments.
Based on X series platforms, and inheriting their appearance, the RS4531CH-XRW86 reachstacker is a high-end unit that combines good looks with power and performance. Incorporating advanced control technologies, including anti-sway technology, spreader twist locks, and an automatic fire extinguisher device, it is safe, reliable, comfortable to drive and efficient.
Recommended mainly for the loading, handling and stacking operations of 20 ft. and 40 ft. ISO heavy containers, the reachstacker meets the requirements for high-intensity and long-term operations of containers at ports, docks, railway and highway transfer stations, storage yards, etc.
The safety imperative
According to Liam Richmond, business development manager at Sensortronic Weighing & Inspection Australasia (SWIA), beyond the demands brought upon the sector by COVID-19 and economic uncertainty, increased emphasis is now being placed on safety and accountability, and particularly on ensuring that containers and freight are loaded safely for land and sea.
“With punishments ranging from large fines to prison sentences, the obligation for safety throughout the logistics supply chain is not to be taken lightly,” he says.
According to Richmond, in the context of container handling, efforts to ensure safety involve heavy vehicle logistics and freight movement, as well as the notion of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the international maritime safety requirement for containers’ gross weights to be verified and declared for shipping manifests.
“Our on-board weighing line is from Compuload, an Australian brand that offers after-market products that fit neatly into the operating cab of a vehicle/machine and allow the operator to capture payload weights efficiently and, most importantly, accurately,” says Richmond.
“Systems can capture data about a load input by the operator, such as container serial, and can provide a printed ticket, store weight transaction on a local storage device or can be synced with Cloud storage for a live paperless system which is ideal for client’s reporting requirements.”
While on-board weighing is not new to container handling, the Cloud-captured data and reporting associated with Compuload brings something new to the table. According to Richmond, such features are moving the technology forward and allowing for automation through paperless integration with clients’ back-end systems.
“This can be a powerful tool towards smarter management of inventory, also making it possible for busy operations to gain insight on operator efficiency – who is working effectively and who isn’t – based on transaction timestamps which might, for example, lead to more machine training if that is the solution,” he says.
Mentioned solutions can also be seen in this dedicated Virtual Showroom.
For this report we interviewed the following industry specialists:
Vice General Manager